Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Cologne to Koblenz

I was awakened by the sound of the ship's engines starting up just after four this morning. By twenty past four the MV Emily Bronte was heading south, travelling up river towards Switzerland, 500km and five days journey away. Bearing in mind that this would be half past three in the morning at home, I was surprised there was enough light to take photographs of places we passed through, well before sunrise at twenty to six. Each side of the Rhine, motorways and railways run. There are also paths along which cyclists ride and pedestrians walk their dogs. By five I watched cyclists, presumably headed for work, or fitness training overtaking the boat. I estimate the boat speed to be eight to ten kilometres an hour, so this is not surprising. What is surprising is how many people were out and about purposefully at five in the morning, four in UK time. We are a nation of late risers.

I couldn't get back to sleep, so I sat outside on our little balcony taking photographs until the top deck was opened up for the day. We went for breakfast at eight and lunched at one, and as we were finishing this meal, we moored in Koblenz, at a quay which is on the river Mosel. It joins the Rhine here. Clare was a teenager when she last took a trip up the river which took her from Cologne to Bonn. Place names were familiar if nothing else. There's been so much development in the past fifty years, but there are many riverside resorts of long standing with fine hotel buildings, either along the shore or perched on neighbouring hilltops. 

Passing Konigswinter and the Siebengebirge range of hills, brought to mind the story of Seigrfrid slaying the dragon at the beginning of Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'. It would have been nice to have some opera over the tannoy at that stage. We were treated to a little martial music, however, as we passed by Remagen, one of the epic battle sites of the Second World War. Our tour manager Leslie told us over the tannoy about how the Allied victory was achieved on the back of German incompetence over the supply of explosives to destroy the bridge before the allied advance. The bridge entrance portals on either side are all that remain today. The one on the Remagen side now serves as a Peace museum.

This them re-emerged in Koblenz. Before the borders changed it was a French town. Kaiser Wilhelm built a huge monument in 1897 to celebrate the political unification of German speaking people and territories in 1853. It's on the town river bank shared by the Mosel and the Rhine. It's known as 'die Deutsche Ecke', the German Corner. It was the place where in 1953 Chancellor Adenauer pledged to work for the post war re-unification of Germany, achieved finally after the surprise fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The monument is huge, dark and triumphalistic, and in its shadow three concrete slabs, relics of the Wall have been erected, each bearing in bronze letters, one of these dates. It is such a simple statement covering 130 years of European history, and very moving to someone who travelled to East Germany, as I did, just before the last political division of Germany ended.

There are some fine mediaeval churches in the town centre. The oldest site had a late Roman empire municipal building on it which was converted for church use in the fourth century, and rebuilt several times since. Clare reckons this is where Charlemagne's sons met to divide up the Holy Roman Empire in the ninth century. The point of interest for me is a liturgical one. Koblenz is in the Catholic diocese of Trier, which played an  important role in the scholarship and practice of reforming worship and introducing German into the liturgy a generation before Vatican II. I remembered this from my studies at St Mike's, which happened just after Vatican II happened. 

The old mediaeval town centre has many beautiful 15th to 18th century buildings, mostly in a pedestrianised zone. Beyond this to the south is the modern city and shopping centre, with all the usual global retail brands in attendance, and some large recently built stores whose modern design is utterly unappealing. The riverside promenades and the old town provide more than enough for passing visitors, unless one is desperate for fashionable consumer goods to add to on-board luggage.

Before supper there was a drinks reception, during which key members of crew and hospitality team were introduced to travellers. By the end of the meal we were both very tired and headed for our cabin immediately, rather than socialise. I'd been on my feet for the best part of seventeen hours apart from meal times, and there's this posting to make and Due Lingo practice to complete before sliding under the duvet for a long night's slumber, hopefully.

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