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From the Rhône to the Rhine: Koblenz

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With the large Rhine cities out of the way we began our exploration of the romantic landscape of the Rhine valley in earnest. Since we had already crossed off Drachenburg and Linz am Rhein we drove south for an hour and a half to reach Cochem, which wasn't in the Rhine valley at all. On the road into town we stopped at the Sesselbahn station to take the chairlift to the viewpoint at the Pinnerkreuz mountain that overlooks the town. We ended up just behind a large tour group and had to wait an extra fifteen minutes at the foot of the chairlift watching them all get on. A short trail at the top brought us to the vertiginous overlook from which we could see Cochem Castle overlooking the town from a hill covered in vineyards. That wide, gentle river curving through town wasn't the Rhine but the Moselle, meeting up with us once again after Metz and Trier.

Cochem was the first place we had visited since entering Germany that was crowded with tourists. The town checked all the Rhineland boxes including the cobblestone streets, the half-timbered facades, and the omnipresent window planters with colorful flowers. It was a pretty and energetic town but we had covered every inch of it within a half hour. The best-rated place in town to have lunch was a Greek restaurant that fed us adequately if not memorably.

The route to the castle initially led us in the opposite direction but it turned out to be a circuitous route. We followed a dirt footpath by what appeared to be the old town walls until we reached an area at higher elevation with surprisingly modern houses. As we walked we got different perspectives of the beautiful castle at the top of the hill.

Cochem Castle, locally known as Reichsburg Cochem, is another nineteenth century construction built in Gothic style on the ruins of a true medieval castle. Like Drachenburg, its lack of authenticity made it no less majestic in its lofty position at the crest of the vineyard-covered hill. It reminded us of Drachenburg so much that none of us felt like going all the way to the castle after the long walk we had just taken. Besides the castle, our vantage point provided an excellent view over the town that was dominated by the stacked-onion belltower of St. Martin's Church. A thin bridge led to the other side of the Moselle where several rows of modern apartment buildings were backed by another steep hill that filled the bend in the river.

Another reason to deviate from the course of the Rhine to visit Cochem is its proximity to Burg Eltz, considered by many to be the most beautiful medieval castle in all of Germany. To reach Burg Eltz we drove downstream along the Moselle for about twenty minutes before turning onto a one lane road that climbed into the highlands above the valley. Not long after that we arrived at a parking lot but there was no castle in sight. The staff member at the parking lot told us that we could take a shuttle bus for two euros apiece or take a ten minute walk on a footpath through the forest. There was no shuttle in sight and the walk didn't sound too bad so we set off. We didn't exactly race down the trail but we didn't stop to admire the scenery either and it was at least twenty minutes before the castle came into view.

From the outside Burg Eltz certainly lived up to its reputation and made the long walk worthwhile. Although much of the interior is the result of a mid nineteenth century restoration, the castle's stone frame dates back to the twelfth century. Adding to the sense of authenticity, Burg Eltz is still under the ownership of the descendants of the German nobles who constructed it thirty-three generations ago. The stone castle stands out dramatically atop a ridge within verdant countryside. It is truly a magical sight. In order to view the inner courtyard we had to buy tickets for the castle tour. I hesitated but ultimately decided that after walking for so long to reach the castle it would be silly to depart without the full experience. I was shocked that they required masks for the tour, as by this point we had almost forgotten about the existence of the epidemic. We had some in the car but hadn't brought them so we were forced to pay quadruple the cost for procedure masks at the entrance. The courtyard was pretty but the tour was horrendous, an overcrowded hour-long shamble through various rooms that had little to distinguish them from any other castle we had visited. The kids were miserable but there was no way to escape until it was over.

Fortunately I had not included a visit to the hilltop castle in the next city we visited, the tiny Rhine town of Braubach. The town's claim to fame is the hilltop Marksburg Castle, which my research had indicated could be appreciated better from the ground than by clambering up to the top of the hill. Similar to Linz am Rhein, the town was eerily quiet in the evening except for a cluster of restaurants with outdoor seating in the small Marktplatz. We passed on the traditional German options in favor of an incongruous pan-Asian that proved to be serviceable at best.

The strategy of having dinner in Braubach had paid off as this was the only town we wanted to visit on the right bank of the Upper Middle Rhine. The next day we would be able to proceed all the way down the left bank from Koblenz to Mainz without having to worry about doubling back or crossing the Rhine on a ferry. It was too late at this point to see anything of Koblenz so we drove directly to our Airbnb in a hilly neighborhood across the river from the old town. The last street before we arrived was so steep that I gave the car a running start to avoid losing momentum halfway to the top. Thankfully we made it to our bare bones apartment and passed an uneventful night.

Koblenz was just a name to me before the trip, a convenient mid-sized city from which to embark on a tour of scenic medieval Rhine villages. Only once we arrived did I realize that the name is derived from the Roman word "confluentes" marking the site of convergence of the Moselle and the Rhine. Having familiarized myself with these two great rivers over the past two weeks I had a new reason to be excited about visiting the old town. As soon as we could pack and get out of the apartment we drove across the river and found a parking spot near the Altstadt. As we headed toward the center we passed the Historiensaeule fountain in Görresplatz with its ten-tiered column showing various stages of the city's history. The town hall occupies the buildings of a former Jesuit college and displays a mixture of architectural styles. The central plaza is dominated by a statue of renowned physician and native son Johannes Müller.

Our first priority was finding breakfast and we accomplished this in legendary fashion at a restaurant in the heart of the old town that provided a family-sized repast on a three-tiered platter. As I washed down the meal with Weissbier I admired the colorful and atmospheric surroundings. Despite the relatively small size of the city Koblenz had a more appealing old town than either Düsseldorf or Köln.

The stone arch Balduinbrücke is the oldest bridge in the city and also the final bridge over the Moselle before it joins with the Rhine. From the middle of the span we could admire some fine old German buildings on the shoreline and see all the way to the confluence.

Right at the point where the two great rivers meet is a triangular esplanade called Deutsches Eck, the German Corner. The open plaza is dominated by a large monument celebrating the original unification of Germany in the nineteenth century, topped by an imposing equestrian statue of the original German emperor William I. The original statue was destroyed after World War II and then rebuilt following the unification of East and West Germany in 1993.

The Ehrenbreitstein Fortress covers the summit of the hill across the river from the Altstadt. It can be reached by road but we decided to combine it with another of Koblenz's attractions, the cable car that crosses the Rhine from the Altstadt to the fortress. We bought our tickets and spent the time waiting for our time slot hunting down the thumb sculpture in the courtyard of the Ludwig Museum.

For much of the post-Renaissance era Koblenz was on the front line between the warring powers of France and Prussia. The fortress that preceded the current version changed hands several times and was eventually blown up by the French when they withdrew from the right bank of the Rhine in 1801. The Prussians rebuilt the fortress with enormously thick walls that could withstand the strongest artillery of the era and had barracks capable of housing twelve hundred men. Ironically the fortress was never attacked and its prodigious capabilities were never tested. From the outer walls we had an amazing perspective on the confluence. We could see the Moselle beginning its westward meander towards Luxembourg while the Rhine would continue southward. We would be spending the rest of that day following the Rhine to some of the most idyllic medieval villages in Germany.

Posted by zzlangerhans 17:57 Archived in Germany Tagged road_trip family rhine family_travel travel_blog rhineland cochem tony_friedman family_travel_blog berg_eltz rhine_valley

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