We flew into Frankfurt Hahn with our old favourite Ryanair and journeyed by people carrier to our first port of call Koblenz. Not having heard a lot about Koblenz previously, my expectations were modest and I was totally unprepared for the breathtaking loveliness that assaulted my senses and completely blew my mind.
This ancient beauty spot referred to as the German Corner where the meandering Moselle fuses with the refulgent Rhine has become a meeting point and a starting point for boat trips along these two rivers. Overlooked by the impressive Ehrenbreitstein Fortress – which can be visited by cable car - this picturesque rendezvous is one of the most beautiful river vistas I have ever seen. Its cosmopolitan ambience contributes to the feeling of being at the hub, almost the centre of Europe. Its olde-worlde character emanates from the Germany of the Kaisers augmented by the towering equestrian monument to Wilhelm 1 at its core. Looking into the distance along the flower-filled walk ways one could imagine elegant ladies in their promenade dresses shaded by dainty parasols strolling on the arms of distinguished looking gentlemen in uniform, sporting elaborate well waxed handlebar moustaches and discussing the latest outpost of the Empire.
It is a truly spectacular part of this very old, historic and picturesque city and one could spend many relaxed, dreamy days here watching the huge variety of river traffic that floats past – a most pleasurable practice and totally cost free.
Flowers were in abundance when we visited as the city prepared itself for the Buga – Flower Festival in the gardens and grounds of the castle creating a rainbow of colour and a spectrum of form and design around this ancient and intriguing city but for me nothing could quiet tear me away from Germanys alluring corner as I partook of that most absorbing of pastimes... watching the world go by!
Exiting Koblenz you will be fascinated by the array of enchanting castles dotted along and over looking the Mosel Valley. We stopped at Eltz a romantic medieval edifice still owned and lived in by a branch of the same family who have been in residence since the 12th Century... an amazing 33 generations ago! Now that’s what I call a dynasty! Of course we had to have a look at this one... down the wooded winding path we wound and were rewarded with wonderful views of this fairytale castle where you can almost actually see the gallant knight on his white steed galloping over the drawbridge and searching the charming miniature turrets for sight of his damsel in distress! At €8 per person this is a must, complete with nice little reasonably priced coffee shop and of course - family on site. It was undergoing a bit of a face lift when we were there but then at 800 years old who wouldn’t? I have to warn you about the very long and arduous uphill trek back to the carpark and would strongly suggest that you avail of the transport provided at €3 per head. Trust me, it’s the best €3 you'll ever spend for this climb is not for the faint-hearted.
The lovely Sooneck Castle, rebuilt by the royal family in 1842 as a hunting lodge after a turbulent history from its original construction in the 11th century, was our next stop and is worth it if only for the spectacular panoramic views of the old river Rhine and its environs from the ramparts.
There are any amount of castles to visit in the area but with time restrictions and fiscal limitations it is best to pick out one or two that might interest you and focus on these – they are so many and all so lovely that you could simply pick the names out of a hat and you won't be disappointed.
Purely by accident on our journey we happened on the most delightful little village with taverns and buildings dating back to the 13th century. Bacarach is unique. It has that Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it as though you have just fallen down a rabbit hole and toppled on to the pages of your favourite nursery rhyme or into one of Hans Christian Anderson fairytales. Its ancient ornate buildings have the appearance of almost being alive and seem to be peering down into the narrow streets like very tall, stooped and curious old men! They are most certainly inclining into the lanes and alleyways below but then age does cause one to stoop and the date on one of these buildings was 1368! Yes Bacarach is yet another one of those very special places that one wishes to spend more time in and definitely a place one promises to return to. And ladies we found two quaint little shops one with a lovely display of scarves and the other with very unusual bags and table linen at very reasonable prices. Ah! To hell with the Ryanair weight restriction - we just couldn’t leave without purchasing. Another very charming feature about Bacarach is the wisteria – which seems to have woven its way in and out of and around these wonderfully old buildings giving them the appearance of being decked out in their Sunday best. Bacarach dates back they think to the 9th century and is a place of archaic beauty and reserved tranquillity creating the illusion for the visitor of having slipped back in time... most definitely one for the itinerary if you are ever in this region.
As we made our way to Nürnberg (Nuremberg) I was preparing myself for a very different Germany. Nürnberg was on my agenda for one reason and for one reason only: that being Court Room 600 where the Nazi war criminals were tried in the aftermath of WWII. That is all I knew of Nürnberg but I most definitely didn’t want to leave without seeing this most famous Court Room. I wasn’t at all expecting to find one of the most beautiful city's I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Only having 24 hours to spend here we decided to do the city tour thing and met up with our guide Nick in front of the train station. The very English Nick explained that the morning consisted of a walking tour of the old city and in the afternoon we would be bused to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds outside the city. Did this include a visit to Court Room 600 I enquired? No Court Room 600 wasn't on any part of the guided tour but we could make our own way to the Palace of Justice if we wished. It was Saturday though and may not be open but the very helpful Nick said he would make enquiries for us before the morning was over. Perfect! Yes I would have loved to see the Rally Grounds that Adolf Hitler had his favourite Architect Albert Speer design and build but one can only fit so much into 24 hours and I came to see what I came to see. It would be €17 per person for the walking tour of the old city and the Rally Grounds and only €10 to do the walking tour on its own – there would in all probability be a charge to see Court Room 600 as well. Not bad value at all for one of the most informative and interesting tours of a city that I have ever had. Nick was English but had been living in Munich for all of 12 years and imparted his knowledge clearly and amusingly with little gems dotted throughout.
Nürnberg was originally chosen by Hitler and the Nazi Party because of its Germanic appeal – said to be 'the most German of German cities' and it truly is an exquisitely impressive city to visit. Dating back to the 11th century most of the buildings in the old part of the city look old but couldn’t be because on 2nd January 1945 the medieval city centre was bombed by the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces and was almost completely destroyed in little over an hour, killing 1,800 residents and misplacing approximately 100,000. And between 17th – 20th April 1945 it was under attack again but despite this the city underwent an extensive rebuild programme after the war and is said to be back to its pre-war appearance. One could not but be impressed with the near perfect restoration work.
Nürnberg was hugely significant in the Middle Ages, being the place where the newly eleced king held his first diet or audience and where the crown jewels were housed. Because of Hitler's obsession with all things Germanic it was only logical that the city would therefore play a pivotal role. It became Nürnberg of the Rallies as thousands of zealous German regiments goose-stepped through its ancient streets under the critical eye of their Furher from his special balcony in the Deutscher Hof Hotel. Its beautiful Square the Hauptmarkt was renamed Adolf Hitler Platz (what else?) and became the venue for profligate pageantry and prolific propaganda. Nurnberg became the place to view Nazism at its most flamboyant and ostentatious as it staged huge displays of military might and extravagance. But, to be fair, the Nurnberg of today does its best to disguise that part of its history concentrating more on its older and more cultured past.
At lunchtime we took our leave of the tenacious Nick and made our way by taxi to the Palace of Justice and paid our €4 per head to enter Court Room 600 and the adjoining Interpretative Centre. It was an ordinary Court Room – still in use today – through head phones you get a blow by blow account of the famous Nürnberg Trials. The attached Centre is both visually and audibly informative and well worth a visit.
I was happy I could leave Nürnberg having stood there in Court Room 600 where Germanys most atrocious war criminals were brought to some form of justice for the terrible deeds they committed in the name of The Furher and the Fatherland.
But that is only one part of this most beautiful city of Nürnberg which today, to its credit, is a most wonderful blend of a lively and diverse history. Its atmosphere is electric, its shops are colourful and varied, its food is wholesome and well presented and its people are friendly, pleasant and couldn’t be more helpful. You could actually spend all of your holiday in Nurnberg and find plenty to fill your time. 24 hours just wasn’t enough and I will definitely return to this most German of cities.
Immaculate is the only way I could describe this landlocked Principality between Austria and Switzerland. Although it doesn’t share a border with Germany it is the smallest and the richest German speaking country in the world. It still boasts a royal family with almost absolute powers in so far as the reigning Prince Hans Adam can call referendums, propose new legislation and dissolve parliament. He is also the 6th wealthiest leader and owns one of the most enviable art collections in the world. And can you believe was in residence the day we visited. So of course we headed straight for the castle hoping for a sighting. All to no avail but the view of the Alps from the castle made the turning, twisting drive uphill worth it.
It was Easter Sunday when we arrived in Liechtenstein and whilst I appreciate that most people would be out in their holiday best, the citizens of Vaduz wore designer with that classy, casual attitude that one attributes only to the very well off. It made us glad that it was a closed shopping day – after all no point in upsetting ourselves. There's no such thing as markets in lofty Liechtenstein – I'll wager!
When I was much younger Liechtenstein sounded like the kind of place where Fairy Godmothers and Princesses might hang out but now I know its exactly where the perfect Stepford Wives might live!
We were flying home Ryanair out of Memmingen so decided to spend our last day and night in the town to be close to the airport and once again I was completely knocked back by the unexpected beauty we found in what we thought would be a very ordinary, commercial airport town.
Little did we know that Memmingens origins go all the way back to the Roman Empire and that it was a most important centre of trade in the Middle Ages. In 1286 it actually became an imperial city responsible only to the Kaiser and the world's very first draft of Human Rights was drawn in Memmingen in 1525 during the Protestant Reformation. How's that now for a significant past! An ordinary town indeed! And to our delight we discovered that most of the old medieval town centre survived WWII as we turned a corner which opened on to a most charming old Square, caressed in golden sunshine that could have been part of the set for the Merchant of Venice!
It was Easter Monday – and this looked like the place to be as all of Memmingen converged to savour and enjoy the Bank Holiday at the Hamptons. Well when in Rome... or even Memmingen! We sat at a table under an umbrella outside a most ornate and intricately decorated restaurant called The Hamptons and decided to have our own little Easter celebration ordering cocktails from their extensive menu. As we waited for our bountiful beverages to arrive we watched as young children made their way around the cobbled Square on little wooden tricycles with no pedals. These Flintstone-like contraptions seem to be supplied by the restaurants around the square to amuse the children while the parents relaxed. A novel idea as the kids can't go very far or very fast without pedals! And besides that the square seemed to be devoid of traffic anyway. The well dressed Germans sat and laughed and conversed and lazily ate and drank. From the very old to the very young – entire families seemed to be enjoying the Easter Holiday together. This part of Germany does have a rather large Roman Catholic population who appear to be very family orientated, even businesses, restaurants and hotels seem to be family run and have passed from generation to generation. A lovely tradition in an equally lovely setting and a pleasure to sit and observe as we sipped delicious concoctions such as Long Island Iced Tea, Blue Lagoons, Tequila Sunrises and Singapore Slings.
Ah what a life but someone has to do it!
I know I am biased when it comes to Germany, I just love it, but I cannot recommend this part of it highly enough. The food is nourishing and nutritious, the scenery is breathtaking and boundless, the history is magnificent and endless, and the people are gregarious and affable. Everywhere you are met with politeness and a smile and you can't ask for better than that.