Days Four and Five: Speyer, Rudesheim, Middle Rhine, and Koblenz


Imperial Cathedral of Speyer

As we cruised overnight from Strasbourg, the Rhine stopped being a boundary between France and Germany.  As we docked at Speyer, the Rhine was the boundary between two German states:  Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurtemberg.  Being on the left or east bank, Speyer is a city in the first.  Between the cathedral and the Bishop's Palace on the right, the Romans established a camp in 10 BCE.  Its name, Noviomagus, was a Latinization of a common Celtic placename, New Market.

Speyer and its cathedral are important for several reasons.  First is a UNESCO World Heritage Site And is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture.  This is no soaring Gothic structure but a solid almost stolid statement of power and presence.  It was built between 1030 and 1061 by the Salian kings of Germany:  Konrad II, Henry III and Henry IV.  These three were Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire which, as our tour guide opined, was neither holy nor Roman.  These along with six other emperors or kings are buried in the crypt beneath the church.  Hence this cathedral is known as the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer.  The photo shows a statue in Speyer of the Silesian kings.

Second, Speyer is the birthplace of Protestantism.  While Luther posted his 95 theses in Wittenberg in 1517.  In 1521 the Diet of Worms had condemned Luther as a heretic and outlawed his teaching and anyone who gave him support.  In 1529 at the Diet of Speyer representatives of the Free Imperial Cities and six princes signed a letter of protestation against the actions condemning Luther.  The name Protestant stuck and continues to define a set of churches born out of the Reformation started by Luther.  Within a couple of blacks of the cathedral, we saw the Gedachtniskirche der Protestation (Memorial Church of the Protestation.)  This church was not open to visitors, but we could look in through the front door.  It has a beautifully ornate interior which I found quite different from the stark interior of the cathedral seen below.  The cathedral has almost no stained glass and very few other pieces of art.  In fact, it reminded me of a Trappist monastery in its plainness.

The cathedral had an unusual feature: a large bowl directly in front of the church in the plaza.  On special occasions, the bishop would fill the bowl with wine and it would be provided free to the people of the city.  The bowl is still there.  When the new bishop was installed, he was persuaded to follow this custom.  For sanitary reasons, a plastic liner is inserted and people must bring their own cups for their single serving.  In the photo below from the front steps of the cathedral, the structure with a few people around it is that large bowl.


Our buses took us north to Worms, where we reboarded the ship which had proceeded downstream after we left for the tour.  Back on board, we enjoyed lunch and a restful afternoon.  At 5:00 we docked at Rudesheim, a famous wine making town.  We had left the Upper Rhine and were now in the Middle Rhine famous for its castles and vineyards which we would see the next day.  Our stop in Rudesheim has two purposes.  First, it was important that the next part of our journey be during daylight.  Second, it was an opportunity for a group of us to experience a German dinner in the Old Town.  It was a festive night with singing and dancing.  I suppose we participated in the spirit of German celebration but the forms were all completely American:  We danced the YMCA, the chicken dance, and other line dances and the whole group sang to Neil Diamond songs.  It felt like being at a wedding.  The food was mediocre after we had gotten used on the ship.  Of course, there were fifty of us and overwhelmed the restaurant staff.  The setting was charming as you can see from this photo of the alley where we entered.

Cruising the Middle Rhine

The next morning we left Rudesheim and spent the morning cruising through the spectacular Middle Rhine with its castles and vineyards.  We spent two hours listening to our Tour Director giving a narration as we passed each town, vineyard, and castle.  As you might imagine, the Google Photo album of these two hours is extensive.  I provide below a sample to whet your appetite.  Following these, there is a link to the album.

Town, vineyards and a castle

Click here to view the Google Photo album.

This morning cruise also gave us an opportunity to appreciate the role of the Rhine in transportation.  There was constant two-way ship traffic.  Each bank had a highway filled with trucks and railroad with constantly running trains all of which were electric.  


Koblenz is located at the "German Corner" where the Mosel flows into the Rhine.   Across the river is the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress shown above.  This is Europe's largest fortress.  It sits on a site which was settled as far back as the 4th century BCE.  The Romans had a fortification here around 400-500 CE.  Construction on the current fortifications began around 1100 and it was expanded during the 16th century.  The fort was partially destroyed by Napoleon in 1801 as the French occupied Koblenz for the next 18 years.  When it passed by to German hands, the Prussians repaired and expanded it and other fortifications around Koblenz to protect against the French.  After World War I, Ehrenbreitstein was slated to be destroyed along with all German fortifications.  American General Henry Tureman Allen, convinced of its historical value as a premier 19th-century fortress, prevented its intended destruction.  Today it houses a youth hostel, museums and restaurants.  Just barely visible to the left of the photo is the cable car used to access the fortress.

It is said, albeit by our local tour guide, that there is no place on earth where two such beautiful rivers, the Rhine and Moel, come together.  I can't vouch for all the rivers of the earth, but it is certainly more beautiful than where the Kansas and Missouri Rivers come together in my hometown of Kansas City.   On the point where they join, an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I was erected in 1897.  Emperor William I, the first head of state of a united Germany, 1871-1888.  The horse and rider are 46 feet high.  The original statue was destroyed in World War II and left in disarray for many years.  This is a 1993 reconstruction using the original molds.

In Koblenz we learned about stumbling stones.  "Scattered throughout Europe, planted in the streets and sidewalks of cities whose past is not forgotten, commemorative brass plaques eternalize the lives that were lost in the great tragedy of the 20th century. Called the Stolpersteine (in English: “stumbling stones”), the shiny bronze plaques commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime in more than 1,100 locations in 17 European countries."  Our guide showed
us one on our tour and we saw others later.  The stone is placed just outside the residence of the person commemorated.  The stone shown here is translated as "Here lived Adolph Appel, born 1890, taken by the Gestapo, tortured, died July 31, 1936."  A total of 800 Jews were deported between 1939 and 1945.  There were only 22 survivors of the Holocaust.  These stones are a way of remembering what never be forgotten.  We were taken aback when our guide began agitated about the fact that the dark aspects of German history are being taught in schools.  He said that young people have no idea what the Gestapo was and what it did.  He said Americans are more aware than Germans.  Seems hard to believe but then we remembered that we have a hard time covering darker aspects of our own history.

We spent a pleasant hour walking around Jesuit Square where had been a Jesuit College that operated from 1580 to 1773.  The college building shown on the right above has been used as the City Hall 1895.  Oh, we also had some gelato and enjoyed sitting in the sunny square.

Koblenz is another city that has celebrated its 2000th anniversary.  It received an unusual sculpture from the state government to commemorate that.  It is a column of history mounted in a boat.  It was difficult to understand all the meanings, but it was an ambitious effort to show 2000 years of history in one piece.  I was struck more by the human figures rowing the boat, Roman galley slaves rowing a load of wine barrels.

We returned to the ship to get ready for dinner.  The weather was warm and it was comfortable to use the veranda.  So here you can see two happy travelers with Kaiser Wilhelm I in the background.


Popular posts from this blog

Rhine River Cruise - The river, the cruise line, and history

California Trippin'

Basel Switzerland