German Rhineland Untour
St. Goar as seen from the Rhine
After clearing customs we and the other UnTourists were put on a bus which took them to Bacharach and us to St. Goar. Negotiating the narrow main street of Bacharach was a real adventure – especially when meeting a semi-truck going the other way – the drivers discussed the matter briefly and then slowly maneuvered the vehicles past each other. We soon arrived in front of the Christmas store on the main street (also highway) of St. Goar. The two young men at the Christmas shop were very helpful and both spoke English. The landlord, Herr Walter Huppertz, was waiting and took us around to the side door and up the flight of stairs to our “Idyll Apartment” (that is what is written on the outside wall next to the door).
The Christmas Lower apartment is wonderful. One of the best apartments that we have had traveling with Idyll. There is a well equipped kitchen (including micro-wave), living room (with TV) with comfortable seating, bedroom (good bed) with lots of storage space, iron and ironing board, bathroom with washing machine, sink, and shower, and a separate toilet. The apartment windows open to a very narrow side street with no noise except the laughter of children and neighbors talking. The apartment is cool and comfortable. In the basement – where the separated garbage (plastic, paper, glass, etc.) must go – are cases of bottled water (both kinds), coke, and other flavored drinks that you can pick up and pay for at the end of your stay. Wine is also available at a discounted price in the Christmas Store (but it is still a bit pricey compared to other stores in town).
In St. Goar the narrow main street just off the highway is car free most of the day and contains many restaurants, hotels, gift shops, a bakery, meat market, produce market, flower shop, bank, news and tobacco store, drugstore, and grocery store. The train station and post office are a couple of short blocks up the hill behind the main street.
St. Goar is situated on the “left bank” of the Rhine and the village of St. Goarhausen is directly across the river – serviced by a car and passenger ferry (The Loreley IV) that makes frequent trips. We marvel at the skill of the boat captain as he uses the river current to turn the ferry completely around so that the cars are facing in the right direction to drive off the boat. This same navigation skill applies to the captains of the large K-D Line cruise ships that dock at both villages and use the river current to swing into position for loading passengers. When you look at the village of St. Goarhausen Maggie had the feeling that she was looking at her Grandmother’s German Christmas village that she put on the mantle every year. The colorful houses nestled next to each other with some stores, a hotel and a couple of churches. The village is anchored at one end by the Loreley monument and a castle high above the river and then down-river is another castle (the cat and the mouse – as they are called here). The middle Rhine used to be very difficult to navigate at this point and the correct passage is clearly marked with buoys. Many a ship hit the rocky bottom and split apart trying to make the bend in the river that marks the Loreley – the siren of fable that lured sailors to their death in the cold waters of the Rhine!
A trolley runs up to the Castle Burg Rheinfels situated above St. Goar. The hill is very very steep! We spent several hours exploring the castle grounds (there is an entrance fee) on a self-guided tour. It is fascinating – the walls are 12 feet thick – so the interiors very cool. There were passage-ways and steep spiral staircases that required the use of a flashlight for navigation. There are many castles on the Rhine and they always seemed to be under attack and so the fortifications were strong.
Rüdesheim and Assmanshausen
We caught the ferry to St. Goarshausen and then took our first train ride south to Rüdesheim – a very touristy town – but it has a great Christmas shop. Had lunch at a shady café and then after a brief look at the Christmas shop – we took a chair lift which took us over acres and acres of vineyards to the Niederwald Dentanal – a monument to the establishment of the German Reich. There is a great view at the top looking down to Rüdesheim and across the Rhine to Bingen. We followed a marked trail on a 30 minute flat walk that passed through the Niederburg National Park (hard wood trees) that led to another chair lift that took us down the hillside to Assmanshausen – the red wine capital of the middle Rhine.
Trains – and Train Passes Our introduction to the German rail system. We were provided with several books containing train schedules and several smaller booklets containing local train schedules – small enough to carry in your pocket. We quickly got the hang of figuring out the times and days they ran. Each station (the village ones are usually unmanned) has a big board showing arrival and departures listed by time and showing the stopping places. There are lots of trains running on each side of the Rhine all day long – perhaps not as many on the weekends or holidays. Two 7-day train “twin” (two person) train passes are provided by Idyll. They must be validated before you begin to use them – but the validation is good for one full month from the date it is stamped – so you have 14 days of travel in that month. The first couple of days we wrote in the date in the space provided on our pass – but soon stopped doing that and let the conductor stamp the space or write in the date. Many times no one checked our pass at all and so we ended up not using all the allotted days. That proved useful later. Since we continued on for an extra week in Berlin we could use that same train pass for our trip to the Postdam flower show. The train pass is also good on the K-D boats between Mainz and Koblenz on the Rhine river and also part of the Mosel River.
We got an early start today and with only one train change in Koblenz we were in Cologne in 90 minutes. As you walk out of the train station you are overpowered by the Cathedral’s massive size. It sits right next to the train station. We waited until the afternoon to visit the church – to get an English guided tour. Our first stop was the Wallraf-Richartz/Ludwig Museum – a few blocks from the station. The exhibits started with early middle ages (1300-1500) with many triptychs and went on to the post-impressionists. There were several paintings by Renoir (including a self-portrait), Van Gogh (the Drawbridge), Degas (The Dancers), Rubens, Cezanne, and Monet. We spent several hours in the museum, especially enjoying the old masters.
The foundation stones for the cathedral were laid in 1248 and then it took 600 years to complete the cathedral because of the lack of money and sometimes a lack of interest. It was originally built to house the Magi relics that were won in a battle with Milan. We could not go close to the Holy Shrine (gold) because confessions were being heard in the area, but we did get to see a triptych that is only fully opened during Easter season. Also the tapestries which are only out for a few days each year were hanging next to the center aisle of the church.
The guide said that the Cathedral – which recently celebrated its 750th year – is constantly in repair and always has scaffolding up somewhere. The stained glass windows were magnificent. The windows are huge and the early ones from the 1300’s were given by archbishops who were very wealthy. The later ones were given by King Ludwig and other kings.
As we were walking down a Cologne street, a young couple – bride and groom – came riding by in very small elaborately decorated horse drawn cart. The wedding party and guests were all walking behind the cart and the couple was drinking champagne.
At mid-morning took a train to Remagen – the train people are very nice and helpful when we are not sure of which train to take – we got to repay that kindness later today when we were able to advise another couple that indeed they were on the right train and how many stops they had to go to reach their destination. As we traveled out of Koblenz Maggie said that she saw a bare breasted woman sitting on a balcony typing – but she failed to alert Pete in time for him to confirm that observation.
Remagen is the site of the famous WWII bridge and now a Freedom Museum. The woman at the train station provided us with a town map and marked the way to the bridge site. That route took us through the town and a long walk up the river Rhine. All that remains of the bridge are the entrance towers on each side of the river and the tower on the west side that now holds the museum. In March of 1945 the Americans found the bridge at Remagen still intact – the only one on the Rhine. The 9th Division troops took control of the west side and thanks to faulty explosives, the Germans were not able to blow up the bridge and could not hold off the attack by the Americans. The Nazi commander was ordered shot by Hitler. The Americans took the bridge and used it for 10 days until suddenly it just collapsed – being so weakened by the constant shelling. The Freedom Museum gave the history of the bridge through words, photographs, and artifacts as you climbed up the 5 levels of the tower. It has become a memorial to peace and it was financed by selling pieces of the old bridge stone supports.
Oberwesel, Bacharach, River Cruise, and Rüdesheim
W decided to visit some of the villages in the immediate area today – in particular to search for a city wall that you could walk on. First we went to Oberwesel (6 minutes south via train) and people in one store sent us down to the river – but they thought that we were looking for the walking path – walking and biking – that connects all of the villages along this side of the Rhine. In fact you could ride a bike – a flat ride – all the way from Koblenz to Mainz. We did look over the town and went to a beautiful Catholic church – Church of Our Lady. The windows were outstanding and beautiful chapel areas – one headed by a three dimensional triptych [See separate blog “German Treasures”]. We took the next train on down the line another 6 minutes to Bacharach – an Idyll village. The intention here was to shop at the Jost Store recommended by Idyll. But nothing struck our fancy in this store. We had lunch in a little grill on the main street and enjoyed that antics of dozens of school kids coming in and out of the grill for ice cream treats. Pete also explored an area above a catholic church – 100 steps up up up up to the old gothic chapel “Wernerkapelle” – merely walls now – the path eventually would lead to the castle Burg Stahleck. This town had the wall that you could walk – and we did!
We took the K-D boat back to St. Goarshausen. The boat ride was windy but pleasant and gave us a different perspective on the countryside. Passed one castle that sits on an island in the Rhine – used as a toll booth in the olden days. Caught a train back south to Rüdesheim to do some shopping in that Christmas store.
Wine Tasting Party in Winningen
Today we joined the other Untourists for the Idyll sponsored wine tasting party at the Mosel river town of Winningen. We met Ute (out Idyll contact) in Koblenz and then we all trained together to Winningen. The witch is the symbol of this village and in fact they did burn witches in the town square in the olden days.
There were about 20 of us at the party. which was held at the winery home of Rosemarie Hautt-Korber. We sat in a vine covered patio and sampled white wines as she gave us some useful information on wine growing in this region of Germany. The grape plants are kept in production for up to 80 years. The plants cling to the steep hillsides stuck into the slate rock using very little soil – the roots go down up to 5-15 meters into the slate. The slate varies in mineral content from region to region – introducing subtle variations in the taste of the wine. The water from rains is channeled off the hillside to keep the plants from washing out. Before lunch we toured the old winery below the house – it is now a museum, as she has moved the operations to a more modern plant on the edge of town. We saw racks that hold 1000 bottles of wine and oak casks of all sizes up to 1000 liters with a door in it so a small person could get inside to clean the cask. She said that they had stopped using oak and switched to stainless steel vats which were easier to maintain and allowed them to store the wine for longer periods of time.
Rosemarie is an estate bottler – meaning that the end product was grown, harvested, and processed at her vineyard. She told us about the process of grading the wines and spoke with pride about being one of the first women to serve on one of these grading boards. Her most recent blend was a cross between a typical Rhine/Mosel white Riesling grape and a rarely used red grape to produce a new variety called Kerner – it was excellent wine and we ended up buying three bottles for 18dm – that’s about $3 a bottle!! She then had us sample different grades of Riesling and then came a “harvest” lunch with 5 different types of sausages, potato salad, Jarlsburg cheese, green salad, tomatoes, brown bread and yes, another round of white wine – this wine being the very best grade that her winery produces. It was wonderful – bravo Idyll!!! The best Idyll extra that we have experienced to date!
While sitting out by the river this evening we noticed that a sort of automatic flea market was springing up on the sidewalk of the main road. Piles of furniture, appliances, rugs, etc. began to appear and soon other people in cars and trucks began appearing and going through the piles of stuff looking for things that they could use. One woman stood guard over an oriental-looking rug while her mate got the car to pick it up. We concluded that perhaps the trash truck was coming in the morning and that this was probably a normal routine. That proved to be the case, as the next day brought the trash truck.
Took a morning train to Koblenz and then on to Trier – about 2 hours total. Trier has a vast amount of Roman ruins. First we had lunch at an outdoor café by the Porta Nigra – “The Black Gate” – because of the color that the stone had turned (age and pollution) over the years. We were surprised when a businessman asked if a chair at our table was “free” – forgetting that in many European countries it is common for strangers to share a lunch table.
After a quick walk through the downtown area we took an English guided walking tour through the Roman ruins and the older sections of the town – about 2 hours. The tour started at the Porta Nigra – the oldest Roman Gate still standing in Europe.
It had once been two churches and on the stones you can still see the initials of some of the slaves who had quarried the stones. The cloisters beside the gate have some of the original walls. They used no mortar between the stones – but iron rods that looked like big staples – to hold the stones in position. The Roman bricks (about 4cm wide) were used in patterns on many of the buildings – especially in cross shaped patterns around windows and doors.
We passed one house built in the 1300’s – a ladder was needed to get to the entrance door which was high on the façade – protection from intruders. We went down one street of what had been the Jewish section of the town. Before WWII had 200 families, but only 2 came back after the war. Even in the middle ages the Jews had to wear a yellow star or dot on their clothes. Their street was closed and locked at 10 pm each night and not opened in the morning until all of the town people had done their shopping. It was feared that the Jews would buy up all the goods and then resell them at higher prices. Seems the seeds of Aryan power were planted early in this area. The town was controlled by the Archbishop – Trier was a See and mostly Catholic and the Jews were allowed to have only certain professions – one of which was money lending, which made some very rich.
The Cathedral in Trier has three different architectural styles – the very early part is built of the traditional bricks and stones. The inside is very ornate with a chapel that contains the legendary “Mantle of Christ” – which, of course, is locked in an ornate box and never seen in public! The cloisters beside the Cathedral were lovely with the nuns buried in the courtyard garden in the center, higher up the bishop’s assistants, and on the highest level the bishop’s graves.
The market square had an interesting ornate fountain with naughty monkeys and lovely ladies. In the plaza the manhole covers had St. Peter on them and you were not to step on him or he would take his key and open the heavens and let the rains pour down. Next to the Dom area was the palace where Constantine once lived in the 4th century – a rococo style building with a pink front façade with gold metallic angels and figures. The Romans had a unique way of heating buildings using fires and vents that would move the smoky (but hot) air through the walls and outside again. They could keep even very large buildings at a constant comfortable temperature.
The Imperial Roman Baths were at the end of the tour – including one original wall over 2000 years old. The people entering the baths were first cleaned with oil and sand, and then went into a hot bath (104 degrees). The tepid baths were next and last the baths at 68 degrees. We walked through the sewers where the waste was carried out by water and above us was a platform on which the slaves crawled carrying coal to feed the fires that heated the water. They did not live long under those conditions. It was an excellent tour.
Koblenz and Bad Ems
This was a heavy walking day. We started by touring the old section of Koblenz – ending up at the Mosel River and then walked down the river until it met the Rhine. This is called the “German Corner” and has a reconstructed statue (very large) of Emperor Wilhelm I on his favorite horse. Coming and going to this spot we also went through a couple of churches dating from 1200 – St. Florin’s was gilded and St. Castor’s Basilica had wonderful colors on the walls and ceiling – blues and reds.
Then we took the train to Bad Ems – which is located on the Lohr River a short distance to the East. This is a spa city where people go to take the hot baths and get the “cure” for what ails them – just like the Romans 2000 years ago. It is a pretty village with large hotels and elegant homes along the river and a large green park system that allows you to walk the length of the village – which we did.
Took the train South to Mainz today. With the help of the information office we bought a day pass (for two) for the city transit system and marked our map for the places on our itinerary.
First we went to the Gutenberg Museum. They have three of his original Bibles from 1542 – two old testament and one new – in a room that looks like and in fact is a vault – big heavy doors. All is under glass with special lighting – very impressive. They even had working replicas of his early printing presses, displays of later presses; plus hundreds of documents that were done with different printing methods. So it was also a history of printing and paper (and other printable materials) and ink museum too!
Upon leaving the museum we found ourselves in the midst of market day in Mainz – a huge public market with every food under the sun. Excellent people watching at this place. After lunch we took a bus to the Roman Ship Museum. This was fascinating – they found parts of Roman ships when digging foundations for new buildings – enough to get a good idea of how they were built and what they looked like – so they made full-scale replicas of the ships alongside the old remains and then provided drawings or the details. You could also watch craftsmen at work on the models. We also encountered a large group of high school age kids – they came into the museum and every last girl in the group headed for the bathroom, all of them! They walked around talking and laughing but hardly paid any attention to the displays.
We then walked to St. Stephens church and along the way, while looking at the map, a gentleman came up to us and offered help in finding the right street – this happened many times on our trip – people were very friendly and helpful.
In St. Stephens are 9 stained glass windows done by Mark Chagal – they are blue and they are glorious works of art! They were all old testament scenes and had a modern yet mythological look. The angels looked like sprites with elfin faces. We sat and looked for a long time.
St. Goar and the Knights Festival (June)
We decide to stay in St. Goar and check out the Festival at the Burg Rheinfels that we had heard about at the orientation session. We walked up that steep hill in the cool rain. We arrived just in time for the Medieval Knights Tournament – just like the history books and movies – only better! It was professionally done with four Knights (one a lady) on horseback doing tricks and stunts with their lances and spears – such as threading the lance through a small ring at full gallop or cutting an apple in half while riding by. All the entertainers were in period costume including helmets and chain mail and wearing a colorful cloak with the design and crest of a particular family. It was great fun and the sun came out for part of the show. The rest of the castle grounds was set up for a fair – with food and trinket booths. That evening we went to the Zurkrone Restaurant – a real “local flavor” place a block from the train station – good atmosphere and good food.
After breakfast we headed for Düsseldorf on the ICE fast train from Koblenz. We arrived at 11:30 and headed on foot for what the locals call “the kö” and all of the exclusive shops. Had a very nice lunch in an adjacent mall and then went to the Königsallee to window shop – but to Pete’s delight there was also a car show along that street – 6 blocks of pre-1950’s US and every exotic car ever made in the world. He once counted 12 Ferrari’s drive by him – a million dollars worth of cars! Maggie was also having a good time checking out the clothes and shoes (pointy toed or slanting to a wedge shape at the toe and selling for 200-400 dollars) in the store windows. We would meet at the end of a couple of blocks and plan our next meeting.
Then we walked to the Nordrhein-Westhalen Düsseldorf Museum. Their collection is more modern and encompasses 1880s to the present day. There was a large Picasso collection, and several by Matisse, Paul Klee, Georges Braque, Jean Miro, Leger and a new one that we liked, Wassily Kandinakly. Pete’s personal favorite was a box with scattered oranges and dead leaves by an artist soon forgotten. They were also showing a special collection of work by Sean Scully – an Irish artist. It was a series of color rectangles – nothing that we drooled over or pondered as to its meaning. More revealing were his photographs which gave evidence of where his painting ideas came from – they were doors and windows and barn doors with patterns that were repeated in his painting. Without the slightest hesitation along the way, Maggie led us back to the Banhof and we were soon back home in our comfy apartment.
Took the ferry across the river and caught the train to the only castle in this Rhine valley that was never destroyed – Marksburg. While waiting for the trolley to take us to the castle we were joined by 22 sixth graders, their teacher and ten other adults. Turns out they were “Army Brats” (their own description) from a U.S. Army base and they invited us to come along on their English guided tour of the castle.
We saw cannons and armaments of all kinds, a kitchen with a fireplace large enough to roast a whole ox, the dinning room with its adjoining bathroom (fertilizes the garden) that allowed the lord of the castle to hear the conversation while he sought relief, his lady’s bedroom with a canopy bed (valuables were put on top of the canopy). The castle was built in 1387 and all castles on the Rhine collected taxes from travelers. The students were fun to be with and the teacher would say at each stopping point – “Students – it’s time to listen!”
Ended the day on “our” bench by the river. There is also a very nice park area at the north end of St. Goar with roses and benches. Had our last dinner at the Loreley Hotel and then our landlord came by to settle up accounts for the bottled water we had used and for the use of the washer and dryer – totaled 51 marks for the two weeks.
Pete and Maggie riding the train in Germany