Germany - The Rhineland and a Glut of Castles - Europe in the Time of Covid - Part 10

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 6th September 2020

Train to Trier

From Luxembourg to Trier is just an hour on the train, hugging the banks of the Mosel river. The scenery green and pleasant enough, the famed vineyards beginning to appear as we near the city, vertical lines up the lower slopes, dark green forests up top. There are no luggage racks and I daren’t let go of my case, as it careers all over the carriage.

Trier

Trier claims several records. It is said to be the oldest town in Germany - having been founded by the Romans. There’s a huge relic to prove it - the dark sandstone Porta Nigra - the largest Roman gate north of the Alps. There’s also a Roman bridge, spa and amphitheatre.

In addition, a very old market place, dating from 958 and the oldest basilica in Germany. Here are sets of chiming bells, an ancient stone cross, carved gables and an imposing city hall tower.

I follow the marked tourist trail through the centre of town to a huge UNESCO listed cathedral complex. St Peter’s is the oldest church in the country, having been commissioned by Constantine at the same time as St Peter’s in Rome; the earliest parts date back to the fourth century. It is Romanesque and fortress like; the original cathedral was four times the size of this one, so it must have been truly enormous. It houses (so they say) the seamless or sacred robe that Jesus wore at the crucifixion, brought back to the church by Helena, Constantine’s mother (her palace is under the cathedral). though it’s sealed away in a shrine and you only get to see it every several decades or so. In addition there’s also a nail from the crucifixion, on display in the treasury. The slightly daintier Church of Our Lady adjacent to the main cathedral is the oldest Gothic church in the country. That one was begin in 1230.

I attempt to follow the tourist trail but either I get lost or the signs disappear, so I'm reduced to wandering and looking vainly at my map. But I manage to discover another huge Roman basilica - Aula Palatinata - this one known as Constantine’s basilica, a splendid pink Electoral Palace, set in a park resplendent with fountains and neat flower beds and the house where Karl Marx was born. These are linked by pedestrianised shopping streets - the shops dull mid range chains to cut price stores for the most part.

Along the Mosel

Plan A, long since buried in the mists of time involved a Rhine cruise which would have terminated here, so I wander down to the river to see where my boat would have docked. A pleasure cruise is about to depart and I hop on. I'm exhausted and it’s scorching hot today, there is virtually no breeze.

It’s possibly the least scenic part of the Mosel, camp sites, cranes and the odd monument. We sail under the old Roman Bridge. It’s only marginally cooler on the water, but at least I'm sitting down.

My Hotel in Trier

Romantik Hotel Zur Glocke is the oldest inn in Trier (of course) and thoughtfully serves its guest welcome drinks- sparkling Mosel wine. I also need to mention the Bierkeller – superb German food.

Train to Koblenz

I had been really looking forward to revisiting the Mosel - I have fond memories of goblets of wine sipped in fragrant gasthaus gardens, gazing across the water to the vine laden banks. Sadly, it’s raining today. Dark skies rarely improve the view and that’s definitely the case as we rattle through what is clearly gorgeous river valley scenery, ladders of vines with delightful villages scattered on both sides.

Koblenz

Koblenz has some similarities with Trier, but not the same claims to antiquity. It has a palace, the Kurfurstliches Schloss this time, grey-white and spreading along the banks of the river and a compact old town with churches, more sets of bells and some nice examples of those small curved tile dormer windows that are common round here.

It also has a lot of shops on pedestrian streets. It makes more of its river though. Much of the town is built along the banks and the palace churches and other monuments form part of the mile long Rhine promenade, which is a UNESCO heritage site. I saunter along here several times, savouring the views. Probably the most well known area here is the gargantuan Kaiser Wilhelm monument on the Deutche Eck (corner) at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine. It's just about obligatory to have your photo taken here.

Opposite is the huge and sprawling but ugly Rhine fortress, the second largest in Europe. You can take a cable car across to the top if you are so inclined. I hope the view from up top is nicer than the one from down here. There’s a smaller version of the fortress above the station quite close to my hotel. It turns out that this is the prison.

Am Rhein

I'm taking a day cruise on the Rhine to replace the week long journey I had originally booked. Even the day cruises are curtailed due to lack of demand. The boat normally seats 600, has currently been limited to 285 and today is carrying under 20 passengers at the start, as far as I can see, though the top outside deck fills up as the day progresses.

The route on offer is Koblenz to St Goar and back, with stops at St Goar and Boppard.
It’s overcast but not raining, so I at least get to see the Rhine Gorge and the Lorelei Rock, even if they aren't displayed in their full magnificence.

First up is the Koblenz Brewery followed by Stolzenfels Castle (once a medieval castle rebuilt as a nineteenth century gothic palace) on one side and Lahnstein Castle (medieval but heavily restored) on the other.

A glut of castles. Marksburg lording it from the top of one peak is the only genuinely original medieval castle on the middle Rhine and thus is deemed to be the most suitable home for the German castles organisation. Others of note are the so called hostile brothers, two adjacent castles south of Boppard. And a little further on Cat Castle, close by Mouse Castle. They should have called them Tom and Jerry.

South into the celebrated Rhine Bend, the slopes of the limestone hills lengthen to vertical crags. Neat villages, whitewashed houses, helmed churches, to the east, vines to the west. It deserves its reputation as a must see.

The Lorelei Rock

I've been advised to disembark at St Goar, which is where the boat turns round. There is more to see there than at St Goarhausen on the opposite bank, I'm told. And it has the biggest castle on the Rhine. But I’ve had a sufficiency of castles; Goarhausen offers access to the Lorelei and that's on my bucket list. So I march along the riverbank to the famous statue, Germany's equivalent of The Little Mermaid, except that this slightly more malevolent person enticed sailors onto the rocks.. The statue of the madien is on a rock promontory at the end of an extremely uneven path. The rock itself - the story goes that the siren threw herself off this - is a little further upriver. It's the narrowest part of the gorge. Making my way back along the riverbank I wander into Goarhausen's tiny deserted old town. Unexpected and rewarding. I'm very happy with my choice.

Boppard

Another stop at Boppard for a couple of hours. Another extraordinary double steeple church. More gorgeous town houses. And a huge cutlet with mashed potatoes in an inn by the river. This is another country to get fat in. Schnitzel, kartoffelnsalat (potato salad), apfelstrudel, kasekuchen (cheesecake), an ice cream parlours proliferate and schlagsahne (whipped cream) with everything. The fast food of choice is curry wurst with chips. There’s a booth on every corner.

Train to Cologne

I’ve opted for the train from Koblenz to Cologne, as I’ve read that it’s a very scenic journey. And I’ve duly selected a seat on the right as instructed, as I’m told the train runs along the left bank of the Rhine. Except that there are works on the line and the train has been re-routed, often through industrial, warehouse ridden hinterland and the few bits of river that I do glimpse are on the left hand side. The train is full, so I can’t move. There are only two toilets aboard and they’re both out of order, so I’m relieved, literally when we arrive. It’s just like being at home.

Cologne

Cologne isn't the prettiest city that I’ve visited. The main land mark is the cathedral. It’s immense, towers over the city and is the first building I see as we arrive at the Hauptbahnhof. I’m not a great fan of the restoration of historical buildings, but this one is in dire need of restoration. It’s filthy and badly eroded. And restoration is indeed underway. The entire building is shrouded in scaffolding. There is even an array of turrets that have been removed for repair, standing on the floor. It must be a mammoth undertaking.

The city hall is also being restored. It stands on the edge of the Altstadt. This is signposted, but is smaller than the old towns in most of the Rhine villages. There are a couple of large squares, more churches and some new houses, mixed in with the older ones, built in roughly the same style. Along the river are walkways with museums housed in brutalist style architecture - it’s a smaller version of the South Bank in London.
Otherwise there are a plethora of mid to low price bars restaurants and shops. As with much of Germany there is plenty of English integrated into the general signage' as well as the announcements. ‘Sandwiches, speed dating, ticket controller, pub, teenagers and shopping.........

Prague next.

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