Nassau to Koblenz

Tuesday 22nd June 2010, Burg Lahneck
To judge from the cacophony of quacking that woke me this morning I was not the only person to misunderstand the notice last night!

It has been very warm and sunny today. Perfect weather to stop beside the river Lahn for a coffee as we made our way down towards Koblenz. The Lahn valley is really lovely. It winds its way peacefully between green wooded hills. There are a few small villages along the way but generally the area is sparsely habited until it reaches Nassau. As we sat beside the water absorbing the silence a police launch rounded the bend, surging its way upstream and creating a wash that bounced back from the banks on either side. The pilot ignored our wave and continued steadily on. Perhaps he was looking for drugs or drowned bodies and found our attitude inappropriate.

Valley of the Lahn with approaching police launch

Ian can be horribly knowledgeable at times. I'd never even heard of Nassau but he was convinced it had connections with the House of Orange. It is only a tiny town on the river, very pleasant indeed but with nothing remarkable about it except its 17th century Fachwerk town hall and a small castle in the town centre. There was nothing obvious in the town linking it to the House of Orange but eventually we discovered a brief history of Nassau which mentioned it. So, this tiny town on the Lahn was responsible for producing monarchs of three European countries – Holland, Luxembourg and at one time, Britain.

Rathaus, Nassau

Entrance to the castle at Nassau

It was lunchtime and having explored all the town had to offer we bought a couple of schnitzels in rolls to eat on the river bank while we watched a group of young canoeists setting off to paddle their way downstream towards Bad Ems a few kilometres further on.
We saw them again later as we parked on the edge of the town.

There was far more to Bad Ems than we'd realised. In its time it was a very fashionable watering place, popular with the nobility and other great names of Europe. We found it very different from the towns we have been seeing over the past few days. It is smart and fashionable with a promenade, lawns and rose-filled flower beds along beside the river. People still take the waters and stay at the large hotels that date back to the early 19th century. The theatre and casino are still very important in the town while on the far side of the river stands a Russian Orthodox church, built when the Russian Czar, Alexander II was a regular visitor to the town. Outside the casino there are plaques in the pavement recalling illustrious visitors. They include Franz Liszt, Paganini, Jenny Lind and Jaques Offenbach who was director of music at Bad Ems from 1858 to 1870 and worked on both Orpheus in the Underworld and La Belle Helene during his time there.

Casino, Bad Ems

Russian Orthodox Church, Bad Ems

Decayed grandeur – an abandoned hotel, Bad Ems

Czar Alexander II and gardens, Bad Ems

Theatre interior, Bad Ems

Theatre restaurant, Bad Ems

General view and colonnaded walk, Bad Ems

The mineral water is forced up from a spring seventy three metres deep into a fountain in the centre of the town. It produces 600 litres of water rich in salts and iron every minute at a temperature of 55 degrees centigrade. It tastes horrible and the fountain is rimmed with red oxide.

Hot water spring at Bad Ems

We discovered the town museum, filled with photos and mementos of the heyday of the spa around the 1850s though it has been fashionable since the end of the 18th century. It also had a selection of the medical equipment used in the spa for people taking the cure. There were photos showing well dressed ladies and gentlemen inhaling the hot vapours but generally it all looked cumbersome and rather unpleasant.

It was in Bad Ems that on 13th July 1870 the French Ambassador, Comte Bennedetti, met with King Wilhelm I of Prussia, to demand that he renounce any claim to the throne of Spain. This the Kaiser refused to do. A telegram reporting the meeting was despatched to the Prussian Chancellor, Otto von Bismark who then published an edited version in a manner guaranteed to provoke the French, which led to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war a few days later.

Stone marking the meeting between France and Prussia in 1870, Bad Ems

The limits of the Ancient Roman Empire, known as the Limes, run through Bad Ems. The walls constructed by the Romans are not apparent within the town but can be seen on the hillside above – reached by a funicular railway. The Limes across what is now Germany, run between the Rhine and the Danube and are included on the Unesco world heritage list.

For such a hot afternoon we had done a great deal of walking and had discovered so much we needed a cold drink and a rest. Where better than the cafe of the Beatles museum, called Yellow Submarine overlooking the wonderful display of roses in the riverside park? Inside, the walls were covered with photos and memorabilia of the Liverpool four, all of it printed in German. They were immensely popular in Germany in their early days. When we were in Hamburg's Reeperbahn in 2008 we found a sculpture and plaque commemorating their regular appearances there. Why though, this large collection of memorabilia is to be found in Bad Ems we have no idea.

Downriver, where the Lahn eventually flows into the Rhine at Lahnstein is a campsite listed in our Dutch discount book. When we arrived it was full! And everyone was wearing clogs! (That's not a joke, nearly all Dutch campers really do wear clogs!) Fortunately we remembered seeing a sign a little way back for a different site. It is really lovely, high above the Rhine, right near the point where the Lahn flows into it. There are not many people here and we are pitched right on the cliff edge. We ate supper outside with glasses of wine watching as a long barge struggled its way up the Rhine against the current. We also entertained an uninvited guest eager for our left-overs and quite happy to explore inside Modestine!

Modestine has a visitor, Burg Lahneck

This evening we went for a short stroll through woodland to discover the castle we can see peeping above the trees nearby. We were intending to move on tomorrow but we have discovered there is a bus running from nearby to the centre of Koblenz. We will probably stay another day here now. Last time we tried to visit Koblenz we missed our turning, got channelled off down the Moselle and couldn't face finding our way back. The bus is a safer option.

Castle tower seen from the campsite, Burg Lahneck

Burg Lahneck

Wednesday 23rd June 2010, Burg Lahneck
Koblenz was a disappointment and we were fortunate not to have wasted time in it on our previous, failed attempt to see it. The day has been very hot indeed and many of the streets in the city were being dug up with whole areas cordoned off as preparations were made for hosting the German garden festival BUGA in 2011. Actually, it was a word we muttered more than once as we found our way blocked by heavy machinery or scrambled over heaps of rubble only to find our way cut off by barricades.

Koblenz is much the same size as Exeter with a population of around 110,000. Both towns were badly damaged during the 2nd World War. Exeter though, wins hands-down for our money as a pleasant town to stroll through or even to live. There are just so many streets of shops in Koblenz, with pockets of the surviving old town scattered amongst them. The town hall is housed in a very nice 17th century building, formerly part of the Jesuit College, and there is the 12th century Liebfrauenkirche. Inside though it seemed rather bare while the outside had been painted, disguising its origins.

Rathaus, Koblenz

Fountain outside the Rathaus depicting the spirit of Koblenz

Liebfrauenkirche, Koblenz

Alte Burg, Koblenz

Old Kaufhaus, now a museum, Koblenz

Ministry of Defence building, Koblenz

Three different styles of domestic architecture, all built in 1894, Koblenz

One difficulty with the city of course is that it is built on the banks of several rivers, so its points of interest are very scattered. On a cliff-top on the further bank of the Rhine is the Ehrenbreitstein fortress. This though was inaccessible to visitors, being impossible to reach by the cable car across the Rhine because of the programme of building and road works.

The Baedecker travel books started their existence in Koblenz in 1827 when Karl Baedecker produced his guide to the Rhine. By the time he died in 1859 much of Europe had been covered. Although we found the street where his business was located there was no plaque or evidence at all and most of the buildings were modern.

Down beside the Moselle river we joined hundreds of equally disgruntled tourists trudging through the dust and noise where the entire area was being dug up. Our reason was that here is the point known as the Deutsches Eck, or the point where three rivers join. In fact it's where the Moselle runs into the Rhine. The Lahn joins the Rhine just before that, in the area where we are camped. The area is of great symbolic importance to Germany being seen as a symbol of German unification. It is commemorated by a huge and heavy monument placed there in the 1890s. Only in Germany could you expect to find anything so hideous. Why were they so obsessed with such heavy, forbidding monuments? This was constructed at a time when a few streets away elegant Art Nouveau houses were being built and down in Bad Ems people were crowding into the theatre to enjoy the music of Offenbach. The monument in Koblenz has now displaced the one to Barbarossa we saw at Kyffhausen, See 17th Sepember 2005 as the worst monument we have ever seen. Constructed in dark, solid granite the monument at Deutsches Eck is embellished with heavy carvings of eagles, snakes and human heads making it appear more like something the Aztecs might have built. It was then hung about with heavy iron chains and topped with a massive bronze statue of Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia. Since German reunification in 1989 plaques have been added for each of the present states of Germany.

Monument to German unification, Deutsches Eck, Koblenz

Monument to German unification, Deutsches Eck, Koblenz

Detail of the monument to German unification, Deutsches Eck, Koblenz

At the point where the Moselle reaches the Rhine it is noticeable that the waters of the two rivers are very different in colour. The Moselle is dark and clear while the Rhine is full of muddy sludge and more fast flowing.

Moselle flowing into the Rhine, Deutsches Eck, Koblenz

The castle and its gardens on the banks of the Rhine were closed off when we finally reached them. However, our walk beneath the trees beside the river had been pleasant and we discovered a plaque marking the spot where the house in which Valery Giscard d'Estaing, President of France from 1974-1981, was born in 1926.

Plaque marking the former home of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Koblenz

Monument recording that the Kaiser stayed in Koblenz after his meeting with the French diplomat at Bad Ems on the night before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war

Not wishing to struggle back into the town again in the heat we cut our losses and returned to the bus station. While we waited Ian cheered himself up with Apfelstrudel, ice cream and whipped cream.

Happiness comes on a large plate edged with icing sugar and chocolate sauce, Koblenz

The bus back was hot and we made a mistake, getting off the bus too soon so we had to walk up the steep hill in the heat of the afternoon. We could even see Modestine on the edge of the cliff across the valley. We whistled and waved but she refused to come round and pick us up. Once back here we fell asleep on the grass under the shade of a tree until the heat dissipated enough for us to enter Modestine.

We are glad we visited Koblenz but it is not a town worthy of a special visit – unless of course, you are fascinated to see one of the world's ugliest monuments.

As I write this a sudden blasting of car horns and the sound of cheering has burst out in the town below the cliff edge. We conclude this evening's WM (World football) match has been won by Germany. Perhaps the rest of the world has also gone football crazy but we are amazed at the fervour Germany is showing towards winning. Cars are decorated with red, yellow and black flags, with matching covers for their wing mirrors. Children wear sunhats in the national colours, adults have the German flag painted on their faces, flags are draped from windows, shops are all decorated with flags and footballs, and today we even saw a florist that had managed to change the colours of one of those horrid red lilies that are so fashionable now! At first we found it all rather amusing but I confess to finding it slightly disquieting that the entire German nation seems to be taking it all so very seriously and that the German flag is quite so prominent. We understand that by no mean all of the team is actually German anyway!

Excessive football enthusiasm, Koblenz