Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Sweet Ending in Cochem

The final stop on our long weekend road trip in Germany was Cochem.

A funny thing happened on the way. Blanche, my overworked GPS, was on her best behavior. We were pleasantly rolling along on major highways when we decided to top off our gas tank. I redirected Blanche to the nearest gas station, which she claimed was less than 5-km from where we were. We pulled off onto an exit for a small village and continued following Blanche, marveling over the beautiful landscape of the town as we passed vineyards and drove alongside a river.

When we were less than 1.5-km from the gas station, Blanche's voice suddenly went from confident to questioning as she proclaimed, "Drive 500-meters, then board ferry?!" And I'm not kidding; that's exactly the way she said it: "Board ferry?!" Evidently, the gas station was on the other side of the river and even Blanche thought it was odd that we would postpone our road trip for at least 20 minutes in order to board a ferry, ride the ferry, de-board, fill up on gas, and then repeat the process.

Needless to say, we decided to forego the ferry-boarding and found our way back to the highway (with Blanche's eager assistance).


Arriving in Cochem was very scenic. We crossed a bridge over the Mosel River, trailed by bicyclists and pedestrians who meandered along languidly. The cafes were filled as revelers clinked wine glasses and laughed gaily. Rising above it all was the imposing and beautiful Cochem Castle.

Cochem Castle above Vineyards
We found our small guesthouse along a narrow, winding street in the center of town. Cochem was packed with visitors! I can only imagine it was due to the mild, sunny weather and the arrival of Federweiss. We first encountered this wine when we were in Nuremberg. There was a busy little kiosk in the city center and we had to try it since we'd never seen it.

It was described to us by the winemakers as a very young wine that is still fermenting. You can drink it right away or store it for a couple of weeks, during which time the fermentation process will continue and the wine will gain more alcohol content. It was very refreshing and light, as to be expected. The taste was sweet but more like a sweet fruit juice rather than a sweet wine (like Riesling). We immediately fell in love and bought a half-liter for three Euros. It's the perfect brunch beverage.

We soon learned we didn't have to be so quick to purchase in Nuremberg; Federweiss was everywhere in Cochem! Little tastes were offered on almost every corner for 50-cents and each one tasted a little different. It was lots of fun sampling and comparing. Federweiss is only around during the autumn harvest so I'm glad we were in the Mosel region (by chance) this time of year.

Delftware Fireplace
Our next order of business was to visit Cochem Castle. It was built in 1000 A.D. by the Franconian Palatine counts. The castle was destroyed in 1689 by French soldiers and was in ruins for the next 200 years. Then, Louis Ravene, a rich merchant from Berlin, reconstructed Cochem Castle according to its original plans. Today the interior is that of a 19th-century chateau and the castle belongs to the town of Cochem (since 1978).

Knights' Hall

A tour of the castle lasts about 45 minutes. It's all in German but we were given an English guidebook to follow. We wandered through grand rooms beginning with the Dining Hall and ending with the Weapons Room. The castle is filled with treasures such as a fireplace decorated by Delftware, 16th-century furniture, and a painting of a Greek goddess.

My favorite room was the "Room Above the Last Gate." In this room hangs a mermaid chandelier. It's a symbolic figure to keep evil out of the castle. The guide suggested all of us touch the bottom of it for luck. One exits the room via a spiral staircase that winds the wrong way. This was to prevent any aggressors coming up the staircase from using their sword (carried in the right hand) to any great effect.

Mermaid Chandelier

Outside we saw the old well, which is 150-ft deep. The Witch's Tower is the final landmark of the tour. The round tower survived the destruction of 1689. There are remnants of red paints beneath one of the windows, leading researchers to believe that the castle in the Middle Ages must have been very colorful. A huge mosaic representing St. Christopher adorns the west side of the main tower.

Witch's Tower

After our tour, we walked back down to the village, passing through vineyards and strolling by half-timbered houses. From our bird's eye view at the castle, we noticed a chair lift in the distance. We found the entrance to the Cochemer Sesselbahn quickly. Having only "skied" once in my life (it's in quotations because my attempt was a complete failure; I'm from Florida!!), I've never been on an actual chair lift. I was a little nervous because the safety bars seemed awfully flimsy and I was the kid who was scared on the ferris wheel at the county fair every year. But I faced my fears and I'm glad I did. The ride was peaceful and we were able to have Federweiss one more time at the cafe at the top!

Cochemer Sesselbahn

Cochem Castle from Sesselbahn

Cochem is a delightful little village, definitely worth a stopover if you're ever in the Mosel Valley. If I were you, I'd try to make the trip during the fall season when the leaves are just beginning to turn, the days are becoming shorter, the smell of smoke from cozy fireplaces fills the air, and Federweiss is practically being given away everywhere you turn. Seriously, go for the Federweiss. And visit the castle, too.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wandering in Wurzburg

A two-hour drive from Nuremberg brought us to Wurzburg. Wurzburg is a lively university town that serves as the beginning (or end) of the Romantic Road. The Main River cuts through the center of the town and lush vineyards dot the hillsides. The Residenz Palace and Marienberg Fortress complete the fairy-tale backdrop.

Dom St. Killian

After checking in to our bed and breakfast, we used the efficient tram system to reach the center of town. Two landmarks that tower over Wurzburg are the Dom St. Killian and St. Mary's Church. Dom St. Killian is the fourth-largest Romanesque church in Germany. It was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it during the war in 1945. Exterior reconstruction was carried out according to the original.

St. Mary's Church
I thought St. Mary's Church was really unique due to its red-and-white exterior and Gothic-style. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries by the citizens of Wurzburg. It holds a prime position on the Marktplatz, the city's liveliest square.

After a brief overview of Wurzburg we decided to quell our hunger pangs with a dinner at Ratskeller Wurzburg. The offering was typically German: bratwurst, sauerkraut, potatoes. The shining star of the meal was the extensive wine list. I settled on a Rotling, wine made from a blend of red and white grapes. It was similar in color to a Rose with a perfect balance of sweet and dry. I quickly consumed two glasses and left the restaurant with a hankering for more.

An Appropriate Amount of Rotling
for 2.
I was in luck. We began a romantic stroll across the Old Main Bridge and noticed lots of people gathered around the center. As we moved closer, we realized they were in line outside of a restaurant. A young woman stood at a window, patiently filling wine glasses as a never-ending queue waited to sip their libations. We promptly got in line and decided we'd better order two glasses each because we didn't want to have to wait in the line again.

Armed with our four glasses of Rotling, we staked out a spot at the center of the bridge. The atmosphere surrounding us was jovial. We talked and laughed, enjoying the sounds of all of the other laughter and conversation even though it was all in German. The Main River flowed swiftly below us while the Marienberg Fortress towered over Wurzburg.

Marienberg Fortress over Wurzburg

The next day we were in a time-crunch again. We had to choose between the Residenz palace and the fortress. We decided on the fortress. Climbing to its perch over the town gave us the opportunity to burn off all of our Rotling calories.

Marienberg Fortress
Marienberg Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beginning in 1250, it was the seat of the Wurzburg bishops. They enlarged the medieval castle, transforming it initially into a fortified Renaissance palace and finally into a baroque fortress.

Vineyards surround the huge complex of buildings, including an 8th-century church (St. Mary's Church-- not to be confused with St. Mary's Chapel inside Wurzburg). St. Mary's Church is one of the oldest in Germany.

St. Mary's Church

I was most impressed by the Princes' Garden, which probably dates back to the early 16th century. Flanked by beautiful balustrades and balconies, it's one of the most picturesque gardens I've ever seen. The flower designs were colorful and ornate and the views of the city were amazing. Wurzburg looked like a perfect, miniature German town from that height.

Our time was up far too soon. I would definitely return, driving the length of the Romantic Road to wonderful Wurzburg.

Sometimes all it takes to make a city is a stroll in a beautiful garden. And a wine bar on a bridge.

"The Most German of All Cities"

We've finally made it to the Bavarian portion of Germany! Last week we took a long road trip that brought us to Nuremberg. It was a whirlwind visit because we had only a day-and-a-half but we made the most of it.

When I hear Nuremberg, the first thing that comes to mind are the Nuremberg Trials. Adolf Hitler called Nuremberg "the most German of all cities." While much of our trip centered around the history of the rise of the Nazi party, we found that there is much more to see in this modern metropolis.

Our arrival late in the afternoon allowed for a quick stroll through the Old Town as we made our way to the Bratwurst-Hausle for an early dinner. This most famous bratwurst house in the city has been grilling Nurnberger Rostbratwurst since 1313. The wurst was perfection and the accompanying sauerkraut was the best I've had! Wash it all down with a few Tucher Hefeweizens on draft and I'd say that's a pretty tasty German dinner.

Beautiful Fountain
Rising up 62 feet in the main square is the Beautiful Fountain. It was built between 1389 and 1396. Its intricate design boasts forty stone figures and a couple of lucky charms. There are two rings on opposite sides of the fountain. The most noticeable one is "for the tourists" and the other, more difficult to find, is for the locals. Make a wish, rotate the ring three full turns, and your wish will come true. Here's the catch: some sources say turning the ring will make you lucky in love while others warn that if a woman turns the ring she will become pregnant. I'm not sure what will happen in our case because we were greedy and we each turned both rings three times. Between us, we are either going to be very lucky in love or very pregnant. 

After sealing our fates (whatever they may be), we headed for the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle) looming grandly above the city. It is one of the most important imperial palaces of the Middle Ages. A Salian royal castle was built on the spot as early as the 11th century. The Kaiserburg was the official residence of the German kings and emperors from 1050 to 1571. It's a very easy walk to the terraces and you are rewarded with a fantastic view of Nuremberg's skyline.

Nuremberg at Night

The next morning we were excited to see Nuremberg in the daylight. We made our way back to the main square, to the Church of St. Lawrence. Construction began in 1270 and lasted for more than 200 years. It's a beautiful Gothic church with soaring pillars and magnificent stained-glass.

We decided to wait around until noon for a little show that happens every day at the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). A gilded 16th-century mechanical clock called Little Men Running performs every day at 12pm. When the clock tolls, figures of the seven Electors appear and pay homage to Emperor Karl IV. It was a charming sight to see and we were among about 50 other people gathered to watch.


Little Men Running

We didn't have much time left in Nuremberg before our road trip continued so we moved from sweet to sobering as we drove over to the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelande - the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Documentation Center. A visit to Nuremberg is incomplete without at least an afternoon, and possibly a full day, spent immersed in a chronological overview of the rise of Nazism. 

It's impossible to convey how much information is displayed within the Center, housed in the unfinished remains of the Congress Hall. The permanent exhibition is appropriately named "Fascination and Terror." Everything is written in German but the audio guides are wonderfully informative as you move from room to room, passing images of smitten teenage girls fawning over Hitler, haunting photos of atrocities at concentration camps, and films showcasing construction of the massive Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. The size of the complex is mind-blowing. Aerial photos are almost unreal.

Panoramic of Unfinished Congress

Luitpold Grove Park
We spent almost 3 hours in stunned silence inside the Center. Afterward, we walked across the street to Luitpold Grove Park. The City of Nuremberg erected a monument in the park during the Weimar Republic (1919-33). The monument was intended to commemorate the 9,855 Nuremberg soldiers killed during WWI. During the 1929 Party Rally, the Nazis incorporated the then-unfinished Hall of Honor in their staging of the cult of the dead. Hitler commemorated the fallen soldiers of WWI and the "Martyrs of the NS Movement." The ritual was intended to commit the "party soldiers" present to sacrificing their lives for the "Fuhrer" and for National Socialism. In 1933, Hitler had the park remodeled into the Luitpold Arena for the Party Rallies.

Ehrenhalle - Hall of Honor Now

Ehrenhalle Then

After 1945, Nuremberg turned the area back into a park. Today the Hall of Honor commemorates the victims of WWI and WWII, as well as the victims of the National Socialist rule of terror.

As we drove away from Nuremberg, my husband commented that he was glad we saw the city the way we did: initially our view was untainted, just another German town with a castle and some interesting churches - then, as the stark base of Hitler's rise to power.

In the end, I think Nuremberg has done a great deal to pay homage to the victims of Hitler's reign. His 'glorious' complex hovers unfinished in a time past but not forgotten, incomplete but still standing to serve as a constant reminder of the unimaginable.