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An English Version by
of Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's Comedy.

Produced at the St James's Theatre, London 19 March 1903 Closed 17 July, 1903.

Details below reproduced from original programme material.

Old Heidelberg tells of the youthful joys and bitter sorrow of Karl Heinrich, prince of Sachsen-Karlsburg, and of Käthie, his pretty sweetheart, who served beer to the students by the banks of the Neckar.

When Karl Heinrich was a child his parents both died, and from that time until, as a young man, he met Käthie he did not know what real life meant. For on the death of his parents he became hereditary prince of Sachsen-Karlsburg, his nearest relative being his great uncle, the ruler of that petty principality.

And that soulless old dotard had his heir brought to the grim palace of Sachsen-Karlsburg where all was routine, and where old ministers and officials ruled like automata over servants that moved like machines.

The boy's teachers were appointed by court officials, and had to adhere to the rules of the court, and in that stagnant backwater of life, without any youthful companions, their charge saw little of real human sympathy, the only kindness he experienced being from a groom or kitchen maid, who, moved by the child's obvious loneliness, would occasionally make clumsy attempts to cheer him. So he lived, until, childhood's days being past, Dr. Jüttner was appointed his tutor. The doctor, a warm-blooded human being with a heart of gold, pitied the desolate lad and tried hard to make his life more cheerful. But at best an elderly tutor can be to a youth but a poor substitute for companions of his own age, and the healthy spirits and kindly efforts of the old doctor were nullified by the dreary routine of the palace.

So we see Karl. Heinrich in the first act of the play, a nervous, depressed young man, utterly ignorant of all the joys of youth. Then a great change suddenly comes. The old councillors decide that to finish his studies he shall be sent for a year to the university of Heidelberg, Old Heidelberg, where all is youthful and joyful, where by the banks of the Neckar the rollicking students give a little time to study and much of it to beer-drinking and duelling, singing and laughter. The decision means little to Karl Heinrich, who knows naught of Heidelberg, but his old tutor, once a student there, hears of it with glee. The councillors want the doctor to go with his pupil and lay down rules for the young man's life there, but at first he refuses. "Rules! Rules! Who can live by rule at Heidelberg? Life is young there, and no one can live by rule. And tush! what shall I, an old man, do in Heidelberg?" But Karl Heinrich loves the old man and wants him, and so he goes.

The second act shows us the joyous life to which the young prince is about to be introduced. The Neckar flows by glittering in the sunlight, and the Heidelberg students are singing and frolicking in the grounds of the old inn, where old Rüder the innkeeper, and his wife, and pretty Käthie, his niece, are bustling about preparing for the prince's coming. The boisterous students interrupt the preparations by lifting Käthie shoulder high and insisting upon toasting her as the prettiest girl in Heidelberg. Scarcely have they done so, when Lutz, the prince's valet, comes on the scene. True servant of the Sachsen-Karlsburg court, he is disgusted with the old inn and simple innkeeper, and even scowls at Käthie, when, with feminine curiosity, she demands, "if the prince is very smart and handsome, and oh, has he blue eyes?" But the prince himself, when he comes. with Dr. Jüttner, is delighted with the old place and the freedom and novelty of it all. Käthie sadly bungles her prepared speech of welcome, but, charmed by her pretty face and manner, he accepts her bouquet with delight.

After his formal welcome is over the prince is left with his old tutor in the garden. Night falls and the lights begin to twinkle from the opposite bank of the Neckar; the singing of the students, sitting over their beer by the river, comes faintly from a distance, and Karl Heinrich is intoxicated with the joy and beauty of this new life. He tries to talk of it with Dr. Jüttner, but the weary old gentleman falls fast asleep. Then, as the young man is sitting there disconsolate, Käthie comes out to talk to him. At first he is shy and can scarcely find a word in reply to her pretty overtures, and the girl finds conversation very difficult. But he is fascinated by this, charming damsel, and his nervousness is gradually overcome. After a while he manages to find a few words to say; then he looks into her eyes, and then takes her hands; Käthie rebukes him and explains that she is engaged; her relatives have arranged a marriage between her and her cousin in Vienna and she must marry that cousin - some day. Karl Heinrich hears, but by now he is fathoms deep in love and he does not heed. He holds her hands fast and again gazes into her eyes, and this time Käthie does not rebuke him. She too is attracted by this handsome young prince, who sees the confession in her eyes and takes her in his arms and kisses her. Very little time elapses before Karl is welcomed by his fellow students as one of themselves and is enrolled a member of the Saxonia corps, and so, by the time the old tutor awakens from his slumber, his young charge has found a sweetheart and jolly companions, and is fairly launched on a merry life at Heidelberg.  

It is six o'clock in the morning when, four months later, the third act opens in Karl's rooms at Heidelberg. Lutz, the court valet, is waiting up for his master, and Käthie, dainty and fresh as the dawn, comes in to see if her beloved Karl has yet returned. He comes back attended by a crowd of riotous students, with whom he has been spending the night. All of them are bubbling over with merriment, singing, shouting and laughing at the top of their voices, and Dr. Jüttner is there living his youth over again and as noisy as the youngest. The doctor goes off to bed and the students rush away to prepare for a new frolic, but they leave Kellermann, the tipsy old steward of the Saxonia Corps, fast asleep in the corner. Karl, utterly happy, rouses him up, gives him some money, and promises him he shall have a post in the palace at Sachsen-Karlsburg in days to come, and so sends him staggering home. Then the young prince takes Käthie in his arms and they talk together of their love and happiness. The sun shines brightly and the world seems free of care. Karl and Käthie delighted with love and life, plan an excursion. They will go away together and be even happier still. Käthie runs away to put on her best frock, and Karl sits down to count his money for the trip. At this moment of bright and happy anticipations Staatsminister von Haugk is announced. Karl Heinrich's great uncle, ruler of Sachsen-Karlsburg has been suddenly stricken by paralysis and the minister calls on the prince to return at once to the palace and assist in governing the country. Karl Heinrich desperately refuses. How can he leave the love and happiness of Heidelberg and return to the dread misery of that tomb-like existence at his uncle's court? "I will not come," he says, "You said I should have a year and I demand my right to be happy for at least that short space." But the Staatsminister urges that it is the prince's duty to his country. The safety of his people, and his own royal descent, make it impossible for him to persist in his refusal. Karl Heinrich pleads for at least a 'few weeks' delay, but in vain; and at last, broken-herated, the young man gives way. The Staatsminister leaves him, and Käthie coming down ready for her excursion, with her best frock on, hears that her lover must leave the town within the hour. He tells her that his uncle will probably recover, and he may be back within a few weeks, but the poor girl feels that this will separate them for ever, and is utterly miserable. Yet, knowing it is his duty to go, she bravely tries to hide her misery and bustles about helping him to prepare for the journey. They each make a pitiful attempt at cheerfulness, but it is hard to pretend to be cheerful when you feel you are bidding goodbye to all happiness, and at last their farewell is said in tears.

Two years later we see Karl Heinrich as ruler in Sachsen-Karlsburg. His great uncle died soon after he returned to the palace, and ever since the youth has been tied down to the deadly monotony of court life in his petty state. Old Dr. Jüttner left behind at Heidelberg, has died there, and the officials of Sachsen-Karlsburg find their new ruler a sad, stern, embittered young man. He has just settled the details of the royal marriage, which state policy has forced upon him, when Kellermann, the old steward of his student days, comes to the palace to claim the fulfilment of the promise made on that bright summer morning at Heidelberg. He wants a post in the royal household. All through those two dreary years Karl Heinrich has been hungering for news of Heidelberg and Käthie and he welcomes the old tippler with delight. He hears how the students talked of him, how his old companions fared, and how Käthie his little sweetheart, is there just the same, "only," says Kellermann "she has never seemed so merry since you left." This talk fires the young monarch to visit Old Heidelberg once more, and defying the court routine he rushes off to bid a last farewell to his love and the old place where for that few months he was so happy.

In the last act we see Old Heidelberg once more, looking as cheerful and bright as of old. But it has changed for Karl Heinrich The students invited to meet him sit at his table and sing the old songs, but they treat him not as a comrade, but as a monarch, and he sadly feels that he can no longer be as one of them. Only Käthie his little sweetheart, whom he has not seen or heard of for two long years, is unchanged. With a glad cry of welcome she rushes into his arms and sobs out that she knew he would come back to her once more. Together they mourn bitterly that fate has decreed their lives must be sundered.

But the brave little woman consoles her heartbroken lover. " I shall marry my cousin, and you will marry your princess," she cries, " but we shall each remember how we have loved each other. Be happy, Karl Heinz, oh, be happy. I shall not be able to bear it if I do not think you will be happy." And so they bid farewell. Karl Heinrich goes to his lonely, loveless throne, and Käthie to her loveless marriage.