Mostly aristocratic students at Heidelberg University were not under the jurisdiction of the normal authorities. The University handled disciplinary matters. Facilities in the old University buildings included a jail (now a museum), with one of the cells shown here.
For the most part, sojourns in the Heidelberg student jail were the result of frat-boy pranks, and treated as something that was part of the accepted tradition of student behavior. Part of the tradition was to add one’s name and maybe some art—so in later years as a “good old boy” one could come back and point to the scene of one’s incarceration.
It was all one big lark. But making things a little more poignant, note that I photographed the cell shown here in a state of “arrested decay” (just as I did with the California ghost town of Bodie in Arrested Decay and Gone with the Wind). At the Heidelberg Student Jail, “arrested decay” means most of the carvings and painting date from the decade before the first World War—where many of these pranksters must have perished.
Special thanks to Francis, who showed me the jail and explained its background.