Today was a day that I was really excited about. I had been looking forward to taking a boat up the Rheine (Rhine) River and looking at all the castles, sipping beers, sunbathing with the German men who seem to take off their shirt even if they have no business taking off their shirts. Another scorcher of a day was in the cards but it was nice heading out early in the cooler air. We took the train by way of Koblenz to Bacharach (yes, just like Burt Bacharach) to start our KD Rhein cruise, already in progress (the cruise starts further south in Mainz but there’s not a lot of castles that far south). Bacharach is an adorable little town and I kind of feel bad that we didn’t get more time to poke around.
We got on the boat and grabbed some chairs next to some wildly gesticulating Italians who engaged Pa in a conversation (“I think they said something about red wine”). The Rheine was and still is an important shipping route in Europe as it reaches from Rotterdam to Switzerland. Many of the merchant barges are privately owned and lived in and we saw many of them putting up and down the river. Back in ye olde days when Germany was made up of hundreds of little kingdoms, robber barons would set up castles and forts along the Rheine and levy taxes and tariffs for those sailing up or down the river, often setting up a huge chain from one side of the river to the other to stop boats.
Pa and I bought a couple of overpriced beers and Ma had some water and we settled into our seats. The river did not disappoint – castles in various states of repair and disrepair around every corner. There’s a still a romantic in the basement of my chilly heart, so seeing some of these robust stone castles with sleepy little wood timbered villages below made my blood run a little warmer. A lot of these castles have now been converted into hotels, with one being purchased by an eccentric Japanese bajillionaire who wanted to turn the castle into some sort of Japanese tourism hot spot, but the German government put the kibosh on it and now the castle stands vacant.
Most of the castles were built in either the 12th or 13th century and a lot of them were destroyed by the invading French army in the 19th century and had to be rebuilt. Napoleon blew up an impressive looking one to show how much more impressive his explosives are.
Another part of the cruise that I was really excited about was seeing the Loreley Rock. This is the narrowest and deepest part of the Rheine and was apparently quite treacherous in the olden times, causing many shipwrecks. Apparently to people back then it was more plausible to blame a river siren named Loreley for distracting sailors than narrow reefs for all of the scuttled ships. There were many songs and poems written about Loreley and they’ve even erected a statue of the schone madchen.
The cruise was about 3 hours long and we got hot hot hot. I even got a bit of a sun burn. We saw about a dozen or so castles total.
After our boat moored at Koblenz we were up to our elbows in castles so we disembarked and headed towards the bahnhof to catch the train to Koln (Cologne) for our next UNESCO Heritage Site building. The train ride itself was 2 dull hours of mostly field and industry, but when we got into Koln, we could see the spires of what was once the tallest building in the world:
The Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). Everyone you ever meet in your life could tell you how big this building is and it still would not prepare for its gargantuan size. The Dom was started in the 1200s, took 700 workers and 36 years. What I was most excited to hear about was it contains 3 football field lengths of stained glass.
The Dom, like 95% of Koln was badly damaged by Allied bombs in WWII but because the frame was so strong, it was able to retain most of its structure.
The inside of the Dom became a pilgrimage site for two reasons – there was a statue of Madonna of Milan and the cathedral contained the bones of the (alleged) three magi (of ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ fame). The bones are housed in a huge gold and silver box by the alter.
After we finished gawking at the Dom, there was a second priority in Koln that we needed to take care of – kolsch beer. Kolsch is a style of beer that originates from Koln and is served in a tall, slim glass. It’s a lighter, pils-style and apparently one of the best places to get it is an old brauhaus (brew house) called Peter’s Brauhaus, a block over from the Cathedral. The Brauhaus looked exactly like you would expect it to – low ceilings, dark woods, big long tables. Pa and I ordered bratwurst and kolsch, Ma had goulash (and water). 6 kolsch beers and a few apple strudels later we were completely full and ready to head back to Cochem for our last night spent in the Mosel Valley.