The Rhine crosses five countries. As we walked down the Rhine, our next stop was Speyer, Germany. The Jewish community flourished for hundreds of years in Speyer. They were allowed to do certain jobs such as bankers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and rabbis. During the Black Death of 1349, after the community was wiped out, a smaller version was reestablished. The Jewish population fluctuated until its demise in 1940. In the 1990s, the community returned again. The Mikvah is a still existing archaeological heritage site. The baths were dedicated in 1104 using groundwater in purification rituals. A series of stone steps lead you to the water’s edge.
The Christmas market opened at 11 a.m. Ornaments, spicy wine, even deer and wild boar meats were for sale. No time to waste, the buses took us to the boat moored in Worms. Once all on board, the drakkar sailed towards Rudesheim.
To prepare us well in Rudesheim, a demonstration of how to make Rudesheim coffee was held in the lounge. This is no ordinary cafe. Caramelize the Asbach brandy (Asbach is a chewy, dark amber-colored German brandy with spicy fruity notes) and sugar in a large metal spoon over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is bubbling. Pour into a small coffee cup. Add strong coffee. Garnish with whipped cream. Drink.
The ship docked at Rudesheim. A little road train took several of us through bumpy streets to Rudesheimer de Breuer’s castle. We were treated to regional Hessian dishes such as potato soup, Riesling wines, rye bread, pork, mashed potatoes, boiled cabbage, strong schnapps and pie with apples while listening to live music.
Seven cruise ships docked in our port that night. The Hindenburg railway bridge was in ruins just after the boat. Built in 1911, the bridge was deliberately destroyed in 1945 by the Wehrmacht. Large sections were still strewn across the floor, but a large fence prevented the public from entering.
More than forty castles border the Middle Rhine. Some are in ruins while others have been renovated and turned into hotels, museums, restaurants or private homes. The 13th-century Ehrenfels Castle is surrounded by ancient vineyards. The 12th century Stahleck Castle was frequently attacked during the 17th century wars before being left in ruins for 237 years. In 1909 it was rebuilt and today houses a youth hostel. Ehrenbreitstein Fortress rises above the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle. Built by the Prussians, it was once the strongest fortress in Europe.
Our longship, the Viking Einar (Nordic warrior who died in battle and went to Valhalla) has arrived in Koblenz. We took the cable car to Ehrenbreinstein Fortress. Cold and windy. “John Humphry” aka Andreas, the actor from northern Germany, led the tour. He pointed out the Prussian military fortifications and dry moat while speaking in excellent British English. The view from the top was spectacular.
The next stop was Cologne, the oldest city in Germany. Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Europe. Construction began in 1248. It took 300 years to complete some of it before the money ran out. Napoleon used the cathedral as a stable. After the Napoleonic War, the Congress of Vienna gave the Cologne area to the Prussians who completed the cathedral, with the help of lottery money, in 30 years. Prussian engineers used steel for the frame, not wood.
During World War II, the cathedral was used as a landmark by Allied bomber navigators. He suffered fourteen aerial bombs. A bomb fell inside, but 75% of the stained glass windows were removed and stored in a safe place. We were shown a photo of a priest holding a service in a rubble-filled corner for American GIs at the end of the war.
Of the three spiers, the two tallest spiers are redone in the original Gothic, but the third smaller was made in Art Deco. The stonemasons argued that when the cathedral was originally built, the spiers reflected when they were built, not style when they started. So the third arrow reflects a 20th century update.
According to our guide, the people of Cologne are the most open, liberal and tolerant community in Germany. They don’t have wood smokers that contain incense, mugs, or cuckoo clocks. They have cold draft Kolsch beer served cold in 7 oz glasses. If the glasses are emptied, they will be constantly replaced unless a signal is given with the coaster placed on top of the glass. Cologne breweries have neither music nor the Internet. They are places to communicate and meetâ¦ and confess your sins. Each brewery has a confessional. Peter’s Brau House had a two-seat flanked crib in the front!
I walked through four Christmas markets. A wide variety of lebkuchen, cured meats, cheeses, candles, spicy wine, roasted chestnuts and ornaments. Creation of a bee line for the Schokoladen museum. Hans Imhoff, chocolate maker, was born in Cologne and spent years in the chocolate industry. The Schokaladen Museum is the exclusive property of the Imhoff family.
The history of chocolate, from the cocoa trees growing in the tropics to the Mayas, including the Spaniards and Europeans, has unfolded piece by piece. A tropical greenhouse contained cocoa trees. The smell everywhere was incredible. The second floor presented the history of Mesoamerica, the chocolate drink and the industrialization of chocolate making. The third floor showed goodies through the decades and the use of child labor.
The longest sail of the Einar went from Cologne to Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. Land drainage is now mainly done by electric and diesel pumps, but in the past windmills did the job. In a cold haze, we toured the area of âânineteen historic drainage windmills, pumping stations and storage locks. Return on the boat to Amsterdam and from there by plane to Oklahoma. The Netherlands was closed four days later (Covid).
Becky Emerson Carlberg, Oklahoma State Graduate (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer, and certified master gardener and naturalist from Oklahoma. Contact her at [email protected]