Tonight I went to the Palatinate Museum, otherwise called the Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg. Their website is best viewed in German, but you can see an English version here. It was absolutely awesome. I'm very confident it would've been even better if I could read German!
As it was, I took off from the conference at about 2:30 pm and headed over there, expecting it to be a pretty short visit. I walked in to this little entrance and then went inside the front entryway. The woman sitting there didn't speak English very well, but I finally convinced her that I wanted to see the museum and paid her the 3 Euros to get in (a major bargain, I found out).
She handed me a little map of the place (which was badly designed, by the way) and then I started walking around. I was stunned. Inside this "little" museum, which I found spread around the entire courtyard behind the building all the way to the next block, on four floors, was material from a variety of different times.
In one section of the museum, they had an entire exhibit set apart to discuss the ancient inhabitants of the area. They had either the real thing or a replica of the jaw of Heidelberg Man. They had dioramas depicting guesses at ancient life with plenty of pottery, hunting tools, and diagrams of ancient living structures.
In the cool, dark basement they had ruins from Roman times - lots of wreckage of Roman construction, such as leftovers of the Roman bridge that used to span the Neckar River here in Heidelberg, with Latin written all over it. They also had complete statues of various historical figures (none were familiar to me, but again, I can't read German!), busts, and other distinctive rubble.
They had an entire exhibit on the ancient gods that the local people used to worship (primarily Jupiter and Mithra -- yeah, Mithra! They even had a replica of a mithraeum!). They had additional exhibits that spoke about the transitions in religion of the local population from this to Christianity, including lengthy discussions on the building of the local churches (Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist) and monasteries.
They had very full exhibits showcasing old painted portraits of the local kings, queens, and other royal family members. Art was all over the place, some in really good shape, others totally beaten up. They had one area where they had sketch drawings displayed in dim light that apparently they rotate in and out because the paper can't survive the bright light and the ambient conditions for long periods of time.
They had display cases showing coinage that was collected by local royalty over hundreds of years, dresses that illustrate the styles worn throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and more pottery and fine dishes than you can shake a stick at from periods all the way back to Roman times. I was very impressed with the dioramas showing the Roman legions invading town and the original paintings of the castle on the hill that show the castle in various stages of completion. They even had several complete sets of skeletons in their natural configuration that they transported from a nearby archaeological site and put under glass in the floor, with the relics that were found with the remains.
My visit to this museum was totally awesome -- my short visit turned into a 3 hour excursion, and I couldn't even read the signs on the exhibits! I'm a museum geek, and it frustrated me that they wouldn't let me take my camera with me. After I left, I really wanted to buy a book about the museum so I could have more information, but they didn't have any (even in German) that were complete enough for my taste. I was very disappointed. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the chance I had to go visit, and I consider this a true, hidden gem in little ol' Heidelberg.