Sailing the River Rhine Part 4: Music and Majesty in Rüdesheim and Cochem

Eric Anderson, MD & Nancy Anderson, RN

As we continue our look at the Rhine River, we stop at two charming German villages.

It’s not far from Speyer to our next stop Rüdesheim, only 63 miles. You could do that on German roads easily in an hour. But travelers who enjoy river boats have learned not to yearn for speed: they probably even prefer sailing upstream because time passes more slowly than following the current. It gives them more boat time!

Rüdesheim

Rüdesheim, at the southern end of the scenic Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site, a small winemaking town with a population of less than 10,000, has a surprisingly busy river port now that Rhine river boat tourism is the major summer economy. A prominent feature is the 67-foot-high corner tower of the 15th century Adlerturm (eagle tower). It is now a bank but in the last century it was the guesthouse Zum Adler. Goethe often stayed there.

The tourist attractions are the Niederwald Monument built in the late 1800s to recognize that Germany now had an empire, and the pedestrian-only street, the Drosselgasse; but the charm for most tourists is Siegfried’s Mechanical Instrument Museum in the 15th century building, the Brömserhof. Siegfried’s is one of the world’s largest collection of self-playing musical instruments. When it opened in 1969 it was Germany’s first such museum. River boat passengers will spend about 60 to 90 minutes in the museum then will have a chance to walk around this fascinating German village. For a detailed discussion on the museum, click on the Northern Indian Sunday Tribune’s April 2012 story here.

The river port of Rüdesheim showing the serenity of river cruising. The white tower with red lines is the Adlerturm and on the left behind it in the lower image is the Niederwald Monument

The narrow and short street that is a shopper’s delight, the Drosselgasse, leads up to Siegfried’s (which really is the only game in town if you are not a shopper) but time can be short and places crowded in German Rhine villages so Uniworld has, as always, provided transportation for its passengers and, in a moment, we are standing outside the Brömserhof and the antique Nash automobile that has guarded it for decades. Many rooms and basements ramble through the building. The lighting does not facilitate photography and images do not do justice to all the fun in this museum with guides getting the exhibits to perform for our pleasure.

Siegfried’s Mechanical Instrument Museum

A delightful display of animal musicians and princess decorated dolls greets us in the next room.

Rudesheim.antique dolls

Siegfried Wendel, the original owner, never intended to have a museum; he simply repaired musical instruments but his hobby took off to the delight of locals. Some of the exhibits explain how musical instruments work and the gift shop has become part of the attraction. We bought a music box for a granddaughter but when we got around to opening it, we had hoped that the not-inexpensive box and contents would be looking more German and less like what you could buy in an American toy shop.

Imagine the blast from such a loudspeaker

Side rooms hold even more musical attractions but the entire house, even its ceiling, is a work of art. Paintings on the wall show scenes from medieval Germany. Given that we have many attorneys in our family, including a Superior Court judge, it was inevitable we would photograph the court scene where an attorney was making points — or not with the jury.

Musical attractions, ceiling as art, medieval court scene

Our Uniworld River Queen sails through the night into the Moselle River and when we wake the next morning we are 90 miles from Rüdesheim, in Cochem, perhaps our favorite German town on this trip.

Cochem

The town lies under a blanket of fog. It is one of the magical moments in the Moselle/Middle Rhine valley. Our destination later this morning, the celebrated Reichsburg Castle is starting to appear from out of the fog.

Cochem in the mist

We have time before our castle visit coach arrives to get up on the bridge to look around so we head for the stairs up from the river. It’s a surprise to see Laurel and Hardy on the wall of a restaurant but the comedy actors were popular in Germany and known as Dick und Doof (Chubby and Dumb). Hitler is said to have enjoyed their movies. One of the three Laurel and Hardy museums is in Solingen, Germany.

What a gorgeous town this is

Passengers board the coach chattering like children. A real castle! Wow!

The ride to Reichsburg Castle takes time; there’s no speeding through Cochem’s narrow cobbled streets past its romantic half-timbered medieval homes including the oldest standing one which dates to 1625. The dates of the ownership of the castle are painted on wooden boards below the tower. The castle has a long history. It was built in the 11th century but warfare changed with the invention of gunpowder. France, Germany’s historic enemy on its west flank, invaded in the reign of Louis XIV and tried to blow it up. They succeeded to a degree, then the Ravené family restored the ruins and turned it into a family vacation retreat. Imagine kids on vacation and not bored! Although now a home it still smacks of war and history. Great trip.

Reichsburg castle. A guide points out its history

The castle’s rooms are more like that of a medieval manor house which probably makes the tour for most visitors even more interesting

The castle‘s elevation allows a superb view of the river and of the town — and, in the following image over on the left, the onion-shaped bell tower of the church of St Martin rises up. St Martin on horseback is portrayed in the square below. He is, apparently, well known to Catholics as the Roman who was born in 316, “the son of a pagan,” whose father had him press-ganged into the Roman army on discovering his embrace of Christianity. He had a vision of Christ on a bitterly cold night when he shared his cloak with a beggar and finally left the army for the life of a monk. He founded the first monastery in France at Ligugé.

The statues in the lower image are fun. Like many statues along the Rhine Moselle valley they claim to represent former local people who amused the other citizens. The man in the rear (right side image) is kuhirtehannes, a poor peasant who made a living by cleaning the houses’ outdoor toilets; he carried the contents away in his back pack and used his horn to warn the next house. The man with the top hat is the schmandelecker, who represents Cochem’s citizens who are tasting the milk in the bowl from the cows across the river in Cond to decide on the price they will pay. There were no milk farmers in Cochem. The old lady with the bag in the foreground is the seinche, described to us by Rene Arnoldi of Tourist-Information Ferienland Cochem as a woman “who walked through Cochem carrying her umbrella, praying for the poor and reciting poems for everyone.” Our guide in Cochem archly said she represented a former town worthy who returned at intervals to collect local chatter then went off with the gossip in her bag to be “broadcast” in the countryside for outsiders’ amusement!

The view from the castle. St Martin on horseback. The statues of three locals

The grandeur of a river town. The serenity of river boat cruising. The simplicity of a Uniworld cruise: a luxury coach to any non-walkable shore excursion (the swans and ducks in the foreground were locals not passengers).The dignity of the local church

Tomorrow: Luxembourg.

Photography by the authors

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.