Of Mice, Mermaids and Napoleon’s Boots

From Bingen/Rudesheim to Koblenz is a  65 km section of the middle Rhine that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site primarily for its castles, historic towns and vineyards dating back over 1000 years.  This is what most people envision as the focus of a Rhine river cruise.


One of the first structures we encountered was  the Mauseturm (Mouse Tower).  It had a wonderful legend.  It seems Hatto II was a cruel ruler who oppressed and exploited the peasants in his domain.  During a famine in 974 the poor people were without food, and Hatto, having all the grain stored up in his barns, used his monopoly to sell it at such a high price that most could not afford any.

The peasants were getting angry and organizing to rebel, so Hatto devised a cruel trick. He promised to feed the hungry people and told them to go to an empty barn and wait for him to come with food. The peasants were overjoyed and praised Hatto heartily, and all of them traveled to the barn to await his coming. When he arrived with his servants, he ordered the barn’s doors shut and locked, then set the barn on fire and burned the peasants to death, derisively commenting on their death cries with the words “Hear the mice squeak!”

When Hatto retired to his castle, he was instantly besieged by an army of mice.. He fled the swarm and took a boat across the river to his tower, hoping that the mice could not swim. The mice followed him and rushed into the river by the thousands. Many of them drowned, but even more crawled onto the island. There, they ate through the tower’s doors and crawled up to the top floor, where they found Hatto and ate him alive.

They whetted their teeth against the stones, and then they picked the Bishop’s bones; they gnawed the flesh from every limb, for they were sent to punish him! (Wikipedia)

Whew!  I wonder what Snopes would say.

Where is the cat when you need one?

After that great beginning I confess I was a bit disappointed that we were not privy to  more colorful stories about the castles we were floating past.

Ehrenfels Castle

At least when we came to Marksburg we were regaled with more tales of castle life.

Stahleck Castle, now a youth hostel

For one thing, we  were able to walk through its well preserved  torture chamber.

Rack and roll anyone?

We were also  quite amazed to learn of the ingenuity employed to invade castles by way of the  latrine hole.

Marksburg Castle

We also learned that it was the  single women of the castle who engaged in spinning and this led to the  evolution of the word “spinster”.

Spin class from a different perspective

The  common military salute supposedly evolved from the  the act of lifting the face plate of  armour when senior officials passed.


Replete with legend and lore we headed to the Loreley rock.  This hunk of stone is is  less impressive in person than in legend.  It is essentially a large  rock situated at the narrowest point of the Rhine River.  The strong currents at this point caused many ships to sink,  reinforcing the legend that sailors were lured to their demise by  the enchanting  maiden lulling them with song. 

Name that tune

We arrived in Koblenz in time to take be whisked by aerial tram to an impressive fort overlooking the river.


Our time in Koblenz was a blur.  We had time to view the proverbial cathedral and scouted the squares as evening settled over the town, then it was off to Cologne.

The Column by Jurgen Weber is a massive sculpture in one square that depicts the history of the City of Koblenz back to Roman times.  This is a close-up of sturdy fishermen rowing their boat up “Father Rhine”.

Remember, we cannot leave town without a food photo.
                    Wait, lettuce is not a food!
On to Cologne.  Cologne, like Heidelberg, is a city in which it would be easy to spend much more time.  It is known for its incredible Gothic Cathedral, the oldest in Europe, but is also filled with museums and many other points of interest.
Restoration underway in the Cathedral

In 2007 Gerhard Richter unveiled a new stained glass window for the cathedral to replace a simple unadorned glass window that had existed since World War II when the original window was destroyed in bombing.  The new window is a bit controversial given its radical deviation from the more traditional subject of the windows within the cathedral, but, as our guide pointed out, the light filtering through all the colorful glass was a magnificent addition to the lighting.

While in Cologne it seemed only right that we  buy a sample of  the original version that Napoleon allegedly poured by the bottle full into his boots each day.  Back then, Eau de Cologne was sold in apothecary shops, and used as a body rub or for washing and it is said people poured it into their soup too.


We opted to  take a rather sobering side tour to the national Socialism Documentation Center, a former SS headquarters.   In 1934, the Nazis seized the building from a jeweler  and turned it into the headquarters for the state secret police. Prisoners were forced to build their own torture cells in the basement of the building, while Gestapo officers carried out business as usual on the upper floors.  By a twist of fate, the building survived the bombing of Cologne — which destroyed some 90 percent of the buildings standing in the city’s downtown.

Actual preserved wall writings of prisoners awaiting their fate in the basement cells

As time was limited in Cologne we could only taste our way through the mustard museum and the chocolate museum.

A Final Observation:  I think it is fun to watch people and try to determine from their dress or actions whether they are natives or tourists like ourselves
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5 thoughts on “Of Mice, Mermaids and Napoleon’s Boots

  1. Nona Leeper says:

    So where was Jerry when you took you “rack and roll” photo! : ) Love your photos and commentary, Peg. Hope you have more adventures around the world to share with us!

    1. Peg Schoenfelder says:

      He ran like the wind…

      I would be happy to do more travel monologues if only…

      Today I am headed to a special “Pt. Arena Pintos” exposition. There is quite a local legend evolving around this rag tag group of horses.

  2. bcwheat08 says:

    Loved the “goes around-comes around” legend of Hatto II. I’m always struck by the architecture of the various castles and towers, Wikipedia says the present “Mouse Tower” structure dates to 1855, but Hatto did one of the many restorations in 968, after one of its several falls or destructions in various wars. Wish there was some graphic history of it to compare visually to the present iteration. Anyway, it amazes me how such things were built when they were built. I’ve read Ken Follett’s *Pillars of the Earth* series, and I’m still agog about the flying buttress, and quadrant arches that were used in cathedral construction to achieve the incredible height and openness.

    I’m thoroughly enjoying my armchair version of your river cruise, complete with pictures and commentary.

    *Bill Wheat* * * (636) 671-0477

  3. Saturday Chad says:

    Enjoyed everything, Peg, thank you! The mouse tale was just great legend and lore … loved the detail that the mice had to cross the river and REALLY work at it. Napoleon’s boot cologning serves as a great reminder of how well off we got it now.

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