Vanya wasn’t so keen on Mainz but she has an aversion to larger towns and was always going to feel disappointed after Bacharach. I, on the other hand, didn’t mind it but the city has a wonderful cathedral and there was a beer festival on over the weekend we were there.
We booked into a city centre camp site just over the river from the Old Town. The main bridge across the Rhine was a stones throw from the camp site and the beer festival was at the other end of it. Perfect location and planning!
Founded at the confluence of the Rhein and Main Rivers by the Romans in the 1st century, Mainz (previously Mogantiacum) is the capital of the Rhein Palatinate region. More than 80% of the city was destroyed by allied bombing in WW2 but, to see it now, you would barely believe those figures. It was quickly and carefully restored. There is one church, that of St Christoph, adjacent to the Karmerliterplatz, of which only the outer shell remains and that has deliberately been left standing in memory of the victims and the destruction of the city during the heavy bombings of 1942 and 1945.
Anyone visiting Mainz old town will very quickly find the Marktplatz, just follow the crowds of people. In this square and the surrounding area is a large part of Mainz’s history. There are a number of beautiful pastel coloured buildings, the marktbrunnen fountain, the Gutenberg Museum and most important of all, the Mainz Dom (St Martin’s Cathedral). It’s worth going to the old town to see the cathedral alone.
Almost next to the Cathedral is the Gutenberg Museum. In case you don’t know, Mainz was home to Johannes Gutenberg who in the early 1450’s invented metal type printing. This means of mass printing revolutionised publishing and it perhaps comes as no surprise that Mainz is home to both Germany’s first ever newspaper and the Allgemeine Zeitung. William Caxton subsequently built on Gutenberg’s device and introduced printing into England.
After fully exploring the Markplatz and the area thereabouts I headed off to walk the eastern side of the old town. There I found so many stolpersteine (see previous blogs on Bacharach and Rudesheim) but, more uplifting, I stumbled on the Evangelische Christuskirche (the Evangelical Church) where, inside, a string orchestra was rehearsing. Don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t the church which so fascinated me although the church building is impressive. No, Evangelicals are a bit too fundamentalist for me, I was captivated by the music being played. Sadly, I didn’t recognise the music but it was an enjoyable 30 minutes just listening and watching. I don’t think I have ever seen a conductor work so hard to get his points across to the orchestra.
On the way back to the camp site I paused at the beer festival down by the riverside. There were some 20 to 30 kiosks selling different predominantly German beers and a handful selling snack foods or wine. Needless to say, I stopped and tried a couple of the local beers (three to be precise) and a really cold Vinzentiner Weissbier won the day.
We were ready to take a second boat trip, this time down river. We wanted to go to Boppard (which had been recommended to us by a local) but the boat time tables worked against us and so we settled for St Goar. That was a shame because Sankt Goar proved to be something of a disappointment. Certainly, you don’t want to believe all the hype on the internet about Sankt Goar having the wow factor and being a real up and coming tourist destination, etc. It really doesn’t and it really isn’t.
The best part of our boat trip to Sankt Goar was the journey there and back. It took about an hour heading downstream and an hour and a quarter heading back and this section of the Rhein (between Bacharach ans Sankt Goar) is even more picturesque than that which we experienced two days ago. Moreover, sitting and doing nothing while drifting down the Rhein is actually very pleasant.
On the way we passed the two small picturesque towns of Kaub and Oberwesel, numerous almost obligatory castles for this part of the Rhine (one of which, the Pfalzgrafenstein, is particularly eye catching) and, of course, we passed the famous Lorelei or Loreley Rock.
The 132m Lorelei Rock sits on the right bank of the Rhein just up river of Sankt Goar (or, to be more precise, Sanktgoarshausen because Sanktgoarshausen is on the right bank and St Goar sits directly opposite on the left bank of the river). It’s a fairly irrelevant little hill not unlike many others on the banks of the Rhine but, it was made famous in the ballad “Zu Bacharach am Rheine” where a stunning young girl named Lora Ley, after being shunned by her lover, sought revenge and caused the death of numerous men. She was arrested and banished to a convent but, on the way to the convent, she asked to view the Rhine landscape one last time and then jumped to her death from the rock. There is another more modern story about Lora Ley sitting on a rock by the Rhine brushing her hair and distracting passing sailors and so causing them to crash and drown and, as if to support this theory, just to the south of Sanktgoarshausen is a statue of a girl sitting on a rock, brushing her hair. I favour the first story.
A little bit about Sankt Goar. The town is named after a Celtic missionary who settled in the area in the 6th century. He was subsequently made the patron saint of innkeepers. It is a small town but it’s castle, Rheinfels, was once the largest in the area until French revolutionary troops sacked it. Rheinfels was subsequently repaired and is now a tourist hotel. The town’s only other claim to fame is it has the world’s largest free-hanging cuckoo clock suspended outside a souvenir shop near the catholic church. We stood outside the shop at eleven o’clock, video camera at the ready, waiting for the cuckoo to show, but once again we were disappointed.
After walking around Sankt Goar we hopped on to the car ferry and crossed over to Sanktgoarshausen where we found a nice little cafe and sat drinking coffee in the sunshine until it was time to catch the boat to Bacharach. That was very pleasant.
And so we set off on a boat trip up and down the Rhine. This was not just any part of the Rhine; it was along a part of the 65 kilometre stretch running from Rudesheim to Koblenz which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it’s historical significance – there are so many castles.
We travelled upstream with a day return ticket to the small town of Rudesheim am Rhein; passing Lorch, Trechtingshausen, Assmannshausen and Bingen on the way and; we had the boat almost to ourselves.
The journey took us almost 1.5 hours and was both pretty and interesting. We passed numerous castles on the way and received a brief history of each one over the ship’s tannoy system but don’t expect me to remember them all. There were simply too many.
Rudesheim is okay but nowhere near as authentic nor as welcoming as Bacharach. Many more cruise ships dock in Rudesheim and it has become very touristy. A cruise ship docked moments after us and, in no time, a throng was heading off towards the north of the town in the direction of the Niederwald Monument. I can understand that; the Niederwald is an impressive sculpture with, no doubt, fine views up and down the river but it was enough to turn us in the other direction.
At the heart of Rüdesheim is Drosselgasse, a long two metre wide cobbled alley lined with original timber-framed buildings. The alley is now full of souvenir shops and cafe bars but it is as close as you’ll get to the original in Rudesheim which now attracts three million visitors a year.
Vanya, Nala, Beanie and I spent almost 5 hours in Rudesheim before rejoining our boat for the journey back to Bacherach. That would be about right if you were to include the Niederwald Monument in your stay.
We made a short stop at Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum (it is different!). We went for a stroll around the outside of the Bromserburg Castle which is now a wine museum and we discovered yet more Stolpersteine.
Just outside 20 Rathausstrasse are four Stolpersteine in the names of Karl Keller and his family. I’m sure there are others elsewhere across the town. Karl was a cobbler born in Bacharach (related to Willi Keller mentioned in the Bacharach blog) who fought for Germany in WW1 with the 97th Infantry Regiment on both the Western and Eastern Fronts. He was wounded in action and was decorated with the Iron Cross but that didn’t save him nor his wife and two children.
And so to Bacharach on the Rhein. We were going to stay for a day, have a quick look around and then move on. That’s not how it panned out. We stayed four awesome days enjoying everything about the place; our campsite (we had a great spot overlooking the river); and the town itself (Bacharach now figures up there among our favourite places to have visited during our European Tours – Matera, Obidos, Vannes, etc); and most of all, the German people whom we met and talked to during our stay (locals and holidaymakers alike). Indeed, Vanya now sees Germany in a totally different and much more positive light than when we toured Bavaria and this is due largely to the German staff and customers of the Kurpfalzische Munze bar.
Bacharach is picturesque little town of less than 2,000 people on the left bank of a scenic stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley some 50km south of Koblenz. It started life as a wine trading and shipping station in the middle ages. We visited a number of towns in the area during our stay but none were as pretty as Bacharach. You don’t need to take just my word for it. The great French novelist Victor Hugo, who visited the town in 1842, was moved to describe Bacharach as one of the world’s prettiest towns.
There are two main thoroughfares through the town, the Oberstrasse and the Langstrasse both of which run parallel with the river. They each have narrow cobblestone streets and half timbered houses many of which date back to the 15th century. The oldest house in Bacharach, on Oberstrasse, dates back to 1368 and has been renamed Altes Haus (Old House). Oberstrasse contains most of the town’s principal buildings (the church, the town hall, hotels, bars and shops, etc) while Langstrasse, closest to the river, is now largely residential.
It is believed the town’s name is derived from the Roman god of wine and revelry, Bacchus, and certainly this area has long been associated with wine production, particularly white wines. The hillsides around Bacharach are rich with vineyards. We got to sample quite a few Riesling wines whilst in the area.
Most visitors to the town will sample the region’s Riesling in a local Weingut and two in the very centre of the town which came recommended are Fritz Bastian’s Weingut zum Gruner Baum and Weingut Toni Just Hahnehhof. Each appears to offer good value tasting sessions. However, whilst in Bacharach, we chose to sample the local wines (including some by Fritz Bastian and Toni Just) in the less formal setting of the town’s bars and hotels where we could meet and talk with some of the locals. It is more expensive this way and we do perhaps miss out on some inside information about the wine from the wine producers themselves but, there’s no better way to enjoy the stuff. The atmosphere in a welcoming friendly bar such as the Kurpfalzische Munze, drinking what the locals drink, and meeting and talking to them easily surpasses what sometimes can be sterile wine tasting session with other tourists.
A little more about the town. Towering above Bacherach is the Burg Stahleck castle (520m above sea level) which was destroyed in the late 17th century (some say by an invading French army and others say it was on the orders of the Archbishop of Cologne) but, it was rebuilt in the 20th century and is now a Youth Hostel and open to the public. You can take tea and cakes on the castle terraces whilst taking in some fine views down the Rhine. Having said that I think that the Postenturm, which is not as high and easier to get to from the town centre, makes for a better viewing point.
Just below the Burg Stahleck is the Wernerkapelle ruin, originally a pilgramage church built between 1289 and 1430. This ruin has a particularly dark history. It started with the murder of a teenage boy, Werner of Oberwesselin, in 1287. He worked for a Jewish family and, with anti-Semitism rife in the area at that time, the Jews were blamed for the crime. Retaliation saw some two dozen local Jews killed. Rubbing salt into the wound, the catholic church subsequently made Werner a saint and the Wernerkapelle was commisioned.
Sadly, Anti-Semitism has been rife throughout Europe for most of the last two thousand years. Bacharach was again touched by it once some 90+ years ago after the Nazis took power in Germany. This was brought home to me during our stay in Bacharach when, whilst walking along Langstrasse, I chanced upon some Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) in the names of Willi and Emma Keller. Stolpersteine are small brass plates inscribed with the names of individuals who were victims of Nazi persecution. They are usually built into the pavement outside the building where the individuals last lived and are intended to keep alive the memory of the ordinary people (my words). Willi and Emma Keller were brother and sister who lived at 43 Langstrasse in Bacharach before being seized and deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. They didn’t survive Theresienstadt. The stolpersteine are part of a pan-European commemorative ‘art’ project and an increasing number are being placed throughout many countries in Europe. I have previously seen them in Hungary, Nederland and Germany. There are others in Bacharach (and we saw them in some other towns we visited in this part of the world) but, credit to Bacharach and the other towns for supporting this initiative. Many towns simply will not tolerate them.
I simply cannot finish this blog on such a sad note. A few more photos of a very pretty town:-
In this area it is almost de rigeur to take a cruise either up or down the Rhine. We did both; first of all heading up river to Rudesheim on the right bank of the Rhein and then, two days later, down river to Sankt Goar on the left bank and Sankt Goarhausen on the right. Those boat trips are covered briefly in separate blogs.