The Rhine: Koblenz to Köln

DSCN3985Thursday morning the 29th, my host Nasr went to his German class. I did my laundry, then walked east along the Mosel River to the Deutsches Eck (“German Corner”), the point of land formed by the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhine. There, I caught a cable car to the imposing Festung Ehrenbreitstein that overlooks the east bank of the Rhine River.

dscn3963.jpgAlong the way, I stopped to admire a clever duck, who had found a convenient resting place on the bow of a river liner tied up on the Mosel.

DSCN3975Long a disputed area, the hill overlooking the Deutsches Eck has been fortified since the 4th Millennium, B.C. The French Revolutionary forces occupied the area from 1799 until 1815, when it passed to Prussia. The Germans set about building a network of forts knows collectively as Fortress Koblenz, of which Festung Ehrenbreitstein was the cornerstone. DSCN3983At the time, it was the biggest fortification system outside Gibraltar. Fortress Ehrebreitstein was never taken during it brief active duty (1834-1922). I could see why as I walked among the enormous masonry walls and tunnels. It reminded me of the casements at Fort Monroe, Virginia (built about the same time), but vastly bigger.

PANO_20170629_152446The view from the parade ground was stunning, even with the threat of rain. I sipped a bottle of water while I took it in, then made my way back to the cable car station as the first drops fell. Taking refuge in the gift shop, I sat and read a book while the thunderstorm pommelled the hills with lightning and rain. The sun came out after a half-hour, and I watched the angry front rumble off to the east as our cable car glided over the Rhine back to the city.

DSCN3992Walking back to the flat gave me a chance to visit the Altstadt, the historic center. Cute, but almost abandoned, as the crowds had not come back out after the rain. Back at the flat, I set to work on a translation. The other guest for the night, Ram, showed up early. We chatted and he got settled. Ram was in Koblenz for a job interview. He is a newly graduated design engineer from Andar Pradesh (India). He specializes in bridges, which happened to be the subject of my current translation. We talked shop until Nasr came home. He and Ram went into the kitchen to whip up some curried vegetables. They laughed when I said to make it spicy, as if they planned to burn my throat, but in fact, the curry was tame and delicious. We all slept soundly.

DSCN3961The next morning, we got up about 0700. Ram left first, to catch his train to Weimar; Nasr was off to his German class, after taking my bicycle back down to the ground floor. I packed up and made my way to the Rhein Radweg, which crosses the Mosel over the last bridge before the Deutsches Eck. Another front came through all day, but I lucked out. First, I waited for the a squall to pass before leaving the flat. Then about halfway to Bonn, I took refuge at the Fährpavilion, a restaurant with large umbrellas near a ferry landing. While the rain dripped off the umbrellas and the overhang of the restaurant, I enjoyed some cake and hot chocolate – and booked an apartment in the southern part of Bonn.

The Radweg took me around industrial facilities in Kesselheim, and Andernach, but otherwise, it was a pleasant scene. More industry on both sides of the river, but the bike path itself ran through trees in front of homes of the well-to-do.

DSCN3994The Rhein Radweg crosses to the east bank at Remagen, a city made famous for the battle for the Ludendorff Bridge in World War II. The Bridge at Remagen, both book and movie, is a largely fictional story of the battle. I found the truth more interesting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Remagen. There is still no bridge there, although there is a museum where the old bridge used to be. Bicyclists on the Rhein Radweg must use the municipal ferry. I chose to continue on the west bank, where Rhine-Palatinate Land maintains its own Radweg for folks on that side.

I rode under cloudy skies to Bad Godesburg, the suburb immediately south of Bonn. It started to rain just as I arrived. I was in an immigrant neighbourhood, with as many signs in Arabic as German. The place had everything I needed right nearby. I went to the ATM, and bought fixings for supper and breakfast at the Aldi supermarket across the street. As the rain crashed outside, I worked on my translation and turned in to a comfortable bed. Outside, I could hear the loud partying for Eid-el-Fitr, celebrating the end of Ramadan. The partygoers did not keep me awake however. They were still going at 0500 when I got up for a call of nature!

DSCN3997On Saturday, the 1st of July, the heavy rain continued all morning. I waited, because I did not have far to go that day. North of Bonn, the river became more industrialized and less scenic, the Radweg itself was like a linear park with trees and no traffic. After riding on two unpaved sections of the Radweg (mud), I decided to follow my OsmAnd software instead of the Rheinradweg map. Between the tree roots and the muddy sections, I was glad to turn gently inland and follow the well-paved bike paths that paralleled the main highway into Köln (aka Cologne).

By 1500, I was checking into the Hotel City Inn, less than 700 m from everything I wanted to see in Köln, and a block from the pedestrian shopping district. Heavy rain started as I checked in, but it lifted long enough to get a fantastic Italian meal in the pedestrian shopping district.

DSCN4016Sunday the 2nd, I devoted myself to tourism. I went to the 10 o’clock mass at the Cathedral. It was a full sung Mass with maximum smells and bells: two hours, and the sermon was not all that long. I particularly wanted to attend the service, because the webpages of the Music Department of the Cathedral had made an impression on me the night before. The four dozen singers in the choir did not disappoint. The acoustics and the echoing resonance were impressive. DSCN4001The massive columns of the Cathedral break up the voices so that the different voice parts resonate at different times, creating a very interesting effect. One piece, which was new to me, featured short notes in the treble voices, taking advantage of the acoustics to double the sound of the choir. I recognized and very much enjoyed their performance of Messaien’s Sacrum Convivium.

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The choir wore long black morning coats with ruffled dress shirts, like something from a 19th Century painting. Men, women, boys, and girls, stationed half way down the starboard side. There were seven priests, two dozen deacons, two censers, and a bevy of altar boys at the altar. The Cathedral was so high (like two cathedrals one on top of the other), that the incense billowed about halfway up before collecting in an inversion and falling back down. I found it strange to watch. The space was so big that I smelled nothing, three-quarters of the way back. The postlude was almost an organ recital. Most of the faithful sat through it. The bouncers (in liturgical robes) kept the tourists penned back for the whole thing.

The High Cathedral of Saint Peter is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires. The towers for its two huge spires give the cathedral the largest façade of any church in the world. Naturally, I could not get anything to fit in my little camera. The church was started in 1248 AD, but work stopped in 1473 (think the rise of Protestant Germany). Construction did not resume until the 19th Century, so that it was only finished in 1880. No surprise that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

DSCN4019After church, I went to the Walraf-Rickarts Museum. I wanted to visit that particular collection, because it figures in the novel that I just wrote.

Being Sunday, nothing was open, so in the afternoon I took a nap and worked on my translation again. I am finding that I love to sleep: it my body’s subtle reminder that I am still recovering from surgery only two weeks ago. DSCN3979With that in mind, I had already decided to hang out on Monday, letting the laundry dry, finishing the translation. I also decided to take the train to Düsseldorf and Duisburg. The Ruhr River comes into the Rhine at Duisburg, and I have been adequately warned by the cycling guides that the rivers are completely covered with heavy industry and chemical plants. I can look at that from a train window.

Next time, I should be riding into the Netherlands. Until then,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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