Wednesday I don't have high hopes of Rüdesheim.
But we make a good beginning at the Jacobi Church. It was gutted at the end of
the war but has been beautifully rebuilt in a
contemporary idiom behind the original facade. Original sculptures have been
reinstalled in this new setting and it works to perfection. We are struck by
the contemporary bronze stations of the cross. This is a pilgrim church of the Camino and it feels well used for prayer and
By contrast, the rest of the town
(almost) has sold its soul. In the Drosselgasse you can buy cuckoo clocks (real
and fake), hear Edelweiss
pumped out of loudspeakers (this song
beloved by the Austrians in defiance of Hitler - see The Sound of Music), buy lederhosen, marzipan and Riesling, be served beer by
a girl in peasant costume, and at either end, board the ubiquitous Noddy
trains. We stop for a drink. Coffee and tea for two costs us nearly €9. At the far end of the town things improve with a
ruined castle, a wine museum and lovely views up to the vineyards. But Rüdesheim did not require a stopover. I doubt we shall
ever come again.
We enter the Rhine Gorge. Here it is
fairy tale Germany straight out of Wagner, the Grimm
brothers and a thousand scenic postcards. But while the risk of parody exists,
this is an undeniably beautiful stretch of the river with pretty villages,
churches and castles at every loop of the river. You feel you are the centre of both history (the Holy Roman Empire)
and - in the strict sense of the word, myth. We pass the
rock of the Loreley and I
imagine Rhine Maidens playing beneath our feet. It calls
for the opening of Rheingoldto be played through the ship’s loudspeakers. A fierce northerly wind is funneled through the Gorge. We arrive at Loreley Stadt (is it
really called that?) and St Goar. After lunch
we board the coach again.
It doesn’t turn out as planned. We are promised a trip to the Loreley rock. When we
get there we find ourselves put through the "experience", i.e. a
visitor centre complete
with an audio-visual presentation.
This consists of a stereoscopic film featuring the
Rhine in its various guises. The film is fuzzy, the stereoscopic spectacles are irritatng, the light levels of the
film are too low and there is no commentary. Is this a grumpy old man speaking? Anyway, we
learn nothing about the Loreley myth, how the poet Heinrich Heine elaborated it, and how
romantic writers and painters latched on to it. We are
ushered into the cafe
for tea and cakes. Then we are told that because the normal path to the rock is impassible owing to big development works, and the alternative route will
take half an hour, we won't be able to visit the rock after all! This is a big disappointment as the Loreley was billed as a
highlight. I was looking forward to indulging in Wagnerian thoughts
about the Rhine and its gold. This experience feels like an enacted
parable of tourism-in-our-time. You go to the visitor
centre, watch the presentation, enjoy your cake, and hey! - there’s no need to see the actual attraction at all!
We drive on to the Niederwald which we
have seen from below at Rudesheim. The monument is a celebration of the unification of the German Reich after the
Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It is on a huge scale, full of imperial rhetoric
about pride in the
fatherland, the virtues of taking up
arms for your country, the heroic ideals for which we should live and die. The enormous figure of Germania dominates the composition while the personifications of War and Peace that have
placed her on her throne are depicted at her side. It strikes me that like the
Loreley which we did not see, this heady nationalism is directly inspired by romanticism. Archaic and absurd it may be,
but we mustn't underestimate the hold nationalistic ideas have on people today.
The unification of Germany has been an immensely powerful idea and cast a long
shadow over European history ("Deutschland über
alles" meaning "stop thinking provincially or city by city. Think
Germany, think the Holy nation before everything else.")
We dock at Andernach where there is a
wonderful sunset over the river. Yet again my camera
falls for it. Then we go for a walk in the pretty
medieval town and enjoy meandering among its medieval walls, towers,
bastions, houses and churches in the gloaming.
Thursday Ascension Day. We explore the
ancient and interesting city of Andernach on the right bank. It is an
intimate place with a strongly enclosed feel thanks
to its walls and bastions. The town is silent, Ascension Day being a public holiday. We visit the Romanesque Cathedral, climb the Round
Tower, wander the streets enjoying the old buildings and the churches. The city
authorities have taken a lot of trouble to interpret their history to visitors.
There are information plaques in three languages at
all the sites, and maps to guide you from place to place. It is exemplary.
The bells of the Cathedral and of the
Protestant parish church ring out for services on
this feast day. We go back to the ship through one of the medieval gates. We look up and there, above our heads, are two hives
with bees buzzing round them. It is not a place to linger. But we recall the
story of the medieval baker boys who, when invaders
were at the gates, dropped bee-hives from above the gate on to the luckless
We glide down the sunny river to Bonn. We
join the walking expedition into the city-centre. Our guide is fluent, knowledgeable,
knows how to condense information into digestible chunks and above all, keeps us moving. After a tour of some of the principal locations, we go to Bonn’s great shrine,Beethoven's birthplace. It's moving to know for a certainty
that my grandmother will have brought my mother here in childhood from their home downstream in Düsseldorf, possibly many times. She (my mother) always used to say when I was young that Beethoven was her favourite composer. Perhaps she felt an affinity with him because of their common
Rhineland origins. Later on she turned more to Mozart and Haydn,
but she never lost that first love.
The house is the only one of several
associated with Beethoven in Bonn to have survived. It's a fine museum that
displays many key documents, paintings and artefacts associated with Beethoven
such as his pianos (one is an early Broadwood, so we have that in common), his
manuscripts, the letter in which he confesses to his
brother that his deafness is driving him mad and he intends to commit suicide,
and his ear-trumpets and other devices with which he desperately tried to stave
off his deteriorating condition. We see his life-mask as well as his
death-mask, his will and a painting of the crowds who
gathered for his memorial service in 1827. It is impressively done and touches
me deeply in much the same way as visiting Haydn's mausoleum at Eisenstadt in Austria did.
We leave the group and go round some of
the principal churches. The former Jesuit church is
now Old Catholic whose bright cheerful interior speaks of a church that is
loved and prayed in. The Münster is a grand Romanesque church with rather too
much baroque furnishing and decoration inside, but is still a noble building. The church has a lovely
pure Romanesque cloister with a fountain in the middle, a bit
like Fontenay in Burgundy, but more intimate. Then we go to Saint Remigius, a church of the
Friars Minor, where we see the font at which Beethoven was baptised in 1770.
J goes off into town for a walk. I sit
on deck for a while and then decide it's time to
listen to The
Archers on the iPlayer. .