The Tribune - Spectrum


, May 12, 2002

A city that has survived historical & natural odds
Sushil Kaur

Stolzenfels Castle

FOLLOW the Rhine in Switzerland at the juncture of two small mountain streams near Church, the Vorederrhein and Hinterrhein. The flow will take you northward to the western boundaries of Liechtenstein and part of Austria. Then turn westward along this historic river towards Lake Constance and then on to The Netherlands. There it branches into many arms that form a wide, flat delta on the coast of the North Sea.

The Rhine begins its journey in the Alpine headwaters, moves through a narrow valley to Cologne and through a great plain to the North Sea. The German part of this plain is laced with industrial cities. Some of the major cities are Schaffhayusen, Basel, Mannheim, Worms, Mainz, Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf, and, in The Netherlands, Rotterdam. The largest tributaries include the Neckar, Main, and Ruhr on the right bank, and Moselle and Erft on the left.

At the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine lies Koblenz, a fascinating centre of tourism and commerce, particularly the wine trade. Originally a Roman military outpost constructed in about 9 BC, the town that developed on the site was a residence of Carolingian kings. The city was a royal court in the 5th century, and in 1018 it became the property of the archbishops of Trier.

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Koblenz is a fascinating centre of tourism and commerce
Koblenz is a fascinating centre of tourism and commerce

In the 13th century, Koblenz was a prosperous member of the Hanseatic League, a commercial federation of European cities. After the French Revolution (1789-1799) Koblenz became a French possession, but by 1815 Prussia acquired control of the city, and in 1822, it was made the capital of the Rhine Province of Prussia. After World War I (1914-1918), Koblenz became the headquarters of the Allied Rhineland High Commission and was occupied for a while by American and French troops. Because of its importance as a rail and manufacturing centre of machinery, pianos, paper, textiles, and chemicals, the city was heavily damaged by bombing during World War II.

Today, Koblenz is located in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and is one of the most beautifully situated cities in Europe. It has grown to take up the entire valley plain between the Rhine and the Moselle. But owing to its location on these two rivers the town has been very prone to floods. Parts of Koblenz were flooded following record rainstorms in December 1993; 1200 people had to be evacuated from their homes. Severe flooding recurred just over a year later, leaving the historic downtown area under water and causing further damage to the city. And last winter history repeated itself in Koblenz; it has been the coldest December in 50 years with a frozen Moselle river, and the warmest day in January since 1877, leaving the city again under the threat of floods because of the fast-melting snow.

A view of the Old Town
A view of the Old Town

Begin your walking tour by getting to the city centre. Enter the tongue of land between the two rivers and from there see the rest of the city, the industrial area and the Rhine port directly adjacent to it. Remember that the city is an important intersection of many transport routes and seat of a number of federal and state authorities. The German army has its biggest national base here. It is also a major business centre; while you busy yourself with visiting these historic centres, stop for a breath at one of the numerous wine shops to cool yourself with a glass of white wine in this leading wine trading city on the Rhine. The most popular varieties are the whites made from the famous Riesling, Silvaner and Muller-Thurgau grapes.

Koblenz has always been a city of the arts, and it has a lot to offer those interested in culture and history. Records of the Nazi period are located in the Federal Archives in Koblenz. Among the foremost building are the Church of Saint Castor (completed in 1208), and the house where the Austrian statesman Prince Klemens von Metternich was born in 1773. The original citadel of the Ehrenbreitstein fortress in Koblenz was built in the 10th century. The German Corner is the most fascinating point in the whole city. Situated on the land where the Rhine and the Moselle join, it is the set of the monument of Kaiser Wilhelm I. A total of six million gold marks were spent on its erection. Its placement is worth mentioning: the 14-metre equestrian statue of the Kaiser faces the river, while the horseís tail points towards France, the much-hated enemy. But unfortunately this statue was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1945. The statue strangely disappeared and has never been recovered till today. It was only in 1987 that a Koblenz publisher offered to sponsor a copy of the original and so, in 1993 Europeís largest floating crane hauled up the 62 tonne bronze copy onto its plinth.

St Castorís Church
St Castorís Church

Koblenzís most hallowed building is the St. Castor Church which deserves special mention. Worth seeing inside this Carolingian church with its dominating spires are the tombs of Princes Elector Falkenstein and Werner von Koningstein as well as an imposing crucifix on top of the high alter. The early Baroque pulpit designed in 1625 is equally fascinating. One can sit in the gurgling Kastor fountain in the church square and take in the glorious majesty of this Romanesque structure.

From here, turn to the Munzplatz square and come to the old Mint Masterís house. This is the social centre for senior citizens and the location of a weekly market. There are a number of popular pavement cafes here where a cup of filtered Arabian coffee will rejuvenate you if you are a little fatigued by this time. Another interesting square to do your shopping in is the one in the Old Town where once executions took place. The historical facades of the Town Hall are a souvenir of the ancient Koblenz architecture. The Church of our Lady in this part of the town was originally built in the Middle Ages. Its gothic choir and the baroque belfries are all more than five centuries old. This handsome structure was also the victim of the allied bombing during World War II, but it has been restored by the citizens of the city.

Statue of Kaiser Wilhelm
Statue of Kaiser Wilhelm

If you think you have spent enough time seeing these age-old monuments, you can start visiting museums and theatres and concert halls. Do not come away without spending an evening enjoying one of the rich programmes of events that the cultural life of Koblenz offers. And if you are the outdoor variety, go in for leisure activities or sports, including hiking trails, river cruises and excursions into the gorgeous surrounding countryside. The various scenic corners of the city and the divine Promenades along the river leave the visitor awestruck.

Having enjoyed such a variety, how can one forget to visit the Old Town which is particularly attractive. Its beautiful old houses have now been fondly restored by the state. A leisurely stroll along the narrow ancient streets at the end of the day will be an unforgettable experience. And if you have some more time to spare, take a walk to the top of the hill above the Rhine where stands the Stolzenfels Castle which is one of the most outstanding examples of German Neo-Gothic romanticism. From the castle courtyard take in the beautiful view of the city or the Rhine in Flames at night when the castle as well as the river is flood-lit. It will leave you mesmerised.