Travelogue XLIII: Rheinromantik

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMay 24, 2015 This afternoon, a trip down the Rhine to Bacharach, a tiny town in the midst of the Loreley region. There was still and warm air, birdsong, and solitude in the midst of the Sunday tourists. The chance to get out into the green and move and breathe a bit.

The town itself was lovely, of course, full of timber-frame homes and grape vines climbing up stone walls, built up around a 1,000-year-old church. Wine and religion–the two great shaping forces behind the appearance of so many small towns in this region of Germany.

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I first hiked up to the castle, high above the town–Burg Stahleck, originally dating back to the 11th century, and now a youth hostel.

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The only way one can get up to the castle was by climbing steps.

Lots of steps.

Lots of steps.

So. many. effing. steps.

So. many. effing. steps.

The top step. My poor calves.

The top step. My poor calves.

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But the castle was lovely–very rustic, partially carved out of the mountain side.  It serves as a youth hostel today, so you can actually come and spend the night.

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There was also an abandoned Gothic cathedral on the way up.

….And then back down into the gorge and up the other side, into the vineyards. The air smelled like freshly-cut hay–the smell of a Vermont meadow in high summer, here in May and thousands of miles from home.

Along the Rhine, the vineyards plunge right down to the water’s edge. There are zigzagging paths along the tops of the stone terraces, and one can walk for miles, high above the river and the slate rooftops below.

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The views down into the town were lovely.

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Vineyards--plunging down to the Rhine, almost impossible steep. Here, Riesling and Scheurebe....

Vineyards–all the way down to the Rhine, almost impossibly steep. Here, Riesling and Scheurebe….

Teeny tiny grapes!

Teeny tiny grapes!

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I stopped at one of the Weinstuben in the town on my way back to the train station to eat a bowl of excellent potato soup and drink a glass of wine grown from the grapes on the slopes behind me. I sat across the table from an older gentleman who was on his yearly bicycle tour, from Stuttgart to the Rhine, and then down river all the way to Koblenz.

Zum Wohl,” I said, when my wine arrived. “Cheers.”

He spoke about the Rhine as if he was talking about a person. “There is such power there,” he said, “and such violence. You have to accept it, have to give yourself to it heart and soul. It is impossible to do otherwise, especially if you are out on the water itself. Even those great powerful barges you see can’t escape it. Vater Rhein–Father Rhine–there is something to that, I think.” We talked about the Rhine as a creator of art, of Mythos, of music, from the Middle Ages to Wagner and back again. I told him I most likely wouldn’t be in Germany at all without the opening chords of Wagner’s Das Rheingold–E-major swelling into the sun, the Rhine as creator, as Father and Mother and God all at once. “That river is the original Genie,” he said. Yes, exactly.

Lorch on the left, Bacharach on the right. Father Rhine, indeed.

Lorch on the left, Bacharach on the right. Father Rhine, indeed.

Travelogue XXXIX: Because my land is fair….

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Ent:
When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf, and sap is in the bough; 
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow; 
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain-air, 
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!

Entwife:
When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade; 
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid; 
When shower and Sun upon the Earth with fragrance fill the air, 
I’ll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

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Grüßender Sonne spielendes Gold,
Hoffende Wonne bringest du hold!
Wie labt mich dein selig begrüßendes Bild!
Es lächelt am tiefblauen Himmel so mild
Und hat mir das Auge mit Tränen gefüllt!
Warum?

Grünend umkränzet Wälder und Höh’!
Schimmernd erglänzet Blütenschnee!
So dränget sich alles zum bräutlichen Licht;
Es schwellen die Keime, die Knospe bricht;
Sie haben gefunden, was ihnen gebricht:
Und du?

Rastloses Sehnen! Wünschendes Herz,
Immer nur Tränen, Klage und Schmerz?
Auch ich bin mir schwellender Triebe bewußt!
Wer stillet mir endlich die drängende Lust?
Nur du befreist den Lenz in der Brust,
Nur du!

Schubert, Frühlingssehnsucht

(English)

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Travelogue VII: Sonntag Spaziergang

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17. August, 2014 In Germany, everyone goes walking on Sunday afternoons. Here on the farm, even the animals come–two dogs, two donkeys. We walked through the woods, up to a high field where we could see the whole windswept valley, corn and wheat fields and rows of wind turbines in the distance.

Autumn came all at once last week to Kulmbach–two days of pouring, freezing rain, and now bright sunshine and cold wind. You can tell it’s autumn in Bavaria, we learn one morning at breakfast, when the plums in the garden are no longer warm to the touch. Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß…

IMG_0395Plum tree at the top of the field.

IMG_0397Cut wheat field, wind turbines across the valley. 

IMG_0409Headed home, some tiny Dorf in the distance.

IMG_0399Above the farm, Plassenburg to the right.

When we come out into the field above the farm, there’s a tiny red-roofed dorf on the left, and the local castle, the Plassenburg, on the right. A castle. This constant proximity to 1200-year-old fortresses will never cease to astound me. In Würzburg, the Marienberg was visible from almost any point in the city–no small wonder, to take the bus to the Innenstadt every morning with a castle on the horizon. “Yes, marvelous, but think about everything behind it!” the professor says. “Suppression of the lower classes, cruel feudalism, some prince or other lording it over the masses in the stinking city and hauling up the occasional girl for his enjoyment….” “Sometimes you can think too much,” I say.

IMG_0385Emily mit Esel

In the end, it’s amazing how fast I am falling in love with Bavaria. And not the sort of touristy, there-and-gone in a weekend sort of love, but the sort of love I have for Vermont–deep-seated, rooted in the people, the land, the way of life. I’m almost sorry to be studying in Mainz, all the way over in Rheinland-Pfalz. Still, I am here to learn and see as much as I can, and not to put down roots. In the end, it’s all good.