Viking Cruises, Koblenz Germany and the Middle Rhine
We docked in Koblenz on our third full day with Viking River Cruises and had several choices of tours. One of the features I love with Viking is the ability to scope out all tours ahead of time and sign up for the “included tours” as you complete your personal form of registration. Kim was interested in the tour of the Marksburg Castle, but given my back issues I opted to remain on board and hopefully capture the magnificent homes, castles and other architectural interesting buildings on the Middle Rhine. She went ahead with the tour. I was glad I remained on board. As we sailed to Braubach, where Kim and the others would rejoin us. I noticed that there was a cable car running high above the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers where we docked. The cable car takes passengers to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress and returns them after the visit. This was our view as the early morning tours disembarked.
As we pulled out of port I noticed this gorgeous statue off to the left of us and discovered it was erected in honor of William the Great of Germany. William was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Germany. He was a heir of the royal house of Hohenzollern and was exposed to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy. This had a major impact on him and he was rarely seen out of uniform. He was a major force in the creation of the German Navy that would eventually rival Britain as a world power. He enthusiastically promoted technology, industry, the arts and sciences as well as public education and social welfare. Kim and the group weren’t able to see this very large and detailed tribute to William.
The Marksburg Castle was erected around 1100 is located above the German town of Braubach. The fortress was used for protection rather than as a residence by the royal families. It is part of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the only castle out of 40 castles between Bingen am Rhein and Koblenz that was never destroyed although badly damaged by American artillery fire in March of 1945
Obviously the stone steps are rough and you need to wear the appropriate type of shoes when walking through the castle. Kim also told me that certain passage ways were very short and people had to virtually lean to pass through a few halls. The tour was listed by Viking as “Demanding”, which persuaded me to pass. Kim told me she was glad I did.
Obviously the view from the castle across the Rhine was gorgeous and one I am sure I would have enjoyed. I am glad Kim took photos for the Nomadic Texan! This gigantic wine press was a novel item for me and I thought it worthy of inclusion. It would give me more confidence than people’s feet! LOL!
The suits of armor were very cool and I think a knight would have to be really strong in order to parade around in these metal suits, much less go to battle and try to protect yourself. A typical suit can weigh anywhere from about 22 pounds to 110 pounds depending on its materials.
I had to show this photo, as we both thought it was a novel approach. The castle’s toilet actually protruded out over the garden and human waste was displaced onto the plants below as fertilizer. The door locked from the castle side as intruders sometimes tried to climb the exterior, enter the toilet (disgusting if they meant they came in through the seat) and try to vandalize the castle, steal it’s contents or maim it’s inhabitants. So locking it from the castle side prevented egress.
As we headed down the Middle Rhine I went up top to the upper deck. The weather was great. Every cruise I take with Viking I capture the Lifebuoy or if you prefer Lifering, so that down the road I will have no issues with the name of the Longship we sailed on. Love that it shows the home port of Basel Switzerland and how excellent the knot is tied. Makes me feel more comfortable about the overall maintenance of the ship.
It wasn’t long before we encountered structures on both sides of the ship along the Middle Rhine. It didn’t take much for me to be comfortable in the fact that I stayed behind. If I had gone I would have missed all this beautiful architecture, castles, hotels and houses. This section of the Rhine river is known as the Rhine Gorge and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It runs from Koblenz to Bingen and Rudesheim. The entire valley is known as the Romantic Rhine. There are forty plus Castles and Fortresses along this section of the Rhine River. I highly advise you see this section of the river from the ships during daylight hours!
The first castle pictured is the Katz Castle which was built in the second half of the fourteenth century as a stronghold and military base to protect the Rheinfels Castle. Both castles were built to protect the Salmon fishing in the Rhine. Salmon disappeared from the Swiss Rhine about 50 years ago, due to poor water quality and the construction of hydro-electric power plants. From the Katz Castle vantage point it was next to impossible to be conquered from the valley below.
Maus (Mouse) Castle was erected by Archbisop Balduin between 1353-1388. It is actually called Thurnburg. At the time it was one of the most modern and technically constructed castles of its time. The people invented the story that both castles spied upon themselves like a cat and mouse, as they were occupied by opposing forces in the 13oo’s. Today Mouse Castle is open for visitors to admire period furniture and interesting collections.
Rheinfels Fortress was built around 1245 and was the Count of Katzeninbogen’s residence initially. When the Katzeninbogen dynasty passed the ownership of the castle transferred to the House of Hesse. With this conversion, it became one of the strongest fortresses in Germany. As the only military complex on the left bank of the Rhine river it withstood the troops of Louis XIV in 1692. In 1796/97 the French Revolutionary Army overtook the structure without a struggle and blew up the exterior walls and the castle. Today visitors are surprised by the size of the ruins, as well as the web of trenches and tunnels which in most cases still are functional.
Schönburg Castle was first mentioned in history between the years 900 and 1100. The Dukes of Schonburg ruled the town of Obelweser and were able to levy taxes on the Rhine. The most famous was Friedrich von Schonburg, a feared man who served as a colonel and general under the King of France in the 17th century. The castle was burned down in 1689 by French soldiers during the Palatinate wars. It remained in ruins until it was acquired by the German-American Rhinelander family in the late 19th century and restored it. In 1950 the town of Oberwesel obtained the castle back and signed a long-term lease with the Hutti family who operate it as a prosperous Hotel and restaurant.
Along with the various castles and fortresses roughly 450,000 people call the Middle Rhine home. The river is abundant with gorgeous hotels, houses and structures from 900 AD through present day. Most are very detailed and beautiful in appearance from the exterior. I couldn’t take photos fast enough and tried to view both sides of the river equally. It was difficult at times. The Rhine Gorge as mentioned above, refers to the narrow gorge of the Rhine running through the Rhenish Slate Mountains between Bingen am Rhein and Rudesheim am Rhein in the south and Bonn-Oberkassel in the north. The basin at Neuwied separates the lower and upper halves of the Middle Rhine. The following are samples of houses, hotels and other acrchitecture we saw.
On our Viking tour of the Middle Rhine River we learned the reason for the German train tunnels looking like castles along the Middle Rhine. The Germans learned quickly that allied air force groups would try valiantly to not cause any damage to the extraordinary castles throughout Germany, as well as the beautiful cathedrals when possible.
The allied forces were instructed to avoid bombing well known structures when at all possible. This caused the German engineers to build most of the train tunnels along this area of the Middle Rhine, to resemble towers and walls of the local castles.
The allied planes focused on military and industrial targets such as factories. Additionally castles were usually located away from heavily populated areas. This doesn’t mean there was no damage to castles, but most were spared. This was actually a brilliant method of avoiding destruction of the tunnels. They played on our sentimental values and kept trains running, transporting tanks, German militia and supplies to the front lines. The castle disguises were successful.
Our middle Rhine sail with Viking went past the Lorelei Mermaid statue and rock. Legend has it that this siren, originally betrayed by her sweetheart, was accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to die, the bishop sent her to a nunnery.
On the way there, accompanied by three knights, she came to the Lorelei rock. She requested a climb on the rock to view the Rhine one last time. She scaled the rock, thinking she saw her sweetheart in the river and fell to her death. Afterwards echos of her name emanated from the rock when sailors traveled past.
Legend states as she was combing her golden hair the sailors became distracted. Her beauty and singing, then caused the sailors to crash into the rocks and perish immediately. Songs, amusing tales and local legends reaffirm this story and have helped it cultivate over the ages. Many poems and Operas were written to commemorate Lorelei!
That evening we docked in Rudesheim, a town in the Rhine Valley known for wine making, especially Riesling wines. In the center, Drosselgasse is a lane lined with shops, taverns and restaurants. We ate at the Drosselgasse restaurant and had a great time. Although people who imbibed had a significantly better time I’m guessing. It was a party with dancing, adult drinking games singing and lots of beer!
Rüdesheim lies at the foot of the Niederwald on the Rhine’s right (east) bank on the southern approach to the Loreley. The town belongs to the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region and is one of Germany’s biggest tourist attractions. Only the Cologne Cathedral draws more tourists from other countries. Making the town worth visiting is, not only the wine or even the Old Town itself, but also the picturesque Rheingau landscape together with the romantic Rhine.
This day was a stellar one, especially given I had purchased a zoom lens for my camera right before we left and I had a substantial opportunity to use it on this leg of the cruise. Between the architecture and the more than forty historic castles, I gained great experience. I have been a photographer for many years and even have used a zoom in the past with my old Nikormat from Japan. I was thrilled that Viking gave me this chance by sailing this portion of the Middle Rhine in the daytime. Now on to Heidelberg!
***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.