Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


"Mittelrhein" to Mosel, Lorelei, Koblenz, Winningen & Cochem

Sunday 31 July 2022 8:29 PM

On another beautiful sommers day we left Rüdesheim and headed towards the “Mittelrhein”. Here the Rhine Valley becomes winding and narrow and a traffic light system for commercial barges ensures safe passage. But also sportsboats have to take care to avoid exposed or submerged rocks and most of all the alluring Lorelei, a maiden sitting on a stone combing her golden hair, or so the legend says. 

The other distractions are the castles crowning every other hill and telling of times when life was quite precarious and the enemy was never far away. Of course, many of the former fortifications are mere ruins now, but they still make a pretty picture. 

Here are some examples of the “Castle-mania”.

This way we reached Koblenz and the confluence of the Mosel. As there was no safe mooring for us at Koblenz, we turned to port and soon faced the first Mosel lock. There are none of the floating bollards like in the rhine locks here. Eva and I worked the ropes, moving them from bollard to bollard over the 10.30m rise. As the water rushed in, we were too busy to see what Austin was doing. Maybe taking a power nap??

We then headed for the first big harbour on the left bank of the Mosel called Winningen. Mooring wasn’t cheap but it was well set up with a busy workshop, a well-stocked chandlery and a restaurant, where the food is good but the service is atrocious.

Unfortunately, Eva had to move on the next day. We took the 15-minute train trip to Koblenz together and strolled around the old city centre until it was time for her to leave. Austin was thrilled to find the Schängelbrunnen again where years ago we had such fun, watching two squealing youngsters trying to escape the “Rascal’s" cheeky spray. (See video down below) 

The word “Schängel” originates from when hoards of French fled the revolution and settled in Koblenz. A common name for French men at the time was “Jean” which the locals couldn’t pronounce and converted into “Schäng”. Later “Schängel” became a pet name for the people of Koblenz.

Another interesting fountain is the “Historiensäule” (Historic Column) which depicts the history of Koblenz from the Roman times to the modern day.

A walk through old Koblenz leads ultimately to either the Rhine or the Mosel bank and their confluence, called “Deutsche Ecke” (German Corner) overlooked by the tall monument of Kaiser Wilhelm I on horseback. And, of course, there is the rather large fortress called Ehrenbreitstein on the other side of the Rhine accessible via a cable car across the river. But there was no time for this as we had to get Eva back to the train station. It was sad to say goodbye to Eva, but then there is always next year.

We returned to Winningen and strolled through its quaint, old centre. Garlands of vines adorn the streets and the white-washed houses. There is wine-making paraphernalia everywhere. Unfortunately, we are a little early for the yearly wine festivals, but that evening sitting in a garden restaurant with our new UK friends Brenda and Robert we did at least sample the local wine. 

Winningen is a lovely place, but not all is bright in its history. In medieval times it was known for burning witches. A sign still points to “Hexen Hügel” (witch’s hill). But the good villagers have embraced this dark past and now sell hand-made witches as good luck charms.

Before getting too bewitched we left and headed further up the Mosel to a place called Löf. The 25-metre pontoon of the yacht club is well protected from the wash of barges by a row of small islands. We were greeted by a couple of boaties from Cologne whose dialect reminds me of home and always makes me smile.

Just a few kilometres downriver is Alken, a lovely, wine village with an old town wall, towers and half-timber houses.  A picturesque staircase with 14 stations of a pilgrim’s way leads up to St. Michael’s Church. The church was closed but we were intrigued by the old cemetery full of small basalt crosses dating back to the 15 and 16 hundreds. A little macabre was the glassed-in “Gebeinhaus” (ossuary), although in ancient and medieval times to maintain and display the bones was a way to honour the dead. From here we climbed a rather steep gravel path through the woods and eventually ended up at Castle Thurant. This fortress was built by the son of Saxon Duke Henry the Lion in 1192. We didn’t know what to expect and were quite surprised that the castle was greatly intact and open to the public. 

The sweaty climb in 30 degrees heat called for an alcohol free beer which we consumed in the cool caretakers quarter. Only later we found that the castle is also accessible by road.

The fortification itself has a herald room, a chapel and of course a wine cellar. On either end stands a tall tower connected by ramparts. The unusual feature of this castle is a wall that runs right through the middle dividing it into two almost identical parts. The archbishop of Trier and the archbishop of Cologne 

didn’t get on and had it built after the conquest. And so they lived happily ever after each occupying one side.

We climbed the Cologne side tower, showing clearly, that not everybody lived happily in the 13th century. The first floor has a trap door with a 10-metre drop to the dungeon. Some bones are all that is left down below, while up in the room stands a gruesome beheading block. Some charming torture instruments are found on the next level. An iron basket is suspended out of one of the windows which could be filled with wood to send fire and smoke signals in case of an attack. This basket could be exchanged with an iron cage to keep an offender dangling in mid-air or open the cage and drop him if so desired.

After escaping this fate and making our way back down to Alken, we urgently needed some comfort food, and what better than “Kaffee und Kuchen” to lift the spirits?

A short 26 km cruise from Löf is Cochem, another romantic wine village with a real fairy tale castle. Being the main holiday season and a Sunday, Cochem was overrun with tourists. There was less hustle and bustle around the sports boat harbour. The Bona Verba and their jolly owners were there among boats from Denmark, Germany and Norway.

The day after we had a lovely reunion with friends Renate and Georg who had driven all the way from Wuppertal to see us. It was great to catch up with these two genuine people and exchange experiences of being grandparents. 

When Austin disappeared a while later, I knew where to find him. The Aussie boat “Aliara” with Val and James from Perth had come in! Also, a would-be James Bond in an amphibious car made an appearance! (See video below)

Having explored the castle and town on our previous visit we were keen to see the “Bundesbank Bunker” which had only opened for visitors in recent years. Until then it was Germany’s best-kept secret. Built in 1962, at a time when the fear of a nuclear attack was ever present, all that the local population knew was that an air raid bunker was being constructed for their protection. The bunker went 30m under the mountain harbouring two large, climate-controlled vaults in which 15 billion Deutsche Mark 

in emergency fund was stored. Together with another 11 billion DM stored in Frankfurt, it could at the time supply the entire German economy. In the Cold War times, forgery of money by communist states was a real concern, and so the money stored had a similar but slightly altered design and could be immediately distributed in an emergency. This banknote series, called BBK II, was transported in normal cars or small trucks, a car at a time, to the location without armoured security or escort, so the people of Cochem were none the wiser. All that could be seen from the street were 2 residential houses functioning as a training school for Central Bank employees. Only one person, the housemaster of the school had access to the bunker and performed regular checks, but the vaults could only be opened by keys kept in Frankfurt. The vault doors were 45 cm thick with layers of steel, sulphur and heat-sensitive glass, enabling a potential thief and the door mechanism. Eventually in 1988, due to increased sophistication in money forgery, the BBKII series became obsolete and was shredded and burned under strictest security. Until 2008 only 1 man in Cochem, said housemaster, knew about the original use of the bunker.

We are still waiting for rain. Even the rhine could be closed for shipping within days as we heard. Lucky for us the German part of the Mosel still has sufficient water.

Previous  | Index |  Next