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Pitcher perfect.

Byline: By Nick Sharpe South Wales Echo

You won't find rubbish beer in Germany - it's a crime, as NICK SHARPE discovered on a very merry weekend in Heidelberg...

LOTS of people moan about the Germans.

'Boring,' they say, 'no sense of fun, and the food's terrible'.

But we Britons could take a leaf out of our Teutonic cousins' book because, for the most part, the Germany which exists in old Heidelberg is exactly the way we'd love all our home cities to be.

All right, there might be two cities here: Heidelberg is set at the end of a deep valley and while the old town squeezes into its mouth, the vast urban sprawl which has oozed onto the plain beyond is a different kettle of fish altogether.

But what tourists see here is a carefully prepared mix of romantic old streets, the wide, deep river Neckar and views from the vast old castle and the Philosophers' Walk, a path along the side of the valley set high above the town.

And while Cardiff desperately scrabbles around its past to create Brains' Old Brewery Quarter and stop century-old buildings being demolished to make way for loft apartments, Heidelberg wanders on, knowing that the olde worlde charm of its cobbled streets will bring the tourists back year after year.

Such is the attraction of the old town that Thomas Cook, that enterprising ubertourist of the mid-19th Century, included it on his first European tour in 1855.

More than 150 years on, Heidelberg is marketing itself as a trendy weekend break destination because, let's face it, only a handful of the world's largest cities can sustain interest beyond three or four days.

Best then to stay in the old town and prepare oneself to sit in bright squares soaking up the sun and stein after stein of local beer.

Heidelberg's main square, though heavily weighed down with tourists, is a pleasant enough place to linger - similar to, although not as spectacular as, Krakow's famous Rynek Glowny.

Up on the hill the castle, built mainly during the 15th and 16th Centuries, dominates the skyline and is usually accessible from a funicular, or cliff railway. With the railway broken for 2004, however, 130 steps await tired sightseers.

Housed in the castle is the world's largest wine cask, a relic from the days when the region's vineyard products were poured together to create an almost undrinkable grape soup.

Which brings me back to what we can learn from the Germans.

Take Brains Smooth as an example. No German worth his salt would touch a pint of smooth bitter if his life depended on it.

Brewing laws are so tight in Germany that to claim your brew is even 0.1 per cent stronger than it is, is a crime punishable only by death. Rubbish beer simply does not exist in Germany.

And then take sausages. Take chipolatas, Pepperami and those little cocktail sausages on sticks - 'guaranteed 18 per cent meat' - and chuck 'em all in the bin because in Germany a sausage really is a SAUSAGE.

In the same way we eat fish and chips, Germans chomp through tonnes of wurst every day, most of which are bought from roadside stands and eaten on the hoof.

Perfect for those mid-afternoon drinking breaks.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 24, 2004
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