“One thinks Heidelberg by day—with its surroundings—is the last possibility of the beautiful; but when he sees Heidelberg by night, a fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned to the border, he requires time to consider upon the verdict.” – Mark Twain

I liked very much Heidelberg, one of the most beautiful towns I’ve seen according to my standards. For my visit I took Mark Twain as my guide, all his quotes are from the book “A tramp abroad” published in 1880.

It was a great day of April when I took a morning train from Karlsruhe to Heidelberg. My journey began with a visit to the Heidelberg castle, now in ruins, the ideal romantic place.

“Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers—the Lear of inanimate nature—deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful.” -Mark Twain

In the castle there is the largest wine cask in the world, the Heidelberg Tun built in 1751 from the trunks of 130 oak trees and has a capacity of 219000 liters. It is 8.5 meters deep by 7 meters high. The balustraded platform on top was built as a dance floor. But my guide was not impressed…

Heidelberg Tun

“Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels. I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake, and the other is a lie. However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense.” – Mark Twain

I continued my tour in the castle gardens, very appreciated at his time by Goethe who loved to walk here. The gardens looked indeed very nice in the spring.

I took the funicular on the way down to visit the town. Among touristic objectives, the protestant church had interesting stained glass windows. Quite different from all the churches I’ve seen before. On one of them, it was written E=mc2 and 6.8.1945 the day when a nuclear bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. There was something written in German, but I don’t understand the language.

Protestant church – Heidelberg

Maybe it’s about the dangers that science can bring to the world. I find appropriate a quote from the author of the famous equation, Albert Einstein: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

My next stop was at University Museum. Heidelberg University was founded in 1386 and it is the oldest in Germany. In its long history, the University had famous professors and students. Hegel, Jaspers, Bunsen, Helmholtz, and Kirchhoff were some notable professors from the past. The University is ranked 13 in the world on the number of Nobel prizes won by its scholars. The future looks bright for the students in Heidelberg as their institution is currently ranked 54 in the top of the best universities in the world. However, in the museum, I also saw a picture of Goebbels having a speech at the University. He also held a Ph.D. from Heidelberg University. I think that one should never forget the dark side of history and understand what was wrong then. The university campus located over Neckar looks very modern. It has a Botanical garden and many modern buildings. It reminded me of the MIT campus only that Heidelberg has more space and looks better.

Maybe the secret of such great research successes lies in the fact that there was a University jail. I’m joking. My guide from the past saw it when it was operational and not a museum as it is today, but his description is accurate for the present as well.

“The ceiling was completely covered with names, dates, and monograms, done with candle-smoke. The walls were thickly covered with pictures and portraits (in profile), some done with ink, some with soot, some with a pencil, and some with red, blue, and green chalks; and whenever an inch or two of space had remained between the pictures, the captives had written plaintive verses, or names and dates. I do not think I was ever in a more elaborately frescoed apartment.” – Mark Twain

One of the cells in the students jail
Angel in students jail in Heidelberg

It was time to pass on the other side of the Neckar river and walk on the famous path Philosopher’s Way. One should prepare for an abrupt 200 meters climb in order to reach the path.

Philosopher’s way can be seen from a distance on the hill over Neckar river

The path is in a middle of nature and professors and philosophers used to walk and discuss ideas. There are gardens with flowers and many trees. From the Philosopher’s Way there are nice views of the town.

From the Philosophers Way, I continued my visit next to the physics institute then all the way in the part of town that is over the Neckar river until I reached the University campus. This is where my trip ended. I took a train back to Karlsruhe as that night it was the opening of the chess tournament.

For Romanian history, Heidelberg is the place where Alexandru Ioan Cuza died in 1873. He was the first Domnitor ( Ruler) of Romania from 1859 to 1866 when he was forced to abdicate and leave the country. He came in Heidelberg with his two sons to enlist them at the University but died a few days after his arrival at Hotel Europa.

Over the years many poets and writers were inspired by Heidelberg. There is a play called “Old Heidelberg” written by Wilhelm Meyer-Förster in 1901. A prince, Karl Heinrich, is sent to study at Heidelberg University. He falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Käthie, but his father dies and he is called back home to rule his province. He returns to Heidelberg two years later to discover that most of the people he knew left and Käthie moved on with her life. Karl Heinrich left and decided never to return to Heidelberg.

It was a very successful play with at least five movies based upon this drama. The most notable is “The Student Prince” from 1954. The scene below is from that movie.

One can only imagine the success this song had in United States during prohibition…

Unlike Karl Heinrich I would gladly return to Heidelberg and maybe I will. I would love to see the “fallen Milky Way” that Twain wrote about.


“…is so nice that you have to name it twice” Bill Clinton dixit.
The town name was Baden in Baden (i.e. Baden the town from Baden the state) and was changed in 1931 to the current form.

In April I was in Karlsruhe for a week participating in the biggest chess tournament in Europe. Being in Baden-Wurttemberg I took the chance to visit the beautiful towns of Baden-Baden and Heidelberg.

Baden-Baden had a rich history from antiquity but reached it’s highest political importance in the XIX century when it became “Europe’s summer capital”. These days the town looks very nice but it is obvious that its glory lies in the past. In my opinion,
from the towns I’ve seen before, it reminded me of Biarritz. The first decline in Baden-Baden tourism came in 1872 once the officials closed the famous town casino. Dostoevsky played in this casino many times in the 1860s and he wrote the novel “The Gambler” while here. In fact, he wrote the novel to pay off his gambling debts. A few years before him Leo Tolstoy lost money in the same casino. A scene from “Anna Karenina” happens in Baden-Baden. Once then casino was closed there was a need to find something else to entertain the tourists. So they opened Friedrichsbad for treatment of rheumatism and other diseases. The second decline of Baden-Baden came after the first world war when entire Germany had difficult times.
Still, the marks of the past glory are visible everywhere in the town and a visit is highly recommended.

I started my visit with a walk on the Lichtentaler Allee which looked so nice in the spring with blossomed flowers and trees.

Botanical garden
A fountain on Lichtentaler Alee

Next, I passed near the famous casino mentioned above. According to Marlene Dietrich, this is the most beautiful casino in the world. Dating from the 1820s it is also the oldest casino in Germany. Having just one day to spend in Baden-Baden and so many things to see I had not enough time to visit the casino inside.

Baden-Baden casino

Near the Casino is the Trinkhalle, the water pump, the spa main building dating from 1840s.


Being a Romanian I continued my visit climbing on Michaelsberg to see the Romanian chapel built by Mihail Sturza in the 1860s after the unexpected death of his 17 years old son in Paris in 1863. Mihail Sturza was the ruler of Moldavia between 1834 and 1849 when he emigrated to Paris. They spent the summers in Baden-Baden as many rulers did those days. The chapel is very nice, also, you can have nice views of the town from the hill.

Sturza chapel

Being in Baden-Baden I had to visit the baths as well. The Caracalla Therme looks very modern inside. There is also the Friedrichsbad inaugurated in 1877 a combination of Roman and Irish baths. “After 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes the world” this is how Mark Twain described his experience at Friedrichsbad in 1878. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to enjoy the baths so I have nothing to add.


While writing this article I’ve observed that all the monuments pictured above were built chronologically from 1824 to 1877, so you can see this experience like a time travel through the glorious XIX century of Baden-Baden.

Since I talked about the charm of the past in Baden-Baden, I guess it’s a good place to highlight the failures of the present technology. I took a bus to visit the Merkur mountain, an important tourist attraction but the funicular was closed that day although Google service said otherwise. However, I must say that in many other circumstances Google Maps has been a real help for me.

I mentioned Marlene Dietrich before and I find appropriate to end this post with her singing the German version of “Where have all the flowers gone?” in Baden-Baden. I consider her personality representative for this town.

Marlene Dietrich – Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind

Visiting Rochefort and La Rochelle

For the tourists interested in visiting Rochefort and La Rochelle I thought to share my impressions after my stay there in February. Overall they look very different. While La Rochelle was founded over one thousand years ago, Rochefort was built in the late XVII century by the French government at the time. La Rochelle has old medieval buildings, many towers, narrow and winding streets. Rochefort instead has large perpendicular streets and buildings from more recent time.

Hermione is a major attraction in Rochefort. It is a ship, a reproduction of the frigate which under command of Lafayette was sent in 1780 to help the United States revolution against England. This new ship took 15 years to build and was completed in 2012. However, being made out of wood it requires a lot of maintenance work compared with the modern ships. The frigate Hermione navigated to the United States in 2015 in a symbolic voyage.

In the vicinity of Hermione, there is the National Maritime Museum. Here the visitors can see small replicas of historical French ships. There is, for example, the replica of the submarine that inspired Jules Verne to imagine Nautilus.

This is the court of the museum. I confess that I had no idea what was this item until I read the description
It was the Raft of the Meduse well known from Gericault’s painting

The frigate Meduse left from Rochefort in June 1816 with the destination Senegal. It never reached there as it shipwrecked in July at 50 km from the shores of Mauritania.

One year before, in July 1815, the same frigate Meduse was part of a less known episode of French history. Defeated at Waterloo, the French Emperor Napoleon abdicated and wanted to emigrate to the United States. For this purpose, he went to Rochefort and ordered to have two frigates prepared for the trip. Meduse was one of the two frigates that were supposed to bring the former Emperor over the ocean. He delayed his departure waiting for French passports until the English fleet completely blockaded Rochefort and made his departure impossible. The argument that Napoleon waited for passports in Rochefort is not very convincing to me. Why did he need passports? He had great support in the United States as he sold them Louisiana in 1803. In the end, he surrendered to the English fleet near Rochefort on July 15, 1815, and was imprisoned until his death on Saint Helene island.

A plaque on the military base where Napoleon stayed before surrendering to English forces

In Rochefort, I also recommend a visit to Commerces d’Autrefois museum. Here you can see fragments of life from previous centuries. An interesting return to the day to day life in the past.

In the nineteenth century, people did not afford to buy many clothes. Instead, they dyed their old clothes using machines like this one
A chair used for tonsil surgery in the nineteenth century with a very encouraging message

I was in La Rochelle only for one day, so I had less time to visit the town than Rochefort. Coming from the railway station the first thing that caught my attention was the old port with many restaurants and the famous towers.

I visited two of the three towers. One was used by the local garrison and the other one was a prison.

The towers of La Rochelle made me think of the siege of the city in 1627-1628. At the time, La Rochelle remained the only Protestant city in France. The Catholics wanted to capture the city as in those times there was a religious war over entire Europe. Despite their fight, the Protestants were defeated. Alexandre Dumas wrote about this siege in The Three Musketeers, where the musketeers, who are positive figures, working for the king killed some Protestants. With this in mind, I was curious to see if the main cathedral in La Rochelle was Protestant or Catholic. It was Catholic because I guess vae victis.

Catholic cathedral of La Rochelle

Returning to more modern times, the market in La Rochelle is located in a nice building from the nineteenth century.

La Rochelle market place

During the second world war, La Rochelle was the base of German U-boat submarines in Atlantic. The Germans built a bunker here to shelter in case of an allied bombardment. After the Germans were defeated the bunker remained hidden until it was discovered in the 1980s. Today you can visit the bunker and find out interesting things about the German fleet and the French resistance in the area.

The bunker in La Rochelle
The black cat was the emblem of the German U-boat fleet. The picture is from the bunker.

I’ve seen and learned many interesting things on my trip and I highly recommend visiting Rochefort and La Rochelle.


At the time of my registration for the Prague Chess Festival there was no option of accommodation at Hotel Don Giovanni, the playing venue. I made a reservation at Hotel Villa, 700 meters walk from Hotel Don Giovanni. Looking on Google Maps I noticed that my itinerary from the chess tournament place to the hotel where I would stay passed by Franz Kafka’s grave in the nearby Jewish cemetery. I started to read about Kafka and discovered that when he died of tuberculosis in 1924, he had the exact age I have now, 40 years and 11 months. This was a coincidence that further increased my curiosity on his life and work.

The cemetery had a fence but near Kafka’s grave there was a gate. This picture is taken from the street and is the image I ‘ve seen every day and night when I passed by his grave

The chess tournament playing venue seen from Kafka’s grave

If I count the times I went by Franz Kafka’s grave, in the 10 days I stayed in Prague, including two 12km runs around the graveyards, I am sure that I’ve never seen someone’s grave for so many times in my life. I guess it sounds quite Kafkaesque: in Prague, for ten nights a chess player passed by Kafka’s grave after each chess game. The only funny event was that one night a hare showed up in front of me at the cemetery corner then quickly disappeared on an alley. I’ve tried without success to find out if it’s common to meet hares in Prague other than on restaurants menu’s.

Kafka was born in a mid-class Jewish family in Prague in 1883. His father was authoritative and had a negative influence on his son who was shy and introvert. The writer’s drama came from the fact that he was never able to separate emotionally from his parents. However, he moved alone for the first time when he was 31 years old.

During the World War I, Kafka stayed for a while in this small house on Golden Line street behind the Prague Castle. You can buy a ticket to visit this street with a very interesting history

His entire creation and life were influenced by the relation he had with his father. When the father expressed his opposition to his son’s marriage in 1919, Kafka wrote a 45 page letter to his father expressing his frustrations and the emotional abuse he suffered as a child. It seems that the letter did not reach to his father. Unfortunately for him, Franz Kafka was not able to break free from this relation. His sister Ottla, for example, did marry a year later despite her father’s opposition.

A moving head of Kafka created by David Cerny. It might symbolize the metamorphoses of the author and the haunting thoughts that were running through his head.

For those interested, I recommend the visit to Kafka’s museum in Prague. It is a museum created in the spirit of his work. There I was moved when I saw his last letter addressed to his parents one day before he died. He was very weakened and did not have the energy to end that letter which was completed by his girlfriend Dora Diamant.

In my opinion, a very important idea from Kafka’s writings is that we create our own inner universe and it is up to us with what emotions we fill that world. Seneca said it better: “a man is as miserable as he thinks he is”.


Visiting the Heydrich Terror Memorial in Prague had a deep impact on me. “Anthropoid” was the code name for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia in May 1942 by soldiers of the Czechoslovak army in exile. I knew the details of the operation before I came to Prague, but being in the crypt where the last showdown took place was a profound experience.

In the morning of May 27th, 1942, Heydrich was heading by car towards Prague Castle, his office. He had no personal guards and was alone with his driver. When the car slowed down in a street hairpin turn, Jozef Gabčík went in front of it and tried to shoot the Nazi leader with his machine gun but the weapon jammed. Heydrich asked the driver to stop the car and chase Gabčík. This gave time for Jan Kubiš to throw the modified hand grenade at the open roof car. Although the grenade exploded outside the car, shrapnel went through the door into Heydrich’s body wounding him. The attackers managed to run from the scene without being caught. Heydrich died from the infected wounds in a hospital eight days later.

German’s reprisals were very violent. It is estimated that 5000 Czechs were killed to revenge this assassinate. Thousands of people were arrested. Gestapo falsely thought that Lidice was the hiding place of the attackers so the Germans did a massacre in that village. A bounty of 1 million Reichsmarks was announced for information leading to the capture of the soldiers who killed Heydrich. No matter how many threats and how many people were shot for three weeks nobody revealed anything to the Germans. But on June 16th a Czech paratrooper who was separated from the main group came to the Gestapo office and gave them all the information he had on the Anthropoid operation and the families helping the soldiers. Once their mission was done, the Czech soldiers hid in the “Saints Cyril and Methodius” Orthodox church in Prague together with five other paratroopers who were sent from England with different missions in Czechoslovakia. In the morning of June 18th, 750 SS soldiers surrounded the church and did everything they could to capture the Czechs alive. The battle took six hours. The men inside the church fought to the last bullet which they used to commit suicide. Three of them died in the church chorus and the other four in the crypt below the altar. The traitor was judged by the Czechoslovak authorities after the war in 1947 and he was hanged.

What impressed me was the fact that the soldiers fought in the church until the end, even if they knew there was no other chance of survival than surrender. While three of them were fighting in the chorus the other four were digging for a way out of the crypt.
By their choice to fight until the end and exit from life only when there was nothing left they sent a very strong message. It was a message of courage and determination that still inspires people after all this time.

There was one more thing that had a deep impact on me. In the museum, there are many pictures of people who helped the paratroopers hid during their six months stay in Prague. All of them knew that when the Germans will find out about their collaboration with the exile army they will be shot together with their families. It was not a question if this will happen but when. They knew this meant their death and the death of loved ones and yet they helped the soldiers. However, once the killing attempt happened in May, for three weeks nobody said anything to Gestapo, despite threats and executions. Once the traitor talked, the Germans took care to torture and execute all the civilians involved as well as their families. Most of them were shot in October of the same year. By their sacrifice, they sent a message to posterity that humans should fight for what they think is right even when this means to pay the highest price.

The facts are that Heydrich was killed and around 5000 Czechoslovaks were executed as reprisals. Was this worth it?

Heydrich was a main architect of the Holocaust. He was in command of the units that committed killings behind the front lines and he was a very effective leader. He wanted to Germanize the Czechs while acting as Reich Protector in Bohemia and Moravia. If he would have lived longer I am sure that his units would have killed much more people than they did after his death. The Anthropoid operation was an important milestone in the Czechoslovak fight for liberation and showed that they weren’t willing to accept Germanization.

For those who want to read more about Anthropoid I recommend an interesting article which clarified many of the questions I had.

Prague Spring

It was a cold weather during the 10 days I spent in Prague at the beginning of March. Such a major difference to the sunny Rochefort that I visited in February. For the tourists interested in city attractions there are many articles on what to visit in the Czech capital so I won’t talk about that. I will cover only the out of the box things. I appreciate the sense of humor of the Czech people although it’s quite different from the Romanian’s sense of humor.

Let’s start with the history first. In the Wenceslas square there is an imposing statue of the former Duke of Bohemia from the tenth century – Wenceslaus I. A few hundred meters from this place, in the Lucerne passage, there is another representation of the same ruler only that this time is riding on a dead horse. This statue is the creation of the sculptor David Černý.

The next stop is the Prague castle, the biggest castle in Europe. There is a famous window the scene of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618. This led to the Thirty Years’ War in our continent. It was a tragic event, but it was somewhat funny to see next to that window a note that asked the visitors not to open the window. Last time that window was opened a war that lasted for thirty years ravaged Europe. We should better keep that window closed. As a side note, although the distance from that window to the ground is 21 meters all the three people thrown out of the window in 1618 survived the impact. This was considered a miracle at the time.

Let’s return to more modern times. Below are two similar sculptures. While I don’t know where the man with an umbrella in the first picture was heading to, the second man is the creation of David Černý mentioned above. It is a statue of Sigmund Freud attached with one hand to a flagpole. It is an inner struggle for Freud whether he should let it go or not.

In recent times, in 1996, they built a dancing house in Prague nicknamed “Ginger and Fred”, which can be seen as a modern symbol of an old city. Near the house, I saw the text in the second picture at a traffic light pole and I … did push the button.

These were a few things that caught my eye, amused me and made me think during my visit to Prague. I invite you to search for other out of the box cultural elements in Prague. This way you will understand more of the Czech spirit and way of thinking.

Les demoiselles de Rochefort

In February I was in Rochefort for a week playing in a chess tournament. When I was a kid, “Les demoiselles de Rochefort” was my favourite musical. It was written and directed by Jacques Demy following his success with “Les parapluies de Cherbourg” two years before. I enjoyed very much the soundtrack composed by Michel Legrand and the way it talked about love. The movie it’s about three men coming to Rochefort where each of them meets the love of his life. It was filmed in Rochefort for three months in the summer of 1966. Since that summer this little town has been changed forever.

Visiting Rochefort 53 years later for playing chess, I wanted to see the places where various scenes from the movie were shot and I discovered that not much of the original décor has changed.

The movie begins on a Friday morning with the arrival of showmen for a festival that was set to take place during a weekend in Rochefort. You can see that not much has changed in the town center over the years:

Rochefort town center in 1966
and in 2019

The gallery of Lancien is a “Natur House” in 2019:

The school of Boubou where Gene Kelly has a very nice dance scene:

The music store of Simon Dame became a local market. That’s the most dramatic transformation.

The market was closed that day

The tavern owned by the mother of the twins was modernized.

Michel Legrand passed away in Paris in January 2019. He was my favourite composer of movie soundtracks. Among other recognitions he was awarded with three Oscars during his career.
The town hall of Rochefort is adorned with a poster that says “Michel Legrand – Rochefort vous dit merci”

In the same town hall building Catherine Deneuve and her real life sister Francoise Dorleac sang the song of twin sisters in the movie:

The memories of this musical live strong in Rochefort as well as in my mind.

The movie ends with the showmen departure from the town next Monday morning once the festival finished. They came for just a few days then left Rochefort and… so did the chess players.

The movie will remain actual as long love is a topic of interest for human beings.
I enjoyed every day of my stay in Rochefort whether I was winning or losing a game. It feels great when you follow your dreams.