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.
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.
At least when we came to Marksburg we were regaled with more tales of castle life.
For one thing, we were able to walk through its well preserved torture chamber.
We were also quite amazed to learn of the ingenuity employed to invade castles by way of the latrine hole.
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
As time was limited in Cologne we could only taste our way through the mustard museum and the chocolate museum.