It was a romantic wedding, one of the rare love matches in the European aristocracy that put Heidelberg on the maps of the English upper classes: In August 1613, Prince-Elector Friedrich V married Elisabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I, grand-daughter of Mary Stuart.
Ever since then the English have had a soft spot for Heidelberg and its picturesque surroundings. When it became fashionable among the English affluent circles in the middle of the 19th century to send their sons to boarding schools abroad, it was no coincidence that Lionel Armitage chose the Palatinate city to install his new boarding school. And he found himself among compatriots: a small English colony of well-off English retirees had already settled in Heidelberg – like him they were particularly attracted by the beautiful surroundings of Neuenheim.
Neuenheim College was founded in 1843 to provide a place where English boys could be given a profound and comprehensive education and benefit from both the excellent British and German educational system. Those young gentlemen in return contributed to the variety of Heidelberg sports life: they brought along with them all the typically English sports: rugby, rowing, hockey, tennis and athletics. Sports as a school subject was a novelty in southern Germany. The English boys practised it as they had done at home: with team spirit and fairness. And they were eagerly observed by Heidelberg´s youngsters, who admired and copied them and soon enriched Heidelberg´s club life by founding the respective clubs: Rugby Club, Rowing Club, Hockey Club, Tennis Club – they all owe their existence to the English boys. Football according to the current rules was first played in the Southwest of Germany by a team from Heidelberg College. They beat the KSC from Karlsruhe by 2:1 in 1901.
The school building was situated between Quincke Street and Kepler Street in its early days. Except for the language teachers all the teachers came from England. Behind the refectory there were huge football and cricket pitches.
Under the leadership of Lionel Armitage the school was officially named ‘Neuenheim College’ in 1891. But the institute underwent hard times and had to struggle for survival, as the number of students began to dwindle at the turn of the century and the school was left with only 30 pupils. Among the teachers was a certain Dr. Albert Holzberg. It was him and his English colleagues A.B.Catty and Walter Lawrence, who founded Heidelberg College on January 1st, 1887 in the rather small house of a professor´s widow, directly on the banks of the river Neckar. That was the moment when today´s ‘Heidelberg College’ was born. It then had its best ever teacher-student ratio. Four teachers provided education to three students. (Tuition fees dug a very deep hole in parents´ pockets in those days.) However, only one year later there were twenty students and in 1888 massive expansions had to be added to the school building, as the school flourished and room for more students had to be created. But still A.B. Catty picked up all students personally in London to guarantee a safe journey to school. On April 5th, 1906 Dr Holzberg and A.B.Catty eventually bought the name of Neuenheim College for 1000 pounds and amalgamated the two schools. All the students that had remained at Neuenheim College now inscribed at Heidelberg College thus continuing the traditions and history of the older school.
Students arrived from England, Canada and the United States. From Thailand (then Siam) King Rama V sent his son Rangit Prayurasakdi, the later Prince Regent, who met his wife Elisabeth Scharnberger in Heidelberg. Two Spanish infants can be found in the school list as well. The English boys were mostly prepared for a life in the colonial services, mainly for a career in India. The bond between school and the old boys was by no means broken when they returned to England: Until 1917 the alumni met every year in the then prestigious Trocadero in London – chaired by Dr Holzberg. Here a newspaper was issued for the old boys under the name of Alt-Heidelberg. (The newspaper survived well into the war and was only given up in 1917.) In 1913 a graduate from Heidelberg College scored top in languages in the A levels in Great Britain. That performance was the ultimate incentive for ambitious parents to enrol the sons in Heidelberg: Until World War I the College continued to be a highly renowned English school, at the outbreak of the war the boarding school was fully booked.
Life was hard at the school. Students were punished severely when they had broken school rules: They had to learn German poems by heart! Thus it happened that in 1965 a Rolls Royce (of course chauffeur-driven as befits) drew up in front of the school, parked in violation of all Heidelberg parking regulations and out got a spry octogenarian who entered the school and soon cited Schiller´s Lied von der Glocke to his awe-stricken audience of director and a few unlucky students – a performance that took him some 18 minutes!
But the war destroyed eyerything that had been built up in thirty years. England was the enemy now. The students and most of the teachers became personae non gratae and had to leave the school. A.B.Catty managed to get away in time, but one of his sons had to endure internment in Ruhleben near Berlin. Catty´s shares were confiscated by the state, Albert Holzberg had to purchase them at an official auction, which cost him house No 20, the house in which the future Prince Regent of Siam had stayed – one of the most renowned boarders of HC. And while soldiers were dying in the trenches at the frontline the school building was turned into a military hospital and today´s gym served as a makeshift operation theatre.
When school started again in 1917 with seven students Heidelberg College was no longer an English school. It was now a Realgymnasium (secondary school that comprises class 5 to 10) with boarders from all over Germany. In 1919, HC grew into a full-fledged grammar school by adding classes 11 to 13. In 1940, HC was finally given state licence (i.e. was fully acknowledged by the state), now the students no longer had to sit their final exams at a state school.
Times were quite turbulent under NS dictatorship: In 1933, the school had to change its name to ‘Dr. Albert Holzbergs höhere Lehr- und Erziehungsanstalt’ and was then disbanded in 1944. One year later Americans claimed possession of houses No 16 and 16a because the school buildings had been used by an NS school meanwhile. It was 1955 when the owners got their school back. However, when the Americans left they not only took the precious furniture with them but the state licence for the school was gone as well.
The Heidelberg based publishing house Springer, which specializes in scientific books, made house No 24 – which was later to be the boys´ boarding house – its home in 1946. Dr. Edgar Holzberg, who returned from war captivity in 1947 worked with them as head of their advertisement department and thus ensured the family´s financial well-being. 1949 saw the death of Albert Holzberg, the founder of the school and the birth of Edgar-Julian Holzberg, the current head of both the school and the family.
A severe blow hit the school in 1955: 25,000 sqm, the College Sports Compounds in the Neuenheimer Feld, were dispossessed as the city was in need of building sites for the quickly growing number of inhabitants. The sports fields lie now beneath Berliner Straße. But things were picking up as well: The Springer publishing house moved out in the same year – the house had become too small for the growing company – and the Americans, who had been given a much bigger building in the southern part of Heidelberg, no longer claimed house 16 and 16a for their purposes. And these houses were needed: In West Germany, the country of the economic miracle, boarding for students was in great demand. Two students´ hostels were installed in house 16 and 24. However, the 78 students who lived there from 1955 to 1957 had to attend other schools in Heidelberg as well.
Dr. Edgar Holzberg was the driving force behind the re-instalment of the school. He gave all his energy to this task although he had to work in another job as well to make ends meet. So, finally, tuition started again and quickly gathered momentum: on May, 2nd, 210 boys and 20 teachers started a new chapter of HC history - like most secondary schools in Heidelberg of the time as a boys-only school. Only two years later the number of students had risen to 250 boys, one third of them being boarders.
Until 1965 the HC students had to go to state schools – often as far away as Ladenburg and Schwetzingen – to sit their final exams. In 1967 it was finally done: HC got back the unqualified state licence. That year the current head of school, Edgar-Julian Holzberg, passed his Abitur – at Heidelberg College! One of his first actions was the purchase of Haus Rothenbühl (house No 26), that is now the girls´ boarding house. House No 24 was now fully turned into the boys´ boarding house. House No16 became a proper school building with class rooms and a teachers´ room.
The seventies turned out to be a difficult time for the school as for many other private institutions in Germany. The Zeitgeist did not favour private tuition. The number of students was constantly declining since its peak in 1959. Headmasters came and went. Many of them enticed students to go with them to new schools. Competition got harder and harder as the new private grammar school Boxberg-Gymnasium was founded. In 1978, girls were taken in as well, but still the decline was not stopped. In 1980 there were just 175 students at the school – a highly critical situation that put the school´s existence at risk.
The turning point came in 1980, when Edgar-Julian Holzberg took over as head of school. Having started to teach at the school in 1977 he had gathered enough experience to undertake the necessary steps to turn the school into a flourishing institution again. He mades use of the entire summer holidays to recruit new students. And he was successful: 221 students attended HC in the term of 1980/81. Much was left to be done of course, but it was a very promising start. The Boxberg-Gymnasium went bankrupt in 1987 and the remaining 25 students were taken over by HC. But still it was not an easy time: There were hardly any new candidates for class 5, the few that came even had to be taught together with class 6 in some subjects like sports or art. Times were still hard for private schools in Germany at the end of the 20th century.
At the start of the eighties the number of subjects was significantly raised: The introduction of French as a second language provided now an option for those who wanted to learn a modern language instead of Latin and the scientific profile was strengthened. Many new, young, and motivated teachers helped raise the number of extra-curricular projects. Project work became a fixed part of the yearly schedule, as did school functions, open days, sport days, orientation evenings for parents. One tradition has been kept alive over the decades: the festive first day meeting for the new starters of class 5, which helps soften the transition from primary school to the more demanding life of grammar school.
Since 1988 the number of students has been rising dramatically, the teaching staff has become younger still. In 1992, Mr Bischof became the first deputy headmaster in school history. In 2014, after 20 years of ‘Bischof rule’, Mr Groitzsch took over. The free supervised homework hours have been constantly expanded, a day school system in which children are looked after and helped with their work in the afternoons has always been a matter of course at HC, long before it was introduced at other schools. A cook and his staff provide full board for the boarders and the day students partake of their lunch in the historical dining room – just like the English boys did in the old days. Four times a year parents are informed about their children´s conduct and attitude to work during home work sessions on an extra report sheet.
One cannot think of the history of HC without thinking of its boarding school. Things have changed in this sector as well. What had begun as a favour for a desperate newly widowed father whose son was already there opened a new chapter of HC history: The first girl was accepted as a boarder in 1982. However, she had to brave the fact that she was the only girl for three long years – and did so admirably well! Since 1991 the balance between male and female boarders has been kept more or less. Heidelberg College caters for a constant number of about forty boarders now. Their daily routine has been unchanged since the beginnings: obligatory attendance at the home work sessions after lessons, free time programme between four and six and an additional study period after dinner from seven to eight in the evenings, which is monitored by an experienced educator.
In the nineties even more students enrolled at the HC. New classes had to be established. There are two classes 5 now. New requirements have to be met, a well-equipped computer science room has been installed and additional class rooms have been set up in the boarding house building. Spanish as a third foreign language has found many friends, new subjects have been introduced: the science of natural phenomena, computer science for the young ones, natural sciences and technology. In class 9 new profiles can be chosen: arts or sports and the science of sport as main subjects. Many new teachers contribute to the school spirit with their fresh ideas.
2004 brought new challenges: a new federal curriculum means additional subjects, the rules for the Abitur were changed, new technological developments have to be allowed for and the demand for modern media must not be neglected. The class rooms are constantly refurbished and modernized; the number of students is approaching the magical number of 500. More space is needed to accommodate them all. So action is taken.
2012 was a very special and extraordinary year for the school in every respect: The long dreamed of expansion of the building was finally put into practise. On the first day of the new school year the Turm (Tower) was ready to welcome the students: a moment in which to thank all the students and teachers for their patience with which they had endured the inconveniences during the building phase. It definitely was no easy time for everybody involved, least not for our project leader Mr Winter. He virtually slept on the building site to be there whenever new problems turned up and to solve them in his own pragmatic way.
About 300 sqm of new indoor school rooms were gained. Outside the gardens have been turned into plateaus so the pupils have more space during breaks. All this means more room – inclusive of the castle view! A new multi media room has been installed in the new building, which most likely provides a lot of pleasure for students and teachers.
All this formed part of our big jubilee programme and was an adequate way of celebrating 125 years of Heidelberg College! Looking back one thing is for sure: Heidelberg College is well- equipped for the future.
Since 2014 Eric Holzberg has been a member of the headmaster´s team. His are manifold tasks in the school and in the boarding sector. He is currently trained to take over a more decisive place in the school´s organisation. And with his two young children he has laid the foundation of the family´s continuation into the next generation.