Having been on river cruises several times over the years, we’ve sailed up and down the Rhine Gorge a few times. But this time the ship was really having to work against the current. Many of us donned our cold weather gear and went up on the sun deck to admire the view as we fought our way past towns and villages where the water lapped at their foundations while the castle to which they were beholden stood up on the hillside, silhouetted against the sky. The Rhine was full to pussy’s bow and a bit more. However, the relentless grey sky did us a favour and broke up a bit so we got to see reflections on the water.
Staff brought up glühwein (mulled wine) and anything else we fancied while Alex provided commentary, telling the stories of some of the famous castles lined up along the gorge. Back in the day they each controlled their bit of water and boatmen had to pay tolls to the Robber Barons. Taking a cargo from Amsterdam to Frankfurt (for example) would have cost a lot. The barons lived in their castles up on the hillside, the town on the waterfront provided the workers, and was also where the customs officers collected the money.
Like the Moselle, the steep banks of the gorge have been planted with grape vines since Roman times. But it’s apparent that in many places nature is coming back. Tending the vines is back-breaking work and it’s easier to earn a living in the big industrial cities. We had the privilege of seeing the gorge in Autumn when the vines were in their last golden colour. I thought then it was a view to cherish because in a few decades it won’t be there anymore.
We were coming up on the famous Lorelei and Alex told the story of the beautiful siren who sat high up on her rock, beguiling the boatmen with her seductive song. Isn’t it interesting that, instead of admitting it’s a very dangerous strip of water and you’ve got to be careful or you’ll crash, the boys had to come up with a story to blame a woman? There’s a statue of course. But it’s not up there on the Lorelei itself, it’s down by the riverside where tourists can get a picture of her as they go past. (I’m reminded of the Dutch story about the little boy and the dyke. It’s just a story, it never happened, but the Dutch had to build a statue because tourists insisted.)
As you can see, railway lines run the length of the gorge on both sides. Notice the ornate entrance to the tunnel. During WW2 there was a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that castles which were not military targets would not be bombed. So the Germans, being gentlemen, mocked up castle battlements at the entrances to tunnels so they wouldn’t be bombed. The ghosts of WW2 are never too far away – at least for us older folks.
With the river so high, the current was raging. The Scenic Jasper was going upstream but the river is a highway and there was plenty of traffic coming down. The zig zag bends in the river at this point are controlled by a set of lights that warns the captains about what’s coming the other way and if it’s safe to proceed. If there’s a boat coming downstream it has right of way, while the boat coming upstream waits. The reason is simple: it’s much harder to slow a boat with a raging current behind it.
By the time we reached Rüdesheim at the end of the Rhine Gorge it was already dark (probably around 5pm). Scenic Jasper tied up a long way from the bank and many of the passengers took the opportunity to go ashore to look at the pretty little town and the last Christmas market of our tour. They were supposed to have gone to Siegfried’s Musical Cabinet but it was too late for that, or to visit the Germania monument.
We raised a toast as we watched them leave the ship. Tomorrow would be Christmas Eve.
By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.