Make historic Heidelberg, Germany your base for the annual Schriesheimer Mathaisemarkt, a delightful spring festival. This small city is one of those lucky places that was not bombed during WWII. Citizens appreciate that and celebrate their good fortune and Old World charm with regular festivals.
Ironically, Heidelberg is also home to many divisions of the US Army. Military bases are spread out all over Heidelberg and neighboring towns. That makes it the first stop in Europe for many Americans.
Heidelberg is a good base because it is a rather small city; easy to drive around but much easier to use a bike. There is a pedestrian center where one can find anything from large department stores to, yes, the Hard Rock Cafe. This past year, the weather was particularly splendid for all the activities that go along with the spring festival season. Most Americans think only of the Munich Beer fest, or “Oktoberfest,” when they envision Germany. However, we have found that the “fests” are a way of life here that makes the culture truly “festive!”
Historic Heidelberg is a Good Base for Schriesheimer Mathaisemarkt
Heidelberg’s famous castle was the center of the Palatinate region of Germany. In 1155, Conrad von Hohenstaufen became the Count Palatine. He received the Heidelberg Castle as fief of the Bishops of Worms. It is the photographic center of the city. There are tours of the castle daily in seven different languages.
The Heidelberg University is another landmark that was founded in 1386. That makes it the oldest university in Germany. In 1400, the building of the Church of the Holy Ghost (Heiliggestkirche) began. The reformed Lutheran church is at the bottom of the hill on which the castle stands. Visit early to enjoy its location in the center of one of the town markets.
Then, walk across the “Old Bridge” to the other side of the Neckar River and hike up the Philosopher’s Way. It’s the place for breathtaking views of the castle and city with its grand cathedrals.
Local Events & Regional Festivals in Schriesheim
Four miles north of Heidelberg is a typical German town, Schriesheim, not overrun with Americans, where the annual “fest” season begins. The center of town still has half-timbered buildings dating as far back as 1684, cobbled roads and a fountain that is the focus for gatherings.
Schriesheim is like most of the towns along the Bergstrasse. It’s laid out along the Odenwald mountain range that forms the eastern edge of the Rhine-Necker Kreis. Vines cover the slopes of this range and wine is a big deal.
Families who rent a car will find the views beautiful when driving along the Bergstrasse or the A5. Get to know this route which connects Frankfurt to Heidelberg and places south to Basel, Switzerland. (By the way, Germany is not a country that uses N,S, E or W on its road signs. Tip: You have to know where you are going or what cities are in the direction you want to go.)
We thought the “fest” season would take a little break during Lent until Easter. However, Fasching (the German Mardi Gras) ended in mid-February. Nonetheless, festivities picked up again right here in the town of Schriesheim! It seems that for more than 500 years, Schriesheim has been the host of the annual Mathaise Markt Fest, an eight-day event the first two weekends in March.
What to Eat & Buy at the Schriesheimer Mathaisemarkt
Back in the day, the festival celebrated the wish for a big tobacco harvest (tobacco originated in our colonies and was brought to Europe by Columbus.) For generations, however, the Mathaisemarkt has been a kick-off for a good wine season. St. Mathaise is the saint who wards off the “ice.” The wine region here includes not only Schriesheim, but many of the neighboring smaller towns along the Bergstrasse.
Expect more than 150,000 others perusing booths selling small items such as candy, food, herbs, bulbs, pots and pans, slippers, and the usual German trinkets. Allow time for the carousel and fun toddler-size rides at the small amusement park. There is a big tent (this is a German style tent that would withstand a small hurricane) for businesses to display and sell building supplies. The stage and tables are set for eating, drinking, and entertaining in a second ornately decorated tent. This is where the festivities begin.
Glockele is the food of choice. It’s a rooster, I think… (tastes like chicken to me) with a roll and, of course, wine. The outgoing Wine Queen and her court arrive to great fanfare with the mayor and other big wigs in the town council. There are speechs (most of which I did not understand) and lots of gifts given. The new queen and her court arrive with even greater fanfare and a room full of sparklers. It seems everyone here knows to bring sparklers for this occasion.
Non-Stop Entertainment at the Schriesheim Mathaisemarkt
The small castle built on the hill above Schriesheim is Strahlenburg, dating to 1250. The ruins of this castle are visible for miles, especially at night when it is lit up by spotlights. In the past, trumpeters from the castle heralded not only the opening of this fest but many important events in the town.
Catch one of Germany’s big bands in the main tent the first Saturday night. They play all the typical German soccer and party songs. We swayed with the crowds as they consumed more and more wine, and got up and danced to the rock ‘n roll portion of each set. After a few of these fests, the songs are very familiar. The Germans also like U.S. Country Western sounds.
The fest continues the first weekend with a large parade — almost every float, band or group had wine to pass out. These Germans know to bring a cup to the parade; we did not. This giving of wine went on for hours. It was fun; we got lots of little candies, cookies, toys and way too much wine. Ah, what a day.
On the last day of the two-week festival, there is a parade of bands. These are not like our marching bands. Each town, including Heidelberg, has a large group of trumpeters that participate and represent the heralders of centuries gone by.
Schriesheimer Mathaisemarkt concludes with fireworks in front of the Strahlenburg that rival the Macy’s 4th of July display. Red spot lights also flash on and off and make the castle appear to be ablaze. And so ends the annual Matthaise Markt fest in Schriesheim, Germany.
Heidelberg’s Annual Festival Calendar
If you visit in spring, don’t miss the annual Heidelberger Frühling Musikfestival. This popular event is now in its 26th year of spring (mid-March to mid-April) performances. The cultural institution presents both contemporary and classical concert series, arts and performance events, conferences and programs for young artists.
You can anticipate summer at the annual Heidelberg Sommertagszug parade. On Mar. 19, 2023, look for locals with Summer Day sticks (decorated with a pretzel, blown-out egg and colorful ribbons accroding to the tourism office). They march through the Old Town from the St. Anna Gasse and leads through the main street to the Marktplatz (Market Square). Stick around to see a re-enactment of the “battle” between winter and summer.
Watch for Castle illumination and fireworks from one of the many Neckar River tour boats during summer’s first week of June, July and September. Alternatively, catch them from an outside cafe table on the Hauptstrasse (main pedestrian walking zone) that itself has a beautiful view of the castle.
For a special celebration, the end of September marks the Heidelberg Herbst and Medieval Market. The Herbst fest is probably the biggest event of the year in Heidelberg. The Hauptstrasse is so packed with people that you only move with the crowd. I suggest that the parallel streets are a better way to walk. By doing so, you can dip into the main street if there is a band you want to hear or a specialty booth you want to visit. Some years, the Herbst (autumn or fall) fest is the same time as the middle weekend of Munich’s Oktoberfest, creating even more reason to celebrate.
Be sure to check the tourism department’s online event calendar prior to planning your visit.
Trip Planning Details for a Heidelberg Escape
Airfare to Europe is particularly low during the “off” season, which is from after New Year’s to about the end of June. Look for bargains for the “fest” season which begins the first of March. From Heidelberg, easily reach Schriesheim by car, bike or the Strassenbahn (streetcar).
Don’t forget to buy a Heidelberg Card, a discount option for attractions and tours that’s a great value. Get free entry to the university, a prison, the castle and access to public transportion.
One of the popular places to stay in Heidelberg is the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, located at Thomas Weil, Haspelgasse 2, 69117 Heidelberg. It is very clean and its location is unbeatable, right at the foot of the “old bridge” and in the center of the Altstadt (Old City).
We stayed there with our son several years ago and found it very nice. The management was very friendly and spoke English. Families will find it very comfortable, even though there are no adjoining rooms. The hotel has many double rooms; additionally, they have one room for a family of five, and four other rooms for four people, plus their single and double rooms. All rooms are priced for bed and breakfast. I’ve heard that they added another guesthouse with six rooms and two vacation apartments, located near the Heiliggestkirche church, another option.
For more information about the region’s attractions, visit the local Heidelberg Convention & Visitors Bureau site.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.