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Koblenz and Beyond

Community Highlights Europe Koblenz and Beyond

Well, you haven't heard the last of us yet. Having arrived in Koblenz, we decided to switch our allegiance from our sadly departed (or subsumed) friend, the Mosel, to the Rhine, and carry on up the Rhine from Koblenz for an additional excursion, then cycle back to the city to stay for a few days. Our book seductively stated. "What better way to finish your ride than a visit to the most scenic part of one of the world's greatest rivers?" The Rhine Gorge offers "spectacular scenery, as the Rhine forges its way between the Hunsrück and Taunus mountain ranges....A series of pretty riverside towns are passed.....The gorge sides are covered by vineyards and forest, with numerous romantic castles standing sentinel above." How could we decline that invitation?

This is the Upper Middle Rhine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Koblenz to Bingen, this 67 km stretch, 5% of the 1,320 km long Rhine is considered the most beautiful part of the river between the Alps and the North Sea. This section attracted 19th C poets and painters who made the romanticism of the Rhine known worldwide. The famous artist, William Turner painted here in 1817.

So, having taken some photos to mark our arrival, we said Auf Wiedersehen to Koblenz for the time being and continued cycling along the Rhine promenade through an expansive waterfront park skirting the city, past the quite beautiful Residenzschloss palace and the statue of Empress Augusta and some elegant houses to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where we booked our tickets from Koblenz to Colmar, France a few days hence. We had been to nearby Strasbourg on a previous trip and had heard great things about Colmar and its' "la petite Venice" old town, and as we had time, that would be another excursion for a few days including a day cycle along the Canal de Colmar, then a train from there to Lyon for a last hurrah and then our flight home. Who knows when we will come this way again?

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Koblenz Train Station

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And so we left Koblenz behind the same day we arrived, cycling through more forest park, through the city's outskirts on the Rhine flood dyke, past a big brewery, and below Schloss Stolzenfels, apparently the best preserved of all Rhine castles. Schloss Marksburg came into view on the other side of the river. The hills were alive with castles!

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Next were the red and white half-timbered buildings of the village of Spay. This is the halfway point along the navigable Rhine between Basel, Switzerland up the river ahead of us and Rotterdam, the Netherlands behind us, 414 km each way.

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Boppard, 25 km from Koblenz and on the Rhine would be our stop for the night. We wanted a room with river view and checked out several, finally finding one, Rhinehotel Lilie, Italian/German fusion, with fresh, modern rooms and windows we could fling open to the river. Our last two hotels had been a bit worn and dreary. Lots of flood markers here too. The town is not much above the river.

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We liked Boppard. It would probably be crazy with tourists earlier in the season; there were lots of hotels and restaurants and piers for river cruise boats but it was pleasantly subdued when we were there. It has one main square ringed by lovely old buildings with outdoor cafes and a long main street along the river lined with hotels and another paralleling that with eateries and shops.

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It was a clear chilly night but we had a drink and then dinner outside at a little restaurant in the square that thoughtfully had provided blankets. Cosy! I love sleeping on the river, sometimes getting up to lean out the window in the middle of the night, hearing the chug of a barge and watching its lights fade away down the river. Unlike car traffic, the sound of boats on the water is so timeless and comforting.

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Surprisingly, Boppard has a museum dedicated to the 19th C cabinet maker, Michael Thonet, known for his bentwood furniture designs. He was born there, the son of a master tanner. I was familiar with his name and iconic chairs but knew little more about him. He pioneered bending strong, light wood into graceful shapes using steam and designed novel, elegant, lightweight, durable, comfortable furniture, a complete departure from the heavy, carved pieces of his time.

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His 1859 chair Nr. 14, better known as the coffee shop chair no. 14, is still called the "chair of chairs", with some 50 million produced and still in production today. No. 14 could be disassembled into a few components which could be produced in work-sharing processes, and then exported in simple space-saving packages: 36 disassembled chairs could fit into a one cubic meter box. What does that remind you of? Chair no. 14 made Thonet a global company that still exists today and whose designs can be found in all interior design magazines. The cafe we frequented in Koblenz was furnished with these chairs. See them in the background of the photo below.

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Sadly, the museum was closed the day we were in Boppard. The poster below advertised what looked like another really interesting exhibit. I would have liked it get that poster Donna!

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The next day, still heading up the river from Boppard, there were more castles, the most interesting being two that are known as the Brothers' Castles, Sterrenberg and Liebenstein. The story goes that the lord of Sterrenberg who had two sons, took in his niece Angela when her father died. Both brothers fancied Angela. The older quiet one, Henry kept his feelings to himself while the other, Conrad, wooed and won Angela's promise of marriage. Before they could wed, the Crusaders passed by, recruiting volunteers to fight the Turks. Off went Conrad, leaving meek Henry to watch over his intended. Years past, and the old lord built a second castle, Liebenstein, on an adjacent hill to Sterrenberg, as a home for his younger son and niece when they married. Eventually Conrad returned but guess what? He had married a Grecian princess while away and brought her back home. Henry was furious and challenged Conrad to a duel. Angela begged them not to fight over her and went off to a nunnery. Henry had a wall built between the two castles so he could not see Conrad. After a cold winter in Germany, the Grecian princess fled south with a passing knight and grief-stricken Conrad threw himself from the battlements and died. And there the castles stand forever more with a high wall between them, a monument to family dysfunction.

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Our end point for this extra excursion was the town of St. Goar and 2 km beyond, Loreley Rock. This is a sheer promontory jutting out from the opposite side of the Rhine from our cycle path that forces the river to make a particularly sharp and narrow turn. The cliffs are 120 m high and there are underwater rocks and treacherous currents, leaving only a narrow navigable passage for the many large commercial barges and tour boats that go through here on their way to Rotterdam or Basel and places in between. Unfortunately, there is an RV park on the river bank that makes it hard to get a good photo,

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Turner painted a picture of the Lorelay that was included on an info kiosk here.

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The legend of the Lorelay tells the tale of a fair maiden who swore vengeance upon all river travellers, after being spurned by her fisherman boyfriend. She sits upon the cliff singing alluring songs to attract them to the rocks and their doom. There is a bronze statue of her. Another case of blaming women.

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It was fascinating to watch huge barges, some also pushing an equally long barge, and cruise ships proceed through these dangerous waters. A friend who just finished a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest would have been through here.

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The cycle path continues to Basel and it was tempting to follow it although we have cycled on the Rhine on a previous trip and found much of it quite industrialized. In retrospect, we could have continued past the Lorelay and on to Bingnen, the next town and the end of the Middle Rhine UNESCO Heritage Site for more stunning Rhine vineyard/castle scenery and taken a train from there, had we already spent time in Koblenz, but we reversed course and cycled the 25 km back to Koblenz, the official end of our cycle trip, with a stop for kaffee and kuchen in St Goar to mark our visit to the Middle Rhine. Any excuse will do.

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Back in Koblenz, we found our way into the old town and a promising looking small hotel. Hotel Weinstube turned out to be a family run business with a very traditional restaurant on the ground floor that seemed to start filling up with elderly locals drinking beer from about 3:00 in the afternoon and staying on for dinner. We enjoyed our stay there although the wifi was iffy and worked best in the bathroom.

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Koblenz is an old but not big town (population 112,000) , originally founded by the Romans in 8 BC. It was the seat of the archbishop and prince-elector of Trier from 1018 until 1794 when the French captured the Rhineland and deposed the archbishop. It was repeatedly fought over and occupied by the French and became part of Prussia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The electoral palace, the Residenzschloss was home to the crown prince, future emporer, and oversize equestrian (remember the statue from my last post?), Wilhelm I and his wife Augusta between 1850 and 1858.

The Prussians heavily fortified Koblenz, particularly the great Ehrenbreitstein citadel on the hill across from the city that we saw as we cycled in. It was the German military's headquarters during WW I. WW II resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Altstadt (old town) but it has been rebuilt, like Dresden, to its original design. Koblenz is currently the headquarters of the German army forces command, although we saw little evidence of a military presence while we were there.

The gargantuan bronze statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I on a horse at the confluence was erected in 1897 to mark the incorporation of the former French Moselle territory into Germany, a symbol of German unification after 1871. It was demolished by US artillery in 1945 but the pieces were kept and eventually recast to celebrate German re-unification in 1993.

Around it are the flags of all the German Länder (states of the German republic) with those for the former East German states added after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's not a graceful or beautiful monument, blackened and looming, imposed upon the river landscape as if to emphasize how man can dominate even two great rivers merging.

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We stayed two nights in Koblenz, just exploring the streets and walking along the river. Koblenz has also suffered from flooding as these photos of the area around the Kaiser statue show.

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We continued our program of comprehensive kuchen sampling just to keep our strength up.

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We also found a great café/restaurant with the tricky name of Kaffeewirtschaft, in business since 1911 but reinvented in a modern way, where I enjoyed one last bowl of goulash soup and glass of Mosel Riesling before departing for France and Colmar.

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Consequently, you will be getting a few more blog posts. I write the blog mainly for myself as a way to remember what we did as I find the days get blurry. I picture myself as an old lady maybe using virtual reality technology, to experience these great trips all over again. Thanks for following along - I have really appreciated getting comments from some of you.

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This featured blog entry was written by Jenniferklm from the blog One River, Two Bikes, Three Countries.
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By Jenniferklm

Posted Sun, Oct 22, 2017 | Germany | Comments