Our Vantage Points

Rhine Castles
At Mainz we leave the autobahn to leisurely follow highway B-9 northward along the west bank of the Rhine River.

Bacharach

Bacharach, about 50 miles from our Frankfurt hotel, makes a lovely place for a rest stop and to soak up a piece of rural Germany.  The village is separated from the river only by a beautiful park where a large group of Germans are milling around, apparently waiting for their Rhine River tour boat.

Bacharach is an exemplary German village, complete with a Catholic Church, its large crucifix prominently visible from the street.  It also includes a charming line of contiguous buildings, exhibiting fine examples of artsy German wood frame exteriors on basic plastered masonry.
Overlooking the village and the Rhine is a fine castle, occupied and well maintained.  A modest vineyard, on the south-facing slope below the castle, finishes the scene.
Here, besides the architecture, all the chatter around us is German....  It now begins to sink in....  We are truly in Germany.  This river could have been the Columbia, in western Oregon.  Even the weather looks like Oregon, with medium overcast intermittently producing drizzle and temperatures in the low 60's (F)....  But this is not Oregon!  This is Germany!

Standing here on the bank of this historic River for the very first time in my life, it feels familiar...  as if I'd been here many times.  King Rhine rolls slowly by, as if telling me a long long story, a story of sadness and also of hope:  the sadness of wars, bombs and destruction; the hope of peace, freedom and happiness.  He tells of men and women motivated by goodness, achievement and perfection.  Then, as the busy river boats steadily move by, my mind drifts to a young man who lived more than 250 years ago in the German state of Wuerttemberg, up-river, not very far from here.

Hans Jorge Mack probably had read articles and letters from relatives in America describing the possibilities of a new life, a life fresh with exciting opportunities.  Hans, and a few other highly motivated Lutherans, went through the processes required to sail to America in 1752.  Hans obtained his passport at Ludwigsburg on April 21 that year.  Hans was seventeen.

It was very probably a day in May of 1752, when Hans and his friends, including a Lutheran pastor, passed this very spot on the Rhine while doggedly making their way to America.  In Rotterdam, at the mouth of the Rhine, they transferred to the high masted ship, Rawley, for the arduous voyage to Staten Island.  After going through customs there, he arrived in Philadelphia on October 23, 1752, finally to settle in York County, Pennsylvania to start his adult life.

In America, Hans Jorg Mack changed his name to the English form: John George Mock.  He knew the value of living and working in the language of his new home.  I am proud to be one of his sixth generation descendants, and I'm sharing a bit of his excitement today!



Saint Goar

Farther down the Rhine we come to St. Goar, stopping to take in another fabulous scene.  Another living castle dominates a high bluff across the river.  This area is dotted with castles.  Many stand in ruins.
Berg Eltz
A
major highlight planned for today is a visit to Eltz Castle.

To get there we drive a little farther down the Rhine to just beyond Boppard where, according to plan, we would take a shortcut from the Rhine to the Mosel River.  This is one of those roads you need a magnifying glass to find on the map. It is a very narrow, "should-be-one-way" road through the woods and hills, complete with blind curves… but paved. Later we will discover that many roads in Europe fit this description.  Oh!  By the way, this shortcut works!  It works without asking for directions, taking us directly to the Mosel.

From the Mosel River, getting to the castle is an easy drive.  The route is winding and devious but posted with frequent signs pointing to "Berg Eltz. " The road ends in the woods in the middle of "nowhere" at a parking lot.  A man walks up to our car and asks for the castle fee.  We have no idea how far we'll have to walk.  You have to remember that German is the language here.  Information is difficult to come by. Hoping the crowd is going to the castle, we join them as they trudged down a steep hill, around a bend and down some more....  About halfway down we see the castle nestled in its narrow valley on a point of rock beside the Eltz River.
It is as if we had opened our story book to "The Princess and the Pea."

Indeed, enchanting!  And no!  This is not Disney Land.
This castle has a true story!  A story about the real people and their families who lived here for hundreds of years.  The story includes an extended feud with a power hungry 14th century Archbishop.

The Eltz Castle began as a small manor house built here during the 1100's by Rudolf Eltz.  Even his name sounds so mediaeval! From this spot the Eltz family could control traffic between the productive Maifeld Plateau and the Mosel River, a major trade route of the time.  This helped them develop a strong network of allies, usually a very smart thing to do.  Three generations later the castle ownership was divided among three branches of the Eltz family.  During the following 200 years or so three separate sections of the castle were built to accommodate the three branches.  Separate ownership was established for each section.  But in 1815, the entire castle ownership was passed to the "Golden Lion" branch of Eltzes.  Now it is solely owned by Count Karl of that branch.

During the five years following 1331, a feud with archbishop Baldwin of Luxembourg caused great stress for the residents of Berg Eltz.  Bishop Baldwin wanted to extend his territory to include everything between Trier, some 50 miles southwest of here, and the Rhine River about 10 miles due east of here.  He understood that control of Berg Eltz could help him achieve his goal.  So he built a siege tower, which is still standing nearby.  From this tower his men lobbed stone balls and fired flaming arrows at the castle.  The harassment finally ended through "due process" when the Eltz Family sued for peace.  The Eltz' influence probably helped. No one around them wanted to kowtow to Baldwin.

Mary and I stood with the crowd in the rain, waiting to join one of the tour groups being taken through the castle.  We had purchased a guide sheet in English.  On the tour, Mary tried to read to me during the intervals we were moving to the next room, because although I listened intently to the guide describing the fabulous details...  in German, I wasn't getting much.  When the guide pointed at something, I could occasionally perceive what she was describing but not the description.  I'm not even sure which descriptions were more fascinating because there was virtually no reaction from the 30 or so members of the tour.  When she faced toward me I turned around, hoping that she wasn't describing me. In German, that would be UNFAIR!
The tour took us through eight rooms.  All photography inside the castle was verboten.  Here's a condensation of what we saw:
The Armory included a collection of medieval body armor and weapons such as projectiles, shot as flaming arrows by Archbishop Baldwin's men.  Others were simply collector's items displayed as decoration.

The Lower Hall had been a living room with huge oak beams, a large fireplace and a 15th century chandelier.  Decorations included 16th century Flemish tapestries, a 16th century clock and paintings on oak. 

The windows were replaced in the 19th century, with windows made of blown glass.  This window photo shows how it looks from the outside. Note the pointed Gothic arches that were re-worked to make the rectangular window fit.

The Upper Hall was a master bedroom.  It had a large bed with canopy. The 15th century murals were still in fine condition because they had been well preserved by a covering of white-wash for 300 years.  In the brattice (a bay window area that protrudes from the tower) we saw a chapel to St. Mary in honor of Wilhelm and Katarina du Eltz, whose portraits were set into the corners of the stained glass window.

This room also included an example of the 20 toilets in the castle, flushed by collected rain water.

The Elector's Room had been used by seven German princes who were the electors of the Holy Roman Emperor also known as the king of Germany.  Two Eltzes arose to this position: Jakob III, archbishop of Trier and Philip Karl, archbishop of Mainz.  Their portraits were displayed here.

The Great Hall, the largest room in the castle, was the Eltz family council room. It was decorated by weaponry, tapestry and Bible scenes painted on wood.

The Countesses' Room, named for the young ladies whose portraits are on the wall had also been a children's room.

This room also pays respect to Agnes, a resident ghost.  The breastplate, armor and a battle axe hanging on the wall was worn by Agnes when she died defending the castle from an undesirable suitor.  (So the story goes.)


The Banner Hall
is a banquet hall.  It has a brick tiled floor, and a beautifully vaulted ceiling.  The hall includes a colorful ceramic stove (fed from the next room) copied in the 19th century from a 16th century Nurnberg original.

This photo comes from a postcard we purchased.
                      © Foto-Kunstverlag F.G. Zeitz KG, Konigssee

The Kitchen is one of three in the castle.  Most food, especially meat was hung from the ceiling to discourage rats and mice.  The bread oven was built of volcanic stone.  To bake bread, a fire was maintained in the stove until the stone was hot enough.  Then the ashes were removed and the bread dough placed on the stones.  Yumm!


Speaking of yumm, we were getting pretty hungry by this time.  I guess it was a couple of hours past noon. Now comes our first little trauma.  How do we order a meal on our own without knowing much about the language?

The castle had a couple of informal restaurants.  People were eating at tables in a courtyard and others were eating in an alcove next to a kitchen.  So Mary sat in the alcove while I checked the kitchen.  The chalk board had some familiar words.  I focused on two: "Coke and Bratwurst."  Hey! I can say both of them in German!  I could have said "swei" but I was so panicked that I asked for:  "Two Cokes and two Bratwurst," holding up two fingers.  I think the lady said something in German and I said, "Okay!" She turned around and put two big long weenies on the stove.  And before too long we were munching a delightful German meal, across the table from...  an American family!

On the way out I stopped to snap a picture of Mary standing by the castle gate.  A man walked up and offered to take our picture together.  A nice finale to our Berg Eltz visit.

This castle, among other things, has a 12th century beginning, a 15th century chandelier and a 21st century website.

You may visit it at: www.burg-eltz.de   (This is not a link. Don't leave us yet.)

The Mosel River
I
n the process of planning this fanciful journey, we thought of the rivers of Europe.  Ah!  The Blue Danube!  The Po, the Thames, the Seine and the Rhine. Yes, the Rhine!  We had to see the Rhine, that backbone of Germany.

Then, in one of the tour books, I read about another river.  The Mosel River was touted as even more scenic than the Rhine.  I noted that the Mosel was pretty much on the way between Frankfurt and Paris.  In addition, I learned that the oldest city in central Europe is Trier, on the Mosel.  It was established as a Roman outpost under Augusta Treverorum in 16 B.C. and was a prominent center for about 5 centuries.  But archaeological evidence indicates human habitation even long before that.

I also read about the Eltz Castle, very near the Mosel.  Ok, already!  We must see the Mosel!

So today, after leaving Eltz, we returned to the Mosel and proceeded up river (Southwest) toward Trier.

The countryside is very nice, with rolling hills, many vineyards and a few castles, but this little river is much busier than I had anticipated.  Even in October the little tourist towns are teeming with tourists. We even saw a very crowded RV park or two, confirming that if we could bring our Coleman trailer next time, we'd have places to set it up.

Travel trailers in Europe are called "caravans."  We saw a few more camping opportunities as we traveled through Europe.  But the camping atmosphere is really not much like what we have in America.  Campgrounds seem to be mostly private businesses set up near cities or towns.  Nothing wrong with private enterprise, but they all seem very crowded.  It might be that open land is not available to campground entrepreneurs.  We didn't see any campgrounds in remote, natural settings.  In at least some national parks, vehicle camping is prohibited.

Although here along the Mosel there are interesting things to see, I somehow wasn't particularly inspired to take photographs.  I wish I had, but there were distractions. I think it was partly that the road was too narrow and without opportunities to pull off.  It was also that I was satisfied with the few castle photos that I was able to take.

Mostly it had became obvious that we would have to abandon any plans for sight seeing in Trier and we really couldn't dawdle.  The afternoon was diminishing and because we were at the 50th parallel, 5 degrees farther north than Oregon, we knew darkness would be upon us earlier than it would be in Oregon.  Also, though not a surprise, following this very crooked river was getting us nowhere fast.  Our reserved hotel room was at Pont A Mousson in France, about 150 miles from Berg Eltz.  It was maybe two hours after dark when we checked in.

The Comfort Inn, Pont A Mousson is just south of Metz, France.  The Mosel, the river we've been following all afternoon, is still just a short walk from our hotel, except that here it is known as the Moselle.  With new ways to spell, and a whole new phonics system, we know we are now in France, where sailles are sighs, Seines are Senz and where Reims are Rens.

Sooo... We'll see you in Paris (Pa-ree).

It's been fun.  Bonne nuit
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