Romancing the Rhine
Niku Sidhu

THE Rhine Valley is steeped in myths, folklore and fairytales. The castles along the Rhine river are replete with fascinating tales of historical events, knights in medieval battles and military conflicts. Dubbed the romantic Rhine, it meanders through quaint villages and wine country. Having a length of 1,300km, Rhine is the longest river in Germany with tributaries flowing in from France, Luxembourg and Belgium. Since the days of the Roman Empire, the river was used as a vital navigable route for trade, demarcating inland frontiers. Subsequently, the river has served as the basis while creating international borders. The valley was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2002.

Rudesheim am Rhein is a leisurely day cruise from Frankfurt. This cheery picturesque town greets with open arms. Drosselgrasse, lined with German bars and restaurants, is the pulsating heart of the town where music and merriment begin at noon and carry on till the wee hours of the morning.

Top: Marksburg Castle has survived many wars 
Below: A view of Niederwald Memorial

A visit to Rudeshiem should be combined with Assmannhausen, a neighbouring town, around a sharp bend in the Rhine. Although you could take the train or walk to cover the 6 km stretch, I recommend a cable car ride up the hillock to Niederwald. Keep the camera handy for great views overlooking Rudeshiem and the Rhine. On a clear day you may get a glimpse of the town of Bingen across the river. Reach the summit for the statue of Germania seated atop the hill. Built in 1883, the 132 ft high and 120 ft wide 32 tonne bronze monument depicts Germania bearing the German emperor’s crown and imperial sword. The wine museum in Castle Broemserburg is an idyllic spot to sample their famous Rheingauer Riesling white wine. A chair-lift ride down to Assmannahausen, and one can indulge in their mineral baths and have Spatburgunder, the only red wine from the region. If torture chambers, instruments promising pain, dark vaults and witch hunts tickle your fancy, the Medieval Torture Museum is straight up your alley.

It’s a daunting task deciding which castles merit a visit as you cruise past them on the Rhine. For one, situated on hilltops most are a good hike up. The Thirty Years War and the two World Wars took their toll on many of these castles, leaving only one medieval survivor, Marksburg Castle. Schloss Stolzenfels with its fortifications and towers exudes the timeless beauty for which the Romantic Rhine is famed. In 1823, the future Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV fell under its spell and rebuilt it as his summer residence. The guest list has included Queen Victoria. The layout of rooms remains largely as the king left them, with paintings, weapons, armour and furnishings from the mid-nineteenth century.

The Castles Rheinstein, Reichenstein and the Rheinfels above the town of St Goar are open to public all year and worth the trek up. Eberbach Abbey featured in Hollywood film The Name of the Rose, an adaptation from Umberto Eco’s novel by the same name starring Sean Connery, was partly shot here. Built in the Romanesque and early Gothic architectural styles, over time it has served as a lunatic asylum, a jail, a sheep pen and accommodation for World War II refugees. Today, it hosts the Rheingau Music Festival, wine tours and auctions, and cultural events.

St Hildegard’s Abbey is a 12th century shrine dedicated to power woman Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who was ostracised by the clergy for her clairvoyance and visions. It displays her heart, hair, tongue and skull, attracting pilgrims from around the world, especially on September 17, the anniversary of her death.

At the narrowest and deepest part of the Rhine, the Loreley Rock rises vertically 132 metres above water-level. The siren of Loreley has bewitched sailors with her soft song and inspired poets through the ages. Betrayed by her sweetheart, she jumped off the rock in despair and died. She enticed sailors with her golden hair and murmuring voice, distracting them enough to ignore the rough rocks in the bend on the river. As they looked up, their boats capsized. German author Clemens Brentano immortalised her in a ballad in 1801. Over a dozen poems have been set to music in her memory.

Wiesbaden translated means ‘meadow baths’ and is one of the oldest spa towns boasting 30 hot springs in its heydays with 14 currently functional. After the World Wars, an American army base was established and 10,000 US citizen troops still live here. Mainz, a commuter train distance from Frankfurt, has a unique geographic feature from the last ice age. Sand-dune deposits were formed in what is now a nature reserve with rare steppe vegetation for the area. Together, Wiesbaden and Mainz form part of the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region.

Trip planner

How to reach: Direct flights from New Delhi and Mumbai to Frankfurt.

Best time to visit: April to October.

Best deal: Rhineland combo train ticket costs €21 for one person, 25 for two and only 37 for five persons.

Things to do: Cycling routes and Gliding.

Advisory: Some hotels and cruises down shutters as early as September; remember to verify if you travel during late autumn. 










Morbid museums

Fascinated by contraception, chimneysweeps, or magic boxes? Vienna has a museum for you. The city may be better known for its grand art collections, but it is filled with quirky or downright bizarre establishments, and Museum Night is their chance to shine.

(Clovkwise) Undertaking: A mortician's hearse is seen at the Funeral museum of Vienna Bestattungsmuseum Wien). Photos: Alexander Klein (AFP) Last stroke: A coffin inspired by Belgian painter Rene Magritte creation "Perspective : Madame Recamier de David" is seen at the Funeral museum of Vienna (Bestattungsmuseum Wien). Ghoulish grin: Teeth and dental prosthesis equipments are seen at the Dentistry museum of Vienna (Zahnmuseum Wien). A kick in the teeth: Dentistry chairs are seen at the Dentistry museum of Vienna (Zahnmuseum Wien)