Travelogue LXXIII: Spring

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Mount Belchen in the Black Forest in southern Germany, where I spent Easter.

Osterspaziergang

Vom Eise befreit sind Strom und Bäche
durch des Frühlings holden belebenden Blick,
im Tale grünet Hoffnungsglück;
der alte Winter, in seiner Schwäche,
zog sich in rauhe Berge zurück.
Von dort her sendet er, fliehend, nur
ohnmächtige Schauer körnigen Eises
in Streifen über die grünende Flur.
Aber die Sonne duldet kein Weißes,
überall regt sich Bildung und Streben,
alles will sie mit Farben beleben;
doch an Blumen fehlt’s im Revier,
sie nimmt geputzte Menschen dafür.

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A view into the Black Forest from the local castle ruins.

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Staufen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKehre dich um, von diesen Höhen
nach der Stadt zurückzusehen!
Aus dem hohlen, finstern Tor
dringt ein buntes Gewimmel hervor.
Jeder sonnt sich heute so gern.
Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn,
denn sie sind selber auferstanden:
aus niedriger Häuser dumpfen Gemächern,
aus Handwerks- und Gewerbesbanden,
aus dem Druck von Giebeln und Dächern,
aus den Straßen quetschender Enge,
aus der Kirchen ehrwürdiger Nacht
sind sie alle ans Licht gebracht.

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Dialect: Wein (wine) becomes Woi in Mainz, Wii in Staufen

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Brunch

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASieh nur, sieh! wie behend sich die Menge
durch die Gärten und Felder zerschlägt,
wie der Fluß in Breit und Länge
so manchen lustigen Nachen bewegt,
und, bis zum Sinken überladen,
entfernt sich dieser letzte Kahn.
Selbst von des Berges fernen Pfaden
blinken uns farbige Kleider an.
Ich höre schon des Dorfs Getümmel,
hier ist des Volkes wahrer Himmel,
zufrieden jauchzet groß und klein:
Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich’s sein!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I

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Spring

 

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Travelogue LXXI: Weinbergen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFebruary 28, 2016 Yesterday, the sun shone in Germany–really shone, with a strength and warmth that have been absent for months. And when the sun shines in Germany in the winter, you leave the libraries at the university behind and you get out and you do something.

So we packed a picnic lunch and tea and tools into the back of a rattly rainbow Volkswagen and drove into the Weinbergen (vineyards; literally “wine mountains,” which I think is much more poetic). In the late winter the vintners begin the process of pruning the grape vines in preparation for the next growing season, and I was lucky enough to be invited by one particular vine-pruner to tag along.

And it was marvelous.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe vineyards of the Rheingau are almost ridiculously steep, falling straight down to the banks of the river. The slopes are covered in slippery silver-blue or red slate. Standing upright requires strong legs and a good sense of balance; actually doing something at any level of efficiency while standing upright requires genuine skill.

In these vineyards, the steepness means that all of the work is still done by hand, using techniques that have been in place for centuries. Pruners now use battery-powered clippers, but the process is still the same: cutting away old or unwanted growth from each plant and training selected shoots to grow in the proper directions. It all sounds simple enough, but is in fact anything but–every plant is a decision, a tiny work of art, shaped and re-shaped over a period of decades by dozens of hands.

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Stone steps are built into the walls to access lower terraces.

And so we worked. Or rather, J. pruned like a professional while I took pictures, did not fall off any walls, tried not to cut off the wrong things, and generally enjoyed myself more than I have in a long time.

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Hands down the most excellent vine-pruner in the Rheingau.

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Different types of slate.

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Battery-powered clippers.

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Yes, that’s me cutting grape vines in a flannel shirt from Vermont in a vineyard on the Rhine. With thousand-year-old-castle ruins in the background. Sometimes it is possible to get the miraculousness of existence into a photograph. 

I think the rest of the pictures speak for themselves. Even from the most distant of perspectives, the Rheingau in late February, perched on the dividing line between winter and spring, is pretty dang gorgeous.

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I’ve never been one for meditation in any traditional form. But this, I thought, sitting on a bench and looking at the mountains and not being alone, this comes pretty close.

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A gazebo at the very top of the mountain, with a self-service shelf of wine and glasses for hikers.

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Gloaming. Dämmerung.

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Sunset. Sonnenuntergang.

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Travelogue XLIV: Farmers’ Market in Mainz

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May 29, 2015 Now that I live in the Altstadt, the Mainzer farmers’ market is only a two minute walk away. And I love it. It’s another connection to my childhood in Vermont–some of my earliest memories are of Saturdays spent at the Randolph market, where my mother sold handmade baskets and my sister and I ate apple cider doughnuts and played with the kittens that some farmer or another was always trying to hand off. Later, after we moved to Grand View Farm, my mother sold yarn and wood-fired pizza on Friday afternoons on the Chelsea commons, and my sister and I read Tolkien and Thomas Mann and babysat our border collies. “I hate farmers’ markets in Vermont,” my brother always said, 16 and way too cool for small-town New England, “There are too many hippie children.” A reference, of course, to the ever-present horde of skin-kneed, androgynous, ice-cream eating, Waldorf-schooled, and thoroughly wild, wonderful offspring of Vermont’s 1960s generation. “Come on!” my sister and I always said, “It wasn’t that long ago that we were all right out there with them.”

The children in Mainz are different–more city-savvy and multi-lingual, and better dressed–and the backdrop is completely different–cobblestones and a 1,000-year-old cathedral instead of a green-grass common and white clapboard church–but the market is, in essence, the same. Farmers are farmers, no matter where in the world one happens to be.

There are lots of nuns in Mainz.

There are lots of nuns in Mainz.

This time of year in Mainz, asparagus and strawberries are in season. It’s rather like rhubarb season in May in Vermont–you rejoice when it comes, gorge yourself for a month, and by the end of it are so sick of the stuff that you don’t have a problem waiting a year until spring rolls around again. Here, there’s an Spargel-und-Erdbeeren (asparagus and strawberries) stand on almost every street corner, it seems, and half the market is devoted to them in some form or another. Try the asparagus chutney and the strawberry jam! Here’s the best wine to pair with asparagus and strawberries! Buy a kilo of each and save five euros!

Needless to say, I have eaten an inordinate amount of asparagus and strawberries in the last month.

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And apples. There are always apples.

And apples. There are always apples.

Below: Moritz, the biggest, fattest, fluffiest rooster I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. His owner, who has a cool hat and the broadest of Meenzer dialects, is pretty cool, too.

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Meat--a very important part of the farmers' market in Germany!

Meat and bread–a very important part of the farmers’ market in Germany! Below, wurst-selfies FTW.

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Meeenzer Pesto!

Sauerkraut and pickles.

Sauerkraut and pickles!

Also wine.

Also wine.

Mainzer Winzer--the wine stands take up the entire end of the market. Also note that this picture was taken before 10am. Only in Germany....

Die Mainzer Winzer–the wine stands take up the entire end of the market. Also note that these pictures were taken before 10am. Only in Germany….!

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My purchases today–kale, sauerkraut, green olives, strawberries, asparagus.

In the end, whether in Vermont or Germany, the purpose of a local market is to forge connections between consumers and the land, the food, and the people who grow it. As a popular Vermont bumper sticker says, “Who’s your farmer?” That question is a little harder to answer in urban Germany than it is in backwoods, hippie New England, of course, but I think the market is a good place to start.

'Til next week!

‘Til next week!

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 XXXVI: Ostern

April 5, 2015 I went to the Easter Vigil Mass at the cathedral in Mainz. It was the first time I had ever seen the place full: every seat taken, people standing in the isles, kneeling in the side chapels. I sat high up on the steps at the back of the nave–the only free spot I could find. Some two thousand people around me, I calculated. And I thought, If this really was the people of God, if these all were really men and women seeking to live each day in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ, all the complications of organized religion aside, what a power that would have. But Germany is a secular country, and even the believers are fallen.

The service began in blackness. How is it possible that such a crowd can be so silent? Even in the darkness, you can feel the vastness of the cathedral around you. Great stone buttresses like the trunks of trees, high gothic arches receding into black. It’s an eerie and pregnant space. I think of all the scenes in German literature that play out against such a backdrop–the sermon and the single light in Kafka’s Trial, the organ music in Hesse’s Demian.

Here, suddenly, a voice in the darkness: Tonight, death dies. Darkness falls away before the power of Light. Behold the Lamb who was slain, behold the King, the Redeemer of the world who comes clothed in light as in a robe. And the procession begins–the Mädchenchor (Girls’ Choir), altar boys, the Kardinal flanked by officiants bearing the insignia of church and city. At the front, a single candle lit from the fire in the courtyard outside. Light slowly spreading–first to the candles in the archways, then on to the steps leading up to the altar, then to the thousands of candles in the audience. From where I am sitting, from above, it looks as if the congregation is lit from within. Verklärung. Transfiguration.

Mädchenchor and organ–pure, uncanny music. But when the congregation sings, the entire building resounds. They can hear us in the streets. Two thousand voices: Do you deny Satan and the powers of Darkness? I deny. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, who in this night conquered Death and Darkness and who sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty? I believe. Amen. 

The service lasts for three hours. The feeling of release, of lightness, when the mass is dismissed is immense. The bells are ringing midnight; it’s clear and cold. Christus ist auferstanden. Christ is risen.

On Easter morning, the sun is shining. Aesthetically, the mass in the cathedral is the carbon-copy of last night’s–sunshine through stained glass, undisturbed joy, incense rising to the heavens. The officiants are wearing embroidered robes of pale gold. No more eerie Mädchenchor–there’s a full choir and orchestra, rows of trumpets.

Oh death, where is your victory? Oh grave, where is your sting? Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Holy Holy Holy Lord God of hosts. The heavens and the earth are full of your glory. 

The service closes with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

Afterwards, I think: This is why, no matter how far I may yet turn from traditional piety in my life, I will never, ever be able to denounce Religion fully, to wish it away, to pretend that it never existed and has no power. There is such beauty and wonder in this, such majesty, and the world needs more of that. Now the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep; what was dead will now live; the Kingdom and the Glory and the Power forever and ever, amen–there is such a majesty and power in those words, and in the Story behind them. Religion as a maker of Myth, of beauty and reverence and art–there will always, always be a place for that.

After the service in Mainz, the streets are full of people. I walk back home along the Rhine Promenade, and there are children everywhere and picnics and champagne. Wir feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn, denn wir sind selber auferstanden. We celebrate the resurrection of the Lord because we ourselves have arisen. Goethe, Faust.

Travelogue XXXVIII: Sonnenuntergang in Mainz

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19. April, 2015 It is officially spring in Germany, and not in the tentative way of a few weeks ago, half-way between warmth and cold, but full-on and confident and heady. I had forgotten what a beautiful color green is. The sunshine changes the entire feel of the city–people sit on the steps of the Staatstheater and eat ice-cream, the side-walk cafes are full, you can buy wine and drink it on the bank of the Rhine river. After six months of rain and cold, you can feel the lightness and the euphoria in the air.

I walked across the bridge to the Wiesbaden side of the Rhine the other night, to sit on the pier and read and watch the sun set over Mainz.

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The summer mixed drinks are back…

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Germans love putting locks on bridges.

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Travelogue XXXIV: Sonnenaufgang in Mainz

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March 24, 2015 I arrived back in Mainz at the crack of dawn this morning–street sweepers, crowds of pigeons at the train station, too early for church bells. I dragged my luggage down the cobblestone street and up two flights of stairs, waking up approximately the entire neighborhood in the process, threw it all in the apartment, and walked down to the Rhine for the sunrise.

It was wonderful being home, back in Vermont for the first time since last June. My family is amazing. I doted on the cats and lit fires in the fireplaces and ate my mother’s phenomenal cooking. I missed Germany, though, more than I miss Vermont when I am here.

I mean, there were actual swans on the effing Rhine River, and as the sun was rising all the bells in Wiesbaden started ringing. WHAT. 

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Guten Morgen, Mainz!

Also, spring came to Germany while I was gone. When I left Vermont yesterday morning, it was -3 degrees (-19 Celcius) without the windchill, hard-packed, dust-gray snow on the ground that hadn’t melted since it fell last November. Here in Mainz, the almond trees are blooming and there are daffodils everywhere. I went down to the water in a light jacket and scarf, and there was a real heat to the sun’s light. A pair of mourning doves have started making a nest above the gabled window across from mine.

As I walked back to my apartment, the bells in the Mainzer cathedral started ringing. It’s almost Easter. Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn, denn sie sind selber auferstanden…

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I shall spy on Beauty as none has spied on it yet. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

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Travelogue XXXI: Home

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Oh rhythm of my heart is beating like a drum
with the words “I love you” rolling off my tongue

No never will I roam for I know my place is home
where the ocean meets the sky
I’ll be sailing

Rod Stewart

It’s almost surreal: two days ago I was drinking chai tea in a cafe across from the Mainzer cathedral, watching the stone turn red in the setting sun and the theater fill up with people. And now I am sitting in front of a fire in a drafty farmhouse in the middle-of-nowhere Vermont, where the air permanently smells like sheep manure and the farmers are just starting to tap the sugar maples. The terms of human existence are different here–dirty rubber boots and vet visits instead of European philosophy and champagne at the opera–but equally as beautiful. And in the end, it’s the life I know best. I was a bare-footed farm girl long before I knew the heady, complicated world of German literature even existed.

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Headed home from the airport in Boston over Route 110–one of the prettiest drives in the state and, actually, in the world.

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The state is full of Covered Bridges….

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Will’s Store in Chelsea, VT, my home town–they make superb homemade ice-cream with a machine that dates back to before the first World War. Also, I saw more flags on the drive home than I saw during 8 months in Germany. America is a patriotic place; Germany is absolutely not.

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South Royalton Food Co-op, twenty minutes down the road. We stopped to pick up some bread to go with dinner.

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The pictures on the wall are of the farmers who stock the store—Buy Local at its best.

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong.

John Denver

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Home at last: the grand view of Grand View Farm.

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Moses the fat barn cat. (photo: GVF)

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Chore time. (photo: GVF)

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Starting seeds in the Greenhouse. Note the snow drifts on the left-hand side–it’s over two meters in places.

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The view from my bedroom window.

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Wood fires.

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I haven’t seen the stars in months. It is good to be home. (photo: Anna)

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Nota Bene: Photos credited to Anna were taken by my insanely talented sister. 

Photos credited to GVF were filched from our farm website

 

Travelogue XXIX: Und es war alles alles gut

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFebruary 22, 2015 Today it felt almost like spring–clear skies, and a warmth to the sunshine I haven’t felt since sometime in October. I decided to call a momentary halt to the paper-writing, and took the train an hour north up the Rhine to Koblenz. The trip is one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Germany, I think–steep vineyards all the way down to the water, tiny villages on the shores, a dozen 1,500-year-old castles at the top of the cliffs. It is the land of the Lorelei, of Rheinromantik, of all the poets and painters of German Romanticism who found in the area something sublime and exalted.

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Not Stolzenfels–another smaller castle halfway up the mountain.

I visited Castle Stolzenfels, a few minutes outside of Koblenz. It has a long and colorful history: the original fortress was built in the 13th century as a toll station on the Rhine River, was occupied by French and Swedish troops during the Thirty Years’ War, and was partially destroyed by the French army in 1689. In 1823, the ruins were gifted to Prussian Crownprince Frederick William IV, who had the entire structure rebuilt as a summer palace in the most fairy-tale-like of styles–New Gothic, Romanticism, full of gilded lanterns and tiny gardens and heavy silk tapestries.

First, though, there was the walk up to the castle, a good kilometer above the Rhine River valley.

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Footpath: To the Castle.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe feeling of space, of clear air, height and movement, far above the city and the trains and the noise–I was giddy. I love Mainz, but one is never really alone there. Here, on a Sunday afternoon in late February, I felt like I had the whole river valley to myself.

And the castle–I think it speaks for itself. One had the feeling of being in some hermetic universe of Romantic loveliness, inside of some charmed scene from an Eichendorf novel. How does Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts end? Birdsong and music, und es war alles, alles gut–all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well. It was that, exactly.

I was utterly enchanted.

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Inside the chapel–stained glass and red velvet and a gold ceiling.

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Gargoyles on the chapel spires.

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On to the gardens…

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