Monday, September 13, 2010

European Vacation Day 6

At dinner the night before, our friends asked if we liked fortresses and castles. I said that yes, I like that kind of thing. To show my absolute ignorance about Germany, I had no idea that there were castles in Germany... When you say "Germany" castles really don't come to mind. The simple fact is, Germany is an old world country. It was part of the Roman Empire, and fell in to feudal government when the Empire fell, just like the rest of Europe. Germany fractured in to many kingdoms, and these Kings built castles to protect themselves from attack. It wasn't until Charmaine came along in the 6th century that the land was under one ruler again. Even then the local governors often fought amongst themselves, and well, the French kept attacking.

Anyway we had made plans to visit a town that was one part medieval town, one part fortress. The town was in an area that had been traded back and forth with the French many times over the years, that is why it was created in to a walled city. This town is about 100 miles away from Dusseldorf, and called Koblenz.

Koblenz is situated where the Mosel river meets the Rhine, also, there is a tall hill overlooking the area, making this a valuable strategic spot. You can see the bad guys coming and bombard them from a height. So, everybody from the Romans on have put a fortress up at Koblenz. Torn down and rebuilt over the centuries the current fortress is called Ehrenbreitstein. Built up after Napolan ran through Germany, it is a fortress to prevent the French from invading inner Germany.

We started out on our trip, supplied with iced coffee, and an excellent apple strudel from the local corner cafe. Our friends have a Volkswagen Golf. I was a little disappointed, because I knew we were going to be driving on the autobahn. I wanted to go fast.

We join the autobahn, and I was shocked to see speed limit signs up. I thought that the autobahn was no speed limit. Not so. There is only no speed limit in certain areas between towns. Around the towns, the limit is much like it is in the U.S., around 65 or so MPH. Just as we hit the no speed limit area, a traffic jam prevented us from moving. So we switched off the autobahn on to another highway. We would get there, just not in the way that I was expecting.
Not going on the autobahn was a blessing in disguise. We got to see some wonderful country side, complete with old villages, the kind that I always had in mind when I thought of Germany. It was great.

Eventually we rolled in to Koblenz. We walked around the town a bit and came to a short river tour. We decided that the river tour would be a fun time, and took it out in to the Rhine. From the Rhine we saw several buildings and generally had a good time just relaxing on the boat.
The major part of the tour centered around a particular point where the Mosel and the Rhine rivers meet. This area is called "The German Corner."

In 1887 a large statue of Emperor Wilhelm I was erected. In 1945 the US hit it with an artillery shell... Sorry about that... In 1990 a section of the Berlin wall was moved to this spot, and all of the flags of the new German republic were placed around the statue area. The statue itself was repaired in 2003, and the German Corner stands as a monument to the unification of Germany.

German Corner

After the boat trip we sat down to have a nice lunch. Of course there was beer. I had a local pilsner, that was much lighter than the beers I have been drinking in Germany. This was so light, it was very close to an American style pilsner, close to a Boulevard Pilsner in taste. Anyway, since this area of Germany was disputed with France so often, the food has been influenced by the occupations. The traditional dish we had, Zwiebelkuchen, was like a pizza, but with onion cooked in to the dough. This crust can be thick or thin, depending on what the cook wants to put on top, and different regions have their own take... Kind of like New York and Chicago style pizzas. Mine was topped with cheese and bacon. Awesome.

We spent a while hanging out at the restaurant talking, drinking beer, and watching the Rhine roll by. We kind of lost track of time, and before we knew it, the gondola ride to take us up to the old fortress on top of the hill had closed. No worries though, we took a ferry across the Rhine, and started the steep walk up to see Ehrenbreitstein.

Ehrenbreitstein can trace its roots back to 1000 BCE. Its value as a strategic spot was known even then. About 1000 CE, a castle was built there to protect the Holy Tunic worn by Christ after the crucifixion (It wasn't really the garment worn by Christ. You can sell stupid people anything though, and wow did they in the middle ages.). In 1794 the French took Koblenz, and besieged Ehrenbreitstein for nearly a year, until the occupants finally surrendered due to starvation. The French had to leave a year later, because the treaty of Lunéville gave the Germans the rights to the fortress. However, the treaty did not give Kolblenz back to the Germans, so the French dismantled the fortress so that the Germans would have a place to bombard the city from.

After Napoleon was defeated, the Rhineland again became part of Germany, and with it the city of Koblenz. The Germans thought that if there was another invasion from France, Koblenz would be a prime target. "Screw them hippies" was the general feeling of the Germans and they began to create Festung Koblenz, or fortress Koblenz. After its completion, the area was nearly as large as Gibraltar. The crowning jewel was Ehrenbreitstein. Home to 1200 soldiers, and multiple ground emplacements, it was the be all end all in fortress technology... before the airplane.
The advent of air power ended the need for the old school fortress and as WWI ended, the fortress was obsolete. That did not stop the French from wanting it destroyed as part of the Treaty of Versailles. American general T. Allan saved it for its historical value of a pristine example of a 19th century fortress.

Today, Ehrenbreitstein has a very nice little restaurant with a spectacular view of Koblenz and the surrounding area. We made the long walk up to the top, and had coffee while the sun set.

Ehrebreitstein fortress from the Rhine

From the air

View from the top at the cafe.

With the sun set, we headed back to Dusseldorf. Now the roads were clear, and we were free to use the autobahn as intended. The little Volkswagen Golf impressed the hell out of me, easily reaching 110 MPH. What impressed me more were the Audi TTs and BMW M3s that were passing us like we weren't moving. Being on the autobahn, just made me realize another oppression of the American government. Why must we have a speed limit in between cities? Very stupid.

Anyway we made it back to Dusseldorf and said goodbye to our friends. We had a great time in Germany, largely due to their help and companionship.

The next day we boarded the plane and took off for the states.

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