In which our heroines take a trip up the Rhine to visit the Lorelei, and my friend is probably the only German on the boat…
Thursday, August 28th – On the Rhine
Today was our trip up the Rhine to visit the Lorelei. By boat, which is rather asking for trouble, if you think about it. Incidentally, did you know that there is a Saxon dialect version of the Lorelei? And of Erlkönig, too? (This is probably only aamusing if you speak German. My German is sufficient to find it only moderately intelligible, but weirdly cute.)
We started at Bingen, where we paused to admire the statue of Germania, one of the symbols of German unification. My friend doesn’t care for it – and certainly there are prettier bits of statuary out there.
I am not 100% sure that this is one of them, however.
There is a sort of garden with public art work along the bank of the Rhine here, so we strolled the kilometre or so to the start of our boat journey, admiring the weird and wonderful displays.
The ship up the river was large and very, very full of tourists – my friend was fairly sure she was the only native German speaker on the boat, and I must admit, most of the conversations I could hear were in English. We were travelling with the current, which meant that we moved quite fast – the Rhine has a very strong current – strong enough to be visible – and apparently people used to drown in it quite regularly.
There were a number of ducks, geese and swans who were gliding rapidly, but with great dignity, at our side. And purposefully, if one dropped a crumb.
Travelling down the Rhine is a bit like a shallower version of Norway, with bonus castles and vineyards everywhere.
And I do mean everywhere – some of the slopes on which vines were growing looked nearly vertical. Apparently, they all have to be farmed by hand, and in some cases, by people roped together and wearing mountaineering gear for safety.
As for the castles, there are Gothic castles, and there are ruined Gothic castles, and then there are 19th century imitations of Gothic castles, and they are everywhere you look.
There are what I view as Germany’s signature pointy red churches, and then there are imitations of those, too. And there is Romanesque Eibingen watching over it all with the stately dignity that befits Hildegard’s old Abbey.
The houses along the Rhine are close together and painted in ice-cream colours – strawberry, pistachio, lemon, apricot, and occasionally plum or bubblegum blue.
It is all outrageously picturesque.
And above and below are the German woods, more varied and less blue than the Norwegian ones, but just as spectacular.
Speaking of Norway, I’m told that the Vikings did, apparently, travel up the Rhine as far as Mainz at least once, which must have been quite a feat, given the current. At least it would have been downhill on the way home. It is not known whether they found the Rhinegold at that time…
My friend told me the grisly tale of the Maüsenturm and the wicked bishop who let his peasants starve, and then, after letting them into the granary at last, locked the door and burned the building down with the peasants inside (“Listen to the mice!”). As is proper to such a tale, he came to a sticky end – eaten alive by mice himself, in a rather gruesome revenge.
Another thing I learned was that Lorelei was just the name of the rock until the Romantic poets (and composers, and sculptors) got their hands on it. There was no idea of it being a woman’s name or a story at all – though the shipwrecks were real, and are still common, as the Rhine is very narrow at that point, and there are many rocky outcrops hidden beneath the water.
There are now traffic lights at that point, which detracts a little from the romance, but is probably safest for all concerned. And yes, there is a statue, too. A very, very ugly one, at that. And one cannot, of course, go past the Lorelei rock on a boat without That Song being played…
We left the boat at St Goar and went for a little walk, to view Lorelei more closely, and then walked back to the town to look at the (pointy, red) church – which was definitely worth looking at. Lots of restored medieval frescoes, and an underground chapel. I’d love to know what that’s used for, liturgically speaking. This left us with just enough time for Kaffee und Kuchen in St Goar.Then it was back to the boat for the slower, much less crowded journey, back up to Bingen.This really was lovely, especially as by this point, die Luft war kuhl und es dunkelt und ruhig fließ der Rhein, and so forth.
Still no shipwrecks, which was also nice.Apparently, some of the castles along the Rhine are now hotels, and others (like the one below) can be hired out for birthday parties – my friend had a party there when she was a child, which must have been the best birthday party ever for a little girl.But mostly, we sat quietly, and watched the mountains and castles pass by in the slowly dimming light.Which was very beautiful. And then we walked through the dusk to our car, and home for dinner, packing and bed. My time in Europe is nearly at an end – already, I am half-packed for the return journey to Australia, and I am so sad already in anticipation of leaving – but first, we have one final hurrah: the Baroque Festival and Gotha!
Friday, August 29th – GothaWritten on the evening of Saturday, August 30th, when I should be sleeping but am way, way, WAY too excited.Oh God, this is the best festival ever. It’s like it was made for me. It is absolutely, incredibly, all-consumingly wonderful. But I suppose that I should actually talk first about yesterday, even though it didn’t contain any costumes at all.
So, yesterday, we had this plan of setting out early for Gotha, and going via the Farmers’ Market. Ah, I see that you think you understand the problem with this plan. But in fact, you are wrong. The problem actually arose before we even got to the market, when my friend parked her car just around the corner and casually mentioned that we were parked in front of one of the biggest sheet music stores in Germany…. I imagine you have now seen where the problem is.We went in for ten minutes, and came out 45 minutes later, under duress, and many, many Euros poorer.Then we went to my friend’s mother’s place to swap cars, and were ambushed by lunch in a manner that I could only admire for its Mediterraneanishness. My friend had explained that we didn’t want lunch, because we really were in a hurry to leave, but of course when we arrived there was ‘just a little soup’ and ‘just a small salad’ and then ‘I’ll just make a little omelette’ and ‘what about dessert’? My Nonna could not have done it better. We did not get on the road early, and we did rather get the traffic, so that by the time we reached Eisenach and the house where Bach was born, it was half an hour before closing time. They did let us in for a brief look though, and we got to look at a collection of weird and wonderful musical instruments from the baroque era (I especially liked the violin with a trumpet inside) and a lot of fascinating interactive displays where you could listen to a canon, and then all its component parts, separately, and see how Bach had written things forwards and backwards and upside down.I would have liked to spend longer there.And then we drove to Gotha, where they were preparing for an election. I was a bit alarmed by just how many of the slogans I had absolutely not trouble translating – it seems that right wing parties are the same the world over, alas!
There were some very pretty houses near us, however.
I also liked this memorial to an entomologist.
At our Pension, we met my friend’s friend, who works as a grants officer in a scientific research Institute. The two of us bonded immediately over stories of Scientists Doing Stupid Things With Grants. It’s astonishing how universal these stories often are…And then we went to dinner, looked at more pretty houses and the town square, and finally returned home to get ready for the big day today… but for that, you will have to wait until later.