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A Week on the Rhine/Rhein + Rhein in Flammen

A friend and I spent a week in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in September. This was our 6th trip to Germany together since 2014. It was my first time on the Rhine. It was my travel companion’s second time; she had traveled there 15 years ago. The impetus for our trip was the St Goar/St Goarshausen version of Rhein in Flammen, a large firework show that is paired with a wine festival.

We arrived at the Frankfurt airport on a Sunday morning and departed from there the following Sunday morning. We rented a car to get to our base of Patersberg, a residential community above St Goarshausen. The original plan was to stay in St Goar or St Goarshausen (and take the train!), but we waited too late to reserve a hotel there, and the desirable places to stay were gone.

Plane Tickets: It’s been hard to find cheap flights to Europe out of my home airport (GSP – Greenville/Spartanburg, SC) and out of Atlanta (ATL), particularly with weekend travel days; it’s not so hard at all to find them out of JFK. My travel companion and I bought two separate tickets from Delta: GSP to JFK (via Atlanta) and JFK to Frankfurt. It saved me around $1000 and her around $1300 to do that instead of flying out of GSP or ATL (she used a frequent flyer award ticket for GSP to JFK). It worked great – more about that in the reflections at the end of the report. I will add here, though, that my travel companion decided to check her carry-on-size bag for the trip to Frankfurt, and the Delta ticket counter agent at GSP was kind enough to check the bag all the way through to FRA despite the two separate tickets.

Accommodations: We stayed in a second-floor apartment in Patersberg that we found through AirBNB. It had a grand view of the Rhine and Burg Katz. The community was quiet and nice for walking in the evenings. Our host stocked our refrigerator with some food/drinks since we arrived on Sunday, and the REWE in St Goarshausen was closed that day.

Transportation: Unfortunately, public transportation from Patersberg to St Goarshausen is not so great. There was a bus stop a short distance from our apartment, but the bus did not run in the evenings or on the weekend, so we used our rental car to drive to the St Goarshausen train station, where we parked for free, and then used the train for most of our travel in the area.

Favorite Activities: The castles, of course, were great. I was also a pretty big fan of the Prussian monuments in the area; they are big! I honestly felt a little emotional as I stared at the Neiderdenkmal at Rüdesheim, and turned to my travel companion and said, “This would fill my German heart with pride, but unfortunately I'm of English and Irish descent.” My favorite daytrip, though, was going to Remagen and Linz am Rhein, which are part of what RS calls the Non-Romantic Rhine. I liked both towns a lot. Remagen’s tourism office has put together a nice walking tour of the city. The ruins of the Ludendorff Bridge were of particular interest to me. This bridge formerly spanned the Rhine and was “the Bridge at Remagen” that US troops used to cross the river during WWII; the former towers of the bridge contain an excellent peace museum that tells the history of the bridge and details the ravages of war. Nearby is the Black Madonna Chapel which memorializes the enormous open-air POW camp run by the US near Remagen in which more than 1,000 German men died after the war (primarily due to exposure). Linz am Rhein is across the river from Remagen and has a gorgeous Old Town with a medieval gate, multiple medieval towers, flowers galore and many half-timbered buildings dating back to the 1500’s.

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Favorite Dining: I’ll mention three places. (1) Klein’s Fronhof Das Weinrestaurant in Winningen – a restaurant that uses in-season, locally-sourced ingredients to create really nice dishes (not Schnitzel or Wurst) that can be paired with local wines. We sat outside near the train tracks, which added a little extra ambiance to dinner. (2) Spanischer Garten in Linz am Rhein – a tapas restaurant with excellent atmosphere and delicious food. (3) Alla Fontana in St Goar – an Italian restaurant a block off the main tourist drag with simple, delicious food at a fair price; the broccoli soup that came with a dab of fresh cream was unexpectedly wonderful.

Rhein in Flammen: The fireworks were on Saturday night. Typically, fireworks are shot off from Burg Rheinfalls, Burg Katz, and the river. Due to a very dry summer, nothing was shot off from the castles, which shortened the show a bit. We had tickets to view the show from a boat on the river, but we decided just to watch from Patersberg in the area of the Dreiburgenblick, the “three castle view” that allows one to see Burg Rheinfalls, Burg Katz, and Burg Maus (and the fireworks!). The Patersberg volunteer fire department grilled sausages and sold beer. Lots of families came out. It was a nice way to watch the fireworks, which were still pretty spectacular despite the shortened show.

Reflections:

  1. I enjoyed staying on the Rhine for a week and found plenty to keep me busy during that time. In fact, there were a number of things I wanted to do but did not have the time to do.

  2. Rhein in Flammen was great.

  3. My personal rank ordering of the castles we visited: (1) Marksburg, (2) Burg Rheinfalls, (3) Burg Eltz. All were great, don’t get me wrong. But Marksburg was my favorite. It seemed like a real, medieval castle. The enormity of Burg Rheinfalls and the nice views of the Rhein were pretty special. As an aside, they no longer allow people to explore the underground passages unless doing so as part of a tour (much to the chagrin of an Englishman who was buying a ticket ahead of us). Burg Eltz was also amazing, particularly the exterior. The rooms viewed on the tour, however, were more reminiscent of the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, than a medieval castle.

  4. After a couple of apartment rentals in Europe this summer, I’ve decided I prefer a B&B or a hotel. I have to admit I like for someone else to cook breakfast when I’m on vacation… largely because I’m really lousy at boiling eggs. Europeans know how to boil an egg; apparently I don’t because the egg doesn’t taste as good when I boil it. I also don’t enjoy cleaning up the place before I leave.

  5. As mentioned above, the two-ticket airfare strategy worked beautifully. That’s the second time it has worked for us this year (also worked beautifully on a trip to Berlin in May). For the two trips combined, we each saved around $2000. The keys are (1) to start the journey early in the morning (we left GSP at 8 am), (2) to fly a route with a lot of redundancy (8 flights per day GSP to ATL, 7 flights per day ATL to JFK), (3) to accept a long layover at the connecting airport to build in a cushion for delays (we had a 5.5-hour layover at JFK going both ways), and (4) to fly a reliable airline. On the return trip, our flight arrived a little early, and we were able to shorten the layover by catching an earlier flight at JFK (as well as at ATL). Since we both have frequent flyer status with Delta (I’m Diamond Medallion; she’s Platinum), we got confirmed seats on an earlier flight without cost; the standby fee would have been $75 per person without status on Delta.

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Sounds like a wonderful trip. Thanks for the informative trip report.

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There is a book on the number of German POWs who died in American hands after the war..."Eisenhower and the German POWs" S. Ambrose is one of the historians who contributed to this book, which basically is a defence of Eisenhower. It's worth looking at as to why the controversy emerged over the numbers and the causes.

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Hey, Fred. I've read a little on the controversy regarding German POW deaths. James Bacque, as I understand, put the number of deaths at "millions" and essentially charged Eisenhower with planned extermination of German troops. Ambrose et al's response, as I understand it, was a dramatically lower number (and, I think, the source of the 1,200 or so number that is quoted for the Remagen camp) that resulted from inability to manage the ridiculously large number of German POWs. Interesting that when I looked up the recommended book on Amazon that it is published by Eisenhower Center Studies on War and Peace.

The treatment of Germans after the war in general is a pretty amazing topic to me -- I may get a copy of both Bacque's and Ambrose et al's book to dive deeper into the controversy related to POWs. I also enjoy memoirs. I can't remember if I've mentioned this or not, but my favorite book of all time is German Boy by Wolfgang Samuel, which is his memoir of his life from his 10th to his 15th birthdays -- from German kid living in what is now Szczecin, Poland during the last few months of WWII to German teenager preparing to head to the US. He's written books about the US Air Force, too (he was a USAF pilot).

As I walked through the streets of Berlin a couple of years ago, I decided I want to meet two people before they die: Wolfang Samuel and Gail Halvorsen (the original "Candy Bomber"). I accomplished the first goal two years ago when I discovered Mr Samuel (not sure of his USAF rank to give proper title) was doing a book signing at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport. I flew into DC, checked out the museum, chatted for a bit with Mr Samuel, and then flew back home. I was supposed to meet Col. Halvorsen last December at an event in NC. He had to cancel due to illness, but I still got to ride in a C-54 used in the Berlin Airlift. Col. Halvorsen is scheduled at the same event this Dec (his last appearance there); hopefully, I'll be able to pull off meeting him this year.

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Dave, I was lucky enough to meet Gayle Halvorson in 2008 when he and some of the air crew he worked with were in Frankfurt for the anniversary of the airlift. It was such an honor to meet him and he was gracious enough to give me an autograph.
His 2 daughters were at the Consulate this past June for the anniversary and he did a video for the event.

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Bacque's book has been discredited, the methodology is flawed, evidence lacking, etc. No matter what one thinks of Ambrose's "Eisenhower and the German POWs" it is still a much better, (still flawed too), more scholarly work than that of Bacque, which no one takes seriously anymore.

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@Ms. Jo... Thanks for sharing your experience. My understanding is that he is a wonderfully kind man, (which I guess is kind of obvious from his contribution to the Air Lift).

@Fred... Thanks for the thoughts on Bacque.

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Lovely trip report - reminds me that I've barely scratched the surface of this area and have a lot more to see, including the fireworks!

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@ Dave...You're welcome, sorry I can't suggest anything elsewhere other than that by S Ambrose. I am not one of his fans when it comes to his works on the war. However, on the topic of Ike and the POWs his book as a refutation is worth reading as long as one realises that he is Ike's defender. In the early 1990s there were articles in German newspapers on this topic based on Bacque's revelations.

I had never heard any of this at all until on my 1992 trip this woman friend of mine told me her uncle in Potsdam near Babelsberg wanted to meet me. I said sure. He was a German Army vet, was attached to a Wehrmacht Panzer unit in Normandy, survived and was captured by the British, spoke/read English fluently. He told me of Bacque's book, etc, so we spent the entire afternoon talking "auf deutsch" about the war and Normandy in 1944, etc.

Keep in mind that generally the East Germans were not allowed to travel to the West, (unless the person received special permission, etc) , ie, in this case France, until that state ended.