Friday, July 3, 2015

Along the Rhine

Low bridge!
The captain of our ship referred to the Main River as a ‘creek’ with innumerable locks that had to be negotiated, keeping the passengers from enjoying the upper deck most of the time. The Rhine, in contrast, is a deeper, broader river with a few low bridges that require the wheelhouse to be lowered, but allowed us to spend our time enjoying the upper deck. A few times I thought I might be able to touch the bridge girders; they were just a bit beyond my reach.

Mainz was founded as a Roman fort city (late 1st century BC) commanding the west bank of
L to R: Gutenberg Museum, Saint Alban
the Rhine and a part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. It’s located on the Rhine at its confluence with the Main opposite Wiesbaden. The
Gutenberg Museum is located in this city and we were looking forward to seeing the replica of Gutenberg’s workshop and his printing press. From our local guide we learned that in his early life, Gutenberg had made ‘pilgrim mirrors’. These convex mirrors would catch the ‘benign rays’ emitted from religious relics. Every seven years special relics would be displayed at the Mainz Cathedral, attracting pilgrims from near and far. These folks would pin a ‘pilgrim mirror’ to their clothing or hats to catch the rays from the relics. The rays could then be transported home to family and friends so that they, too, could experience the benefits. The belief that breaking a mirror brought seven years of bad luck may have had its origins in this practice. If the pilgrim mirror was broken, it might be as much as seven years before another could be brought to Mainz to collect more ‘benign rays’ from the relics. It’s hard to know what the relic was, but Mainz is the home of Saint Alban who was decapitated while preaching to the local heathens. As with more current printing presses, the type is set in backwards blanks added to separate paragraphs, columns and spaces for either hand-drawn designs or actual decorative letters that could be printed in a different color of ink. Our guide actually set, inked and printed a page for us. It’s a lot harder work than it appears since it takes a great deal of effort to actually move the page under the press. Complete bibles are two-volume sets and may be printed on either paper or vellum. Within the museum are several partial examples of Gutenberg bibles, although Germany holds the most examples (13) of complete and partial bibles. Around the world only 17 complete bibles printed on paper and only five complete copies on vellum are in collections; there are 26 partial copies. The US boasts 11 copies with the UK having 8 copies. The University of Texas at Austin has online images of their Gutenberg bible. With all the excitement about the reusable/movable print printing press, it was interesting to find that it wasn’t until hundreds of years later that any sort of statue was created to honor Gutenberg. The museum was created in 1900, but Gutenberg’s statue came after that.

Leaving Mainz, we entered the Rhine Gorge, a 2002 designated UNESCO World Heritage site. This 40 mile stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley is home to castles, historic towns and
Top: Pub street
Bottom: L to R: Egyptian geese, Wine tasting
vineyards and is the location of Rüdesheim am Rhein. This town’s claim to fame is its winemaking, which it has evidently done since the 4th century AD. Situated at the foot of the Taunus Mountains it is one of the centers of the Rhine wine industry. This little town also boasts a street that is nothing by wine bars and pubs that date from about the same time as the wine industry was 
established. It has the medieval characteristics of narrow streets and half-timbered houses that we’ve come to expect on this tour. Our visit to the vintner Rheingau took us down into a cellar that appeared to have been constructed at about the time winemaking began. Our host was quite surprised at the number of us who were interested in sampling his wines. I was a bit disappointed that we still hadn’t been given any of those rather sweet Rieslings that we get in the US. We were told that much of the wine produced here is for export, and the bottles that will remain in Europe are sold practically before the grapes have been harvested. On our way back to the boat we happened to see a family of Egyptian Geese making their way to the river. Although they were a bit wary of people, the call of the water was strong enough to make them ignore all of the tourists with their clicking cameras.

Castles of the Rhine Gorge
My favorite part of this trip was through the Rhine Gorge and a chance for what our cruise director called ‘Castle Ping-Pong’. Although it was chilly, we stood on the top deck in the bright sunshine viewing castles in all states from ruins to astonishingly well preserved and functioning estates, various styles of churches, and other travelers on the river. The castles, in particular, seemed to alternate from one side of the gorge to the other, hence the moniker ‘Castle Ping-Pong’. Along with these sights, came the names of the towns and the histories.
Top: Pfalz Castle
Bottom: Castle Sterrenberg and Castle
For the most part, either the Romans or the Francs were back and forth fighting with the local inhabitants and destroying castles, forts, and churches. Although there were several quite beautiful castles, the stories of two stand out in my memory. The story about Pfalz Castle reminds me a bit of Rapunzel. The local ruler had a lovely daughter who wanted to marry a commoner. Of course this wouldn’t do, so the ruler built a castle in the middle of the Rhine River and locked his daughter away. One of the local fishermen took pity on her and helped her escape. She found her love, married him, and perhaps lived happily ever after OR her father caught her, brought her back to the castle and locked her in with her mother. The mother helped her escape, escaped herself and they both ran off with the young man. Meanwhile, farther along the river lived two brothers. There are several tales about them, but this is the one I like: 
One brother was adventurous and out-going while the other was much more conservative. The boys were rather contentious so each had his separate castle: Castle Sterrenberg and Castle Liebenstein. Their father, being a kind man, adopted a young girl who has been orphaned. The two boys treated her as a sister, but as she grew up, the conservative brother fell in love with her. The adventurous brother was away adventuring, but when he came home, the girl fell in love with him. This caused a rift between the brothers, so they built a wall between the castles. The adventurous brother finally came home, but brought a wife with him. This so upset the girl that she entered a nunnery. The conservative brother, who had never professed his love to the girl, pined away and died. The adventurous brother’s wife ran off and in misery, he died. Hearing of the deaths of both brothers, the girl, now a nun, died. So ends another German love story.

Next to the river are train tracks. These have been in operation for a number of years and were important to the Nazi military effort. The Allies knew about these tracks that wound
Top L to R: Church tunnel, Castle tunnel
Bottom: Castle tunnel
through the Rhine Valley and wanted them shut down. However, not many in this area were bombed because they were disguised as churches and as castles. These decorations remain and are an interesting reminder that this wasn’t always such a pastoral setting. Our ship was not the only one on the river. Along with local traders and ferries taking folks from one side of the Rhine to the other were ships carrying tourists; one of those tour boats was the oldest Viking boat in operation. It still looks spritely with its paddlewheel and its red and blue trim. Barges are also common on the Rhine. Evidently they not only carry goods, but families live on these boats. We saw several with cars lashed to the decks and one with a trampoline hosting two bouncing
Top: Kids on trampoline
Bottom: Old Viking Ship
children. The youngsters are home-schooled until they reach age 11, then they must be in a formal school. There is at least one boarding school on the river that is specifically for the children of barge owners.

There were two places I’d seen in 1988 that I was surprised to see on this tour. The Lorelei is actually a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine that rises about 120 meters above the
Top: Lorelei Rocks
Bottom: Church behind bar
waterline, marking the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea. There is also a very strong current and rocks below the waterline that are responsible for innumerable boating accidents. However, this is also the location of a feminine water spirit who sits on the cliff above the Rhine, combing her golden hair and singing. This distracts sailors, causing them to crash on the rocks. Farther on along is a church serving a small town; but this one is a bit different in that it doesn’t have a door. To get into the church, you have to go through the local pub; the priest also served as the bartender and opens up after mass. I’m glad to see both of these sights are still here and still pointed out to tourists.

At the end of the Rhine Gorge is the area of confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel rivers.
German Corner
At this point is a monument that was at one time rather controversial. The Deutsches Eck (German Corner) is a point of of land first settled by Teutonic Knights. It gradually developed into a symbol of German nationalism that caused issues for the Americans and the French at the end of World War II. The monument, originally built in the late 19th century by Emperor William I, no longer stands for German aggression but for German unity. As we turned the corner into the Mosel River, I thought we had moved out of the castle district. However, there was one more that would punctuate our trek through this area.

Cochem was settled in early Celtic and Roman times, with its first mention in documents in 886. Its history mirrors that of the other German towns we’d seen except that in the first
Top L to R: Goat in press, Mermaid lamp, Reichsburg Castle
Bottom: Reichsburg Castle
quarter of the 15th century, the town was had a Plague epidemic, decimating the population. French troops conquered the area in the 17th century, but it was passed to the Kingdom of Prussia in the 19th century. The castle was in ruin, but purchased by Louis Fréderic Jacques Ravené in 1866 and reconstruction began. Once again this is an area of vineyards and people rely on the white wine grapes for their livelihood. There is a story that a goat was being used to keep the weeds out of the vineyard. However, it was suspected that it was also eating the grapes. To determine if the goat was guilty, they put it in a wine press and began screwing it down. When red liquid began flowing from the goat, they took this as a sign that the goat was innocent because they only grew grapes for white wine. As with witches, the test didn’t save the accused’s life.  Reichsburg Castle sits above a vineyard and was lastly owned by a man who renovated it for his family. He wanted it to be a cozy place with small rooms and a homey atmosphere. It’s now used as a tourist site, a falconry with eagles and a place for weddings. There were several odd things in this castle, including the mermaid light that you rub for luck and the statues of Kermit the Frog; as it turns out, these are lions with helmets. The view from the castle is breath-taking and I can understand why tourists would be attracted to this destination.

Lion with helmet
For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Review of the Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris’.
Reichsburg Castle

©2015 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.