Labor Day! I don’t have to go to work! Oh wait, I’m retired, I never have to go to work. Anyway, today is the part of the cruise that gets into all of the promotional pictures. We cruise down the Rhine past many castles, or more precisely past many ruins of castles. This whole stretch of the Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage site.This stretch lies between the Main river, which connects to the Danube via a canal, and this is the route you would take for a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. Again we heard how Louis IV’s army ruined most of the fortifications they came across to “teach the Germans a lesson.” We left Rudesheim going downstream and first passed Brömserburg castle, which is one of the first stone castles in the Rhine Gorge, and then Klopp castle. Then we came to Ehrenfels castle, and in the river the Mouse Tower. The story is that Hatto II, Archbishop of Mainz, was a cruel and greedy ruler. During a famine the people were hungry, and begged the Archbishop to give them food. He invited them to come to his storehouse and take all the food they could carry. But when they got inside, it was empty. He locked the doors and set the building ablaze, and remarked that their screams as they died sounded like little mice. He then went to the tower in the river, where in the night many mice came and gnawed him to death. Then came Rheinstein and Reichenstein castles. Reichenstein is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Then came Sooneck, Hiemburg, and Fürstenburg. The story is that the Baron of Fürstenberg was renowned for being the best marksman in the area, and the Baron of Sooneck was jealous. He challenged the Baron of Fürstenberg to a duel to see who was really the best. When Fürstenberg approached with 4 knights, Sooneck had his crossbowmen kill the 4 knights. Then, because he had promised a duel, he let Fürstenberg live, but instead of a duel of crossbows he made it a duel of swords, which was not the strong point of Fürstenberg. Sooneck prevailed, then to make sure that Fürstenberg could never again challenge anyone, he had his eyes plucked out, and then threw him in the dungeon. Some time later, at a party surrounded by his retainers, Soonck asked them to bring out his “prized possession”, and they brought up Fürstenberg. Sooneck taunted him, and gave him a crossbow, and offered to free him if he could hit the goblet. Sooneck threw the goblet up in the air, and Fürstenberg missed the goblet completely. He did however neatly pierce the throat of Sooneck, then managed to stumble back to his castle.
Then we got to Nollig, Stahleck, Pfalz, and Gutenfels. Pfalz is a little tower in the river, and is one of the places where the robber barons extracted tolls. If you tried to go along the river without paying, donkeys would pull a rope that would come up and bar your passage. It was not devastated by Louis IV because it was not really a fortification, merely a toll booth. Then came Schönburg, Katz, Rheinfels, and Maus. Along the way we passed several railway tunnels which had been disguised to look like Medieval constructions, though up close they are actually made of brick. Apparently the Nazis thought the Allies would not bomb them if they were Medieval. Then came the castles Liebenstein and Sterrenberg, next to each other on a hilltop. They belonged to two brothers, who were both in love with the same woman. The father forbade the elder brother, Henry, to woo Angela, so the younger son, Konrad, did so. But then he went on a Crusade, and made a vow to come back and marry Angela, and she promised to wait for him. Five years went by, and then Konrad returned with a woman he had married while abroad. The brothers then drew swords and began fighting. Angela tried to stop them, and was wounded herself. So she went and joined a convent, and Konrad built a wall to separate the two castles. We then passed Marksburg castle, where many of our shipmates are going this afternoon. But we had other plans.
We docked near the statue of Prince Wilhelm I (Later Kaiser Wilhelm I), had lunch, and then went on a tour of the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. This is located at the strategic confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle rivers and sits on a high hill commanding both rivers. The hill is triangular, with two sides being steep slopes coming up from the rivers, and the only land approach is from the north. So that approach is heavily defended by a series of fortifications that give crossfire views of any attacking soldiers. It was started in 1817 to defend against the French, who thought the Rhine should be the natural border of France. It is massive, and was very expensive to build, and yet has never been attacked, even in World War II. We got there by taking a cable car that began near the statue of the Kaiser and went to the top of the hill, crossing the river as it did so. Our guide was acting the part of a British military engineer named John Humphries who was studying the fortress on behalf of the British crown, and was very entertaining. He spotted Kevin’s beret and accused him of being a dastardly French spy, and of course Kevin played along. And back at the boat several of the other passengers on this tour would joking accuse Kevin of being a Frenchman, and he would reply “Bon jour, monsieur!” Back at the ship we asked at the front desk (Guest Services) where we could find distilled water to buy for Kevin’s CPAP machine, and they said no problem and delivered a gallon within minutes. So all of our Googling places to buy distilled water was unnecessary, all we had to do was ask.
In the night we passed what is left of the Bridge at Remagen, which was captured by an American armored division despite frantic Nazi attempts to blow it up. Six divisions managed to get across before the bridge was destroyed, and Churchill estimated this shortened the war by 4 months. Our ship services offered to give us a wake up call at 5am if we wanted to see it, but we declined. Today we are in Cologne. This city was intensively bombed during WWII, so there is no “Old City” to speak of. But the story that is frequently told is that the spires of the cathedral were so tall that Allied bombers used them for navigation, so they managed to not bomb the Cathedral except for a little damage at the back. This is pretty remarkable since they absolutely had to bomb the rail station which is right next to the Cathedral. Actually, the Cathedral was bombed but survived largely because all the windows had been removed. The Cathedral is very special since it took 632 years to build and was only completed in 1880. The main part of the cathedral was completed, then work stopped because people got fed up with paying the taxes to build it and drove out the Bishop. After the Napoleonic wars the towers were completed, and that brought the Cathedral to completion.
Cologne was a major Roman settlement. It was the birthplace of Agrippina, the wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, and she got it declared a major capital. So there are Roman archeological finds and artifacts everywhere. It was from Cologne that the Romans built a bridge across the Rhine and sent 4 legions across to begin the pacification of Germania in 9 AD. But they were wiped out in Teutoburg Forest, and Rome pretty much stayed on the Western side of the Rhine after that. The Museum at one time was paying people for Roman artifacts, and a couple of brothers found what they thought was a good Roman artifact, but the museum said it couldn’t be Roman since they dug it up outside of the limits of the city. The brothers kept digging, and eventually had a nice group of statues and pillars that were clearly Roman. It turns out they were from a grave of a prominent Roman, and graveyards were always located outside the city walls. We returned via the bridge across the Rhine, which is full of locks placed there by couples. The idea is that you put your initials on the lock, lock it up on the bridge, and throw the key into the river to demonstrate your unending love.
The Wittelsbach family were the Bavarian kings, but also branched into other areas, such as Rhineland-Palatinate. One of them, Clemens August (1700-1761), was made Archbishop of Cologne and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. He built the Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces in Brühl. Falkenlust was actually more of a hunting lodge, but also the residence of his mistress, and the big sport was hunting with falcons, hence the name. The falcons would capture (but not kill) a stork, which would then get a silver band on its leg to say who had caught it, then released. Also on the grounds of Falkenlust is a chapel dedicated to Holy Mary of Egypt, who became a Christian then a hermit in 4th Century AD. Clemens did this to demonstrate his knowledge of religion since she was an obscure saint of the Eastern church. Clemens was made Archbishop at age 16 and was never ordained.