Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remagen and the Rhine River

The Bridge at Remagen

This is back anchor of the bridge behind the tower.

This bridge was built during WWI to be a lifeline for German troops fighting on the Western Front. Originally it was rail bridge with a path for pedestrians.  In WWII, it was planked over to allow for vehicles to traverse across the Rhine.

In March of 1945 the Germans were retreating. The US army was heading toward Berlin.  The Rhine river serves as a practical western border with Belgium and other countries to the east. As the Americans advanced, all the bridges on the Rhine were blown up by the Germans.  Imagine the Americans surprise when they made it to Remagen and found the bridge still standing! Not for lack of trying, the Germans had been trying for days to blow it wouldn't go.  So for 10 days we crossed the Rhine into Germany. Hitler was so furious that he executed 4 officers for their lack of success. On th 10th day the bridge finally gave way, killing 28 US soldiers in the fall.  We crossed over quite a few units in those 10 days. The collapse didn't deter us as the army engineers built a pontoon floating bridge and we kept on coming.

The Western Towers, the remains
of the bridge at Remagen
Today all that stands are the 2 towers that anchored the bridges on land. Inside the western tower is the Remagen Peace Museum. Outside the tower is a seemingly endless bike path that runs down the Rhine.  It's a very wide river, clear and peaceful. Not a hint of the history made 65 years ago.  Inside is a very interesting little museum.  History written by the losers, not something you often get to see. There were the typical war left overs we'd seen in other museums, guns, helmets, canteens, even an unexploded 3000lb bomb found nearby. What was interesting was the lamenting of civilians who lost their lives in the bombing of the town. The placard indicated that 65 citizens were killed as well as some "forced laborers from the east" (their quotations). Holy Euphemism Batman.  I just spent time in Mauthausen and Terezin; you are not going to be able to sell me on "forced laborers from the east".  

Forced Labors from the East?
At the top of the tower was a room dedicated to the US POW camp that was set up in Remagen.  Every placard lamented the "horrible" conditions for the German soldiers.

"Camp was miserable, they lacked all necessities" They also lacked gas chambers.
They had little food and didn't have adequate shelter.  There was nothing to do all day.  They showed pictures of lean soldiers with their shirts off, I guess expecting pity for their treatment.  They looked a hell of a lot better than the walking skeletons and piles of corpses I saw in the concentration camp photos.  I didn't see any gas chambers or mass murder in this camp.  Please understand that Germany today is a far different country than the country that committed those atrocities. However if they were up before a parole board looking for someone had accepted responsibility for their crimes, they do themselves a huge disservice seeking pity for resort like conditions when compared to how the German's treated those millions of civilians it chose to imprison and murder. I walked out of the museum extremely angry.

Alex picked up few crumbling pieces of the the bridge towers to add to his collection artifacts. Fittingly this will go between the sands from Omaha beach and the wood from the USS Constitution.

All that was left for the day was to make the short 1 hour drive down the Rhine to our camp in Bacharach. We could take the long way around, head down the freeway, past the hills above the Rhine and come back up the ground level road that runs along the Rhine. Nope. Not Frederick...he was feeling quite confident in his driving skills.  Lets shave an hour off the drive and take the "grey" (color of the smaller road on the map and GPS, we like yellow and blue) road straight into Bacharach.   How can I describe this road? It 15 miles of narrowness...really just wide enough for 1 car.  There were 3 small towns we had to negotiate through, but the best was saved for last.

This is a picture someone else took of
one of the easier switchbacks

Words cannot paint the picture of the vertical switchbacks that we traversed to get down to the river. I wish I took pictures or video of the drop down, but frankly I was too busying trying not to soil myself. I've found these pictures online hoping you can get a feel for the many hairpin turns we took in this motorhome, with no place to go but off the cliff. Again my husband was on top of it and got us down safely.  When we finally parked, he began to discuss the brakes he was smelling on the way down. Too close for comfort.

See the River in the back.  We came down these hills in the camper

Our campground was right here on the river.

Our Campground
Our campground was literally on a beach on the banks of the river. You can see a boat there on the Rhine.

We picked this town as it was one of the stops for the many Rhine day cruises that head up and down the river. The dock was just a 1/2 mile down the beach.  It was around 3PM and we learned we could catch the boat down river, but it was the last one, so we didn't have a way to get back. I thought, didn't I just see a train go by?  Can we take that back?  Frederick went up to reception and they gave us all the info we needed to take the river cruise up to Koblenz and then take the train back to the campsite. The campsite was just across the street from the train station.

We have a plan.  We walk down to the dock along the river. It's a beautiful scene.  One you can see in any travel show on Germany.  Except for 1 thing. The gnat. GNATS. EVERYWHERE. You couldn't open your mouth diving inside.  There was a visible haze in the air.  I couldn't wait for the boat to arrive! Alex grabbed some more frites while we waited.

Our river cruise ship, Goethe

The famous Loreley, a rock formation that caused
many shipwrecks before motored ship travel. This is the narrowest part of the river
and there are swift currents.It's a difficult turn in you are sailing. 
Once on board, life got much better. Originally we bypassed the main dining room, seeking a good viewing platform on the top of the boat. It turned out to hot and uncomfortable inside and there was no room to stand.  I decided to go check out the dining room downstairs at the bow of the boat, just inside the "king of the world" spot.

As I entered the room to ask for a menu, I spied him. A Filipino waiter, perhaps?  If so, it would be the hookup.  Gotta go for it.   I grabbed the family and lured them downstairs with the promise of a menu with a wider variety. As Frederick's parents entered the dining room, I crossed my fingers.  Yup, soon they were conversing in Taglog with the waiter. JACKPOT! True service was ours! He directed us to a table at the front of the room with a 180 degree view of the river from the bow. It was air conditioned, they brought me beer (very interesting Beck's Lime) and served me food. We watched the castles along the river as we made the 3 hour trip on the K-D Line Paddlewheel river cruiser. We saw all the castles we'd seen on Rick Steves and in "Above the Rhine".This bit of luxury at the end of our Spartan 3 weeks was so welcome.

The only "castle" in the middle of the Rhine,
basically a medieval toll booth.  "Lords" would stretch chains across the river and demand
payment to complete your journey down the river.

Toward the end of the cruise, it started to rain.  We asked about how long the walk was to the train station in Koblenz from the ship dock.  Turns out it is about a 20+ minute walk.  Normally we wouldn't blink, but we'd been walking everywhere, it was late and raining.  No worries, our waiter called ahead and had a cab waiting for us when we got off the boat. Service! It's a good thing as it was pouring rain and as we drove through the streets of Koblenz we marveled at how long a walk it really would have been and not exactly a straight shot.  We would have never made the train in time. Interestingly enough, this German train did not leave on time!  It was about 10 minutes late.  Shocking! So much for stereotypes! A half hour train ride later and a quick walk across the street and we were back at our campsite. Decent wifi and some nice dunkel beer and were were in for night of catching up on the blog and the cyberworld.

But Hagen had another plan for us.

I was returning from my typical visit to check out the shower scene.  Ahead Frederick is chatting with someone I don't recognize.  As I approach I hear him asking Frederick if we have brought our camper from America.  He had noticed our TX sticker on the rear of the camper.  We explained that we rented the camper, but thought it might be nice touch of home.

We had met our character of the trip.  Hagen was about mid forties, typical blond German.  He was a former Harley rider who traded in his bikes for a family and a camper. He began to proclaim us to be "rich Americans" because we brought our laptops and rented this giant camper. He quized us on where we had been and began to offer suggestions of where we should go next. He mentioned we should go to a town across the river, Rudesheim, that had the narrowest street, where you could touch both sides at once. All of this to be topped with more drinking during their wine festival.

He sat down at our table with his beer and asked us about what bands we liked. Alex came out of the camper to work on his German skills. Hagen said Alex was doing well for just one year of instruction. He approved of Alex's music choices, such as Metallica and indroduced Alex to a few new bands that he should listen to.  He was impressed that Alex had Rammstein on his MP3 player.  He then sat upon giving Alex some career advice, he said he'd be set for life if he could get a job with Swatch and told us in his drunken way about the benefits of working for this watch maker.

It was very interesting cultural exchange. Yes, we may have more stuff, but if you judge life solely by how happy you are, Hagen is having a pretty great life.

We are coming near the very end of our grand adventure. Tomorrow we travel to Frankfurt, to camp for 1 last night. We have to clean the camper from tip to toe.

A church on the Rhine

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