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Back in the olden times, moving stuff and people around Europe could be a dicey proposition. The roads were often of questionable or unquestionably poor quality, and the beasts of burden and the vehicles they pulled had a tendency to break down. Thieves with varying degrees of ruthlessness preyed upon the unwary, or those who could not afford guards. These problems could be mitigated somewhat through use of boats for transport. This tactic of course required that a body of water be involved, usually a river if starting point and destination were not both located on a coast. One of the most popular such "highways" was (and remains) the river Rhine, the longest river in modern-day Germany at 764 miles.

Cruising on the Rhine with your stuff had a number of advantages over land-based transportation. It was somewhat safer, and it was faster (the river never needs to rest). There was less wear and tear on a boat than there was on animals and carts traveling the same distance with the same load. As implemented between 800 AD and 1800 AD, it was not free, however. Every so often along the banks there would be a castle and a nobleman who would demand a toll (either in cash or cargo) for permission to use a stretch of the river. This system was sanctioned and regulated by the Holy Roman Emperor, who received a cut of the proceeds. Boats were prevented from running past toll stations by the stretching of long iron chains across the river.

This system remained in effect until it was destroyed by revolutionary and Napoleonic soldiers from France. But later in the 19th Century, with Romanticism being the fashion, many of the castles were restored or rebuilt, though no longer with their original purpose. An especially high concentration of these castles exists in what is called the Rhine River Gorge, which stretches roughly between the cities of Mainz in the south and Koblenz in the north. The most picturesque portion of the Gorge can be found in the stretch between the small towns of Bacharach and St. Goar, and this stretch was our destination for the day.


Rhine Map - Cologne to Mainz
Rhine Map - Cologne to Mainz
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Rhine Map - Koblenz to Bacharach
Rhine Map - Koblenz to Bacharach
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Our expedition began with a walk to the train station, by way of the cathedral. The lady at the ticket window said we needed two tickets, one for the trip to the town of Koblenz, and another for travelling between the Rhine towns south of that point, which is done on a separate line. Both tickets were flexible, with the choice of which trains to ride being ours (as long as we finished our trip before midnight).

Cathedral
Cathedral
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Bob and Ritter Sport Staircase
Bob and Ritter Sport Staircase, Train Station
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The train route did not follow the river the entire way, giving us a chance to see a little bit of German agriculture.

Bob and Nella on Train
Bob and Nella on Train
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German Countryside
German Countryside
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We changed trains at Koblenz as instructed, and the new line followed the river closely.

Rhine River Near Filsen
Rhine River Near Filsen
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Burg Liebenstein
Burg Liebenstein, Kamp-Bornhofen (1284)
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Our plan was to take the train south to the town of Bacharach, explore the town, and then ride on a tour boat back north to St. Goar, where we would reboard the train and return to Cologne. Rather than burden you with two passes at the same places, each town we saw will be presented just once, working from south to north.

Bacharach is a picturesque town with a history closely related to the wine trade. It was a location where duties had to be paid on wine as far back as the 12th Century, and today it’s surrounded by vineyards (as are the other towns along this part of the Rhine – the grapes growing within the gorge are apparently superior to those that grow in the surrounding highlands). A castle called Stahleck Castle was built as a fortification in the 12th Century. The castle saw a fair amount of action over the centuries – it was repeatedly besieged, and it was sacked eight times during the Thirty Years’ War. It was blown up by French troops in 1689, during the War of the Palatine Succession. It remained as a ruin until the 20th Century, when it was rebuilt as a youth hostel (in the 1920’s). It was briefly used by the Nazis as an indoctrination center for German youth, and later as a holding facility for uncooperative youth on their way to The Front or to concentration camps. It has since reverted to its happier use as a youth hostel.


Family with Big Wine Barrel
Family with Big Wine Barrel
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Stahleck Castle
Stahleck Castle (ca. 1135)
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We spent some time walking around the compact town, looking into store windows and searching for lunch. Bacharach was pleasant and not crowded at all. We eventually decided on trying a small restaurant where the proprietors were friendly and the other customers seemed to be locals. The food was clearly prepared on the premises and delicious.

Half-Timbered Houses
Half-Timbered Houses
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Narrow Street, Stahleck Castle
Narrow Street, Stahleck Castle
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Oberstrasse
Oberstrasse
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Bilingual Wood
Bilingual Wood
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Bob and Connie and Locals
Bob and Connie and Locals
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Bob and Soup
Bob and Soup
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After lunch we got dessert at a gelato shop just down the street.

Gelato Store
Gelato Store
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Nella and Gelato
Nella and Gelato
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Toward the end of the Oberstrasse we found the Altes Haus, the oldest intact structure in town (built in 1368).

Hotel Altkölnischer Hof and Altes Haus
Hotel Altkölnischer Hof and Altes Haus
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Altes Haus
Altes Haus (1368)
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At this point it seemed like time to figure out the tour boat part of our plan, so we headed toward the river. It turned out not to be too complicated – there was a ticket office for the Köln-Düsseldorfer line on the river bank, with a short pier jutting out into the river from it. We went up to the window and told them what we wanted, and they told us what it would cost. So we paid them and they gave us tickets, and there was nothing else to do but wait for the boat. And take some pictures, of course:

Bacharach from Landing

Bacharach from Landing
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Stahleck Castle on Hill
Stahleck Castle on Hill
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Buildings, Towers and Chapel Ruin
Buildings, Towers and Chapel Ruin
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Rhine River
Rhine River
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Germania River Boat
Germania River Boat
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Bacharach Boat Landing
Bacharach Boat Landing
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Königsbacher Maneuvering for Landing
Königsbacher Maneuvering for Landing
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Once the boat had finished parallel parking, we boarded and found that we had a choice of either sitting below, out of the elements, and enjoying the view through windows, or of sitting out in the wind. We opted for the wind, so our view would be unencumbered. Our first view was a good look at Bacharach.

Bacharach from Boat
Bacharach from Boat
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Vineyard near Bacharach
Vineyard near Bacharach
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We shoved off and entered the strong current of the Rhine, which happened to be flowing in the direction of our intended travel. We were not alone in this happy coincidence, as we came across a number of long, flat barges that were transporting their cargo northward.

Passing a Barge
Passing a Barge
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Connie on Boat
Connie on Boat
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The boat on which we were travelling was something of an area transit option, along with the trains and buses. This being the case, we made stops at each of the towns we passed, with passengers leaving and boarding at each stop. Our first stop was across the river and downstream from Bacharach, a town called Kaub. Kaub actually has two castles to its name, a castle uphill from the town which is called Castle Gutenfels (built in 1220) and a castle located on a small island in the river, known as Castle Pfaltzgrafenstein. Pfalzgrafenstein was added as a complement to Gutenfels in 1326-27, and between them the two castles made for a formidable defensive fortification. They also made toll collection very difficult to avoid (especially when Pfalzgrafenstein pulled up its massive chain to block the way), and those who tried were captured and held for ransom in a dungeon in Pfalzgrafenstein. Unlike most of the other castles along the Rhine, the two castles of Kaub were never destroyed, but kept collecting tolls all the way up to 1867. Gutenfels is now a hotel, and Pfalzgrafenstein has become a museum.

Kaub

Kaub
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Castle Gutenfels
Castle Gutenfels
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Castle Gutenfels
Castle Gutenfels
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Pfalzgrafenstein Castle
Pfalzgrafenstein Castle
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Kaub and Castles
Kaub and Castles
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Kaub and Castle Gutenfels
Kaub and Castle Gutenfels
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Castle Gutenfels
Castle Gutenfels
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The next stop for the boat was back on the Bacharach side of the river, the town of Oberwesel. Oberwesel is more than twice the size of Kaub, but has only one castle, the Castle Schönburg. This castle dates back to at least the 12th Century, and like the Stahleck Castle in Bacharach, was destroyed by the French in 1689. A certain amount of restoration work was begun late in the 19th Century, but the castle didn’t acquire its present use until the 1950’s, when it became a hotel/restaurant.

A Barge
A Barge
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Nella and Connie
Nella and Connie
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Schönburg Castle and Church of Our Lady
Schönburg Castle and Church of Our Lady
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Schönburg Castle
Schönburg Castle
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Oberwesel has a number of other structures of historical note along its waterfront. Here are a few of them:

Oberwesel End-to-End

Oberwesel End-to-End
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Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady
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Haags Tower
Haags Tower
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Bob and Nella
Bob and Nella
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Tunnels Across River
Tunnels Across River
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Oberwesel with Wernerkapelle
Oberwesel with Wernerkapelle
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Oberwesel with Ox Tower
Oberwesel with Ox Tower
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The next landmark we were to encounter is the best-known landmark of any on this stretch of the river: the Lorelei Rock. The Lorelei Rock is a large rock (nearly 400 feet tall) on the east bank of the Rhine, around which the river takes a sharp bend. This is the narrowest, deepest and fastest portion of the navigable part of the river, and there are a number of treacherous rocks below the waterline in this stretch which have caused the destruction of many vessels since the river started being used for transportation. The legendary Lorelei is a ghostly woman who sings sailors to their dooms, and this legend has been immortalized in poetry and song.

Approaching Lorelei Rock
Approaching Lorelei Rock (with Narration)
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Lorelei Rock
Lorelei Rock
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Lorelei Rock
Lorelei Rock
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Lorelei Statue
Lorelei Statue
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We managed to survive the Lorelei Rock, and just past it on the same bank was the town of St. Goarshausen, just across the river from our final landing at St. Goar. St. Goarshausen is the location of two castles, both uphill from the town, named Castle Katz and Castle Maus. Castle Katz dates back to 1371 and was destroyed by Napoleon in 1806. It was repaired late in the same century, and is now privately owned. Castle Maus was built late in the 14th Century but was never destroyed. It still needed repair work in the early 20th Century, and is now home to an aviary.

Katz Castle and St. Goarshausen
Katz Castle and St. Goarshausen
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Katz Castle
Katz Castle
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Katz Castle
Katz Castle
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Maus Castle
Maus Castle
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Vineyards Near St. Goarshausen

Vineyards Near St. Goarshausen
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The boat took us across the river to our final stop, St. Goar, where we disembarked and headed for the train station. There didn’t seem to be much to see in the town itself, but up the hill was Rheinfels Castle, the largest castle on the Rhine. The French destroyed the castle in 1797, and much of the castle complex remains a ruin, but there are some buildings that are now used as hotel and restaurant. But we were tired and didn’t much feel like exploring a large castle ruin, so we just caught the next train back toward Cologne.

St. Goar and Rheinfels Castle
St. Goar and Rheinfels Castle
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St. Goar
St. Goar
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Nella and Connie at Train Station

Nella and Connie at Train Station
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We switched trains again at Koblenz, but unfortunately made a bad mistake. We got on the first train that was headed toward Cologne, and were immediately taken with how luxurious the train seemed, compared to the others we had ridden on. We began to get the sense that maybe we didn’t belong on this train, but before we could do anything about it the doors closed and the train started moving. We decided we would get off as soon as we could, but the train kept passing through all of the lesser train stations without stopping. Eventually the conductor came by and asked to see our tickets. We showed him what we had, and as we suspected he said they were no good for this train, as it was an “Intercity” train. We didn’t know what this meant, but he explained it by immediately charging us a considerable sum for Intercity train tickets, which we had no choice but to pay. He tried to sell us tickets all the way back to Cologne, but since we already had tickets for getting back to Cologne (on a lesser train), we elected to just go as far as the next stop, which was the city of Bonn.

Unplanned Stop, Bonn Train Station
Unplanned Stop, Bonn Train Station
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Tower of Bonn Minster Church
Tower of Bonn Minster Church
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At Bonn we got on the next non-Intercity train, but by this time it was rush hour, so the train was packed. Nella found a place to sit, and I think eventually Connie did too, but I ended up standing all the way back to Cologne.

On arriving in Cologne, we decided to do some walking around, as this would be our last evening in the city. There were some things we’d seen in the old town from the top of the cathedral that we wanted to get closer views of. First, we headed toward the river to get a closer view of the Hohenzollern Bridge. It looked big from the cathedral, but from underneath it was gigantic. With 1200 trains crossing it daily, we expected to see some traffic, but we were disappointed – it was probably a slow time of day.



Hohenzollern Bridge

Hohenzollern Bridge
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After passing under the bridge, we found a small park with a sort of a fountain arrangement you could walk around on. From here there was a nice view of the Gross St. Martin (or Great St. Martin) Church, with its distinctive tower. The church in its present form dates back to the 13th Century, when it was part of a Benedictine abbey. The monks were chased away by French troops in 1802, and the abbey was demolished later that century (leaving the church). The church was largely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. Restoration work began in 1948, and the exterior was restored by 1965. The interior still needed work, though, and the church was not able to re-open for normal services until 1985. The church is now open to visitors, but not to us, as we passed by too late in the day.

Nella at Park
Nella at Park
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Gross St. Martin Church
Gross St. Martin Church
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Not far from the church was the Cologne Town Hall. This building is Germany’s oldest city hall, with documented activity going back 900 years. It has a 200-foot Gothic-style tower (first built in the 15th Century) which is covered with figures and resembles a church tower. On close examination, however, many of the figures can be seen to be of an obviously secular nature, rather than saints and martyrs. There is also a Renaissance-style loggia, from the 16th Century, whose roof is used as a balcony. All of this was damaged or destroyed during the war and has been painstakingly reconstructed.

Tower, Town Hall

Tower, Town Hall
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Figures on Town Hall
Figures on Town Hall
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Loggia
Loggia
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On a building near the Town Hall we found a plaque that said something about John F. Kennedy. Apparently JFK gave a short speech in this location on June 23, 1963, possibly a warm-up for the famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech he was to give in Berlin three days later.

Plaque Commemorating JFK Speech

Plaque Commemorating JFK Speech
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We continued to explore the Old Town until we found Hohe Strasse, a busy shopping street. Hohe Strasse (High Street) has been a shopping destination since the 19th Century, and there were many points of interest for us there (well, for Nella and Connie anyway).

Hohe Straße

Hohe Straße
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After some shopping and some dinner we returned to the hotel and started packing. The next day would be a busy one. We needed to check out of the hotel and catch a train. But between these two activities there would be an interval of a few hours. We planned on spending some of this time visiting the more traditional of Cologne’s major art museums – the Wallraf-Richartz.

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