Kevin & Shelby (& Scout) in Southern Germany

(Click on any of the pictures to get a larger version of that image.)

(St. Goar/Burg Rheinfels | Baden-Baden | Rothenburg ob der Tauber)
At the end of May, we took a brief vacation through Middle and Southern Germany — revisiting some of the "greatest hits" that we'd been introduced to on previous trips. This trip had an extra bonus; it was the first European holiday where we brought our dog along!

Having Scout come along on the trip had one low point, though; it came before we even put her in the car. On Friday morning, I went to Sixt, the car rental agency, to pick up our car. The woman behind the counter looked at what I'd reserved (a Ford Mondeo or equivalent), surveyed the remaining keys on her board, and asked, "how would you like a free upgrade? How many people are travelling with you? Would you like a Mercedes SLK?" Would I! She was offering to replace my bread-and-butter choice with a 43-thousand-Euro luxury convertible! Unfortunately, it only had two seats.

"I'd really like to have the SLK . . . but we're bringing our dog, too." So, sadly, we "only" had to settle for a Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Bad dog! I drove back home to pack up the car and pick up Shelby and Scout. The Sebring had all kinds of gadgetry, including a fuel-economy display -- I was a little distressed when it showed 11 miles to the gallon (not good for a lot of driving in a country where gas is expensive), but then it swung up to 66 mpg, and finally settled in the mid-20s. Not as good as a diesel Smart car, but OK.

The first leg of our trip, from Hamburg to Saint Goar, a small town along the Rhine River, was pure hell. We became reacquainted with the German word Stau -- in English, traffic jam. If there was a traffic jam, roadside construction project, or, even better, some combination of the two, we were there. We slowly creeped through Northern Germany; a trip that had taken us about four hours the last time we tried it — taking plenty of rest stops and sightseeing breaks along the way — stretched out to take the entire day, and we didn't get to St. Goar until almost nine PM.

Saint Goar/Burg Rheinfels

In Saint Goar, we stayed at the very good Hotel Landsknecht, a little ways out of the town and directly on the river; our room, on the second floor, had sweeping views of the Rhine (our room, number five, happened to be one of the rooms that Karen Brown recommends if you stay there; not having made any special requests, we just got it through dumb luck).
While the Rhine Valley may be very scenic, the truth is that it's not all that restful — there are rail lines on both sides of the valley, and passenger and freight trains run at all times of the day and night. Even when there aren't any trains, you can hear the thub-thub-thub of diesel barges on the river out the window.  One of us, though, had no problems with staying asleep.
Burg Rheinfels

Above Saint Goar is one of our favorite German castles, Burg Rheinfels. Originally begun in 1245 and successively expanded over the next four centuries, Burg Rheinfels was one of the largest fortresses on the Rhine, exacting tolls from river traffic until 1794, when French troops reduced it to the large, picturesque ruin that it is today.

One of the coolest things about Burg Rheinfels is the network of tunnels beneath the castle; you can buy candles and a box of matches from the castle's museum and go exploring underground. (Although the available selection of tunnels seemed to have decreased from our last visit; maybe American-style liability worries are finally catching up to Germany . . . )
A view over St. Goar from the castle's remaining tower.
The two girls in our spiffy ride-for-the-weekend.


Our hotel for the next night, Der Kleine Prinz (done up inside with paintings of the illustrations from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince).

Our main activity for the following day was to "take the baths" at Baden-Baden's famous Roman-Irish Bath. No cameras allowed there, so you'll just have to use your imagination.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Our next stop, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, is an interesting case. On one level, it's an interesting tourist destination because it's a very authentic-looking medieval walled city (part of the authenticity is genuine preservation; part of it is a meticulous rebuild from WW II bomb damage). On a totally different level, it's a famous tourist destination because it's Germany's Number One address for schlocky tourist souvenirs. If it says "Germany" in your mind — giant beer steins, Riesling, lederhosen, cuckoo clocks, Christmas ornaments, teddy bears, high-dollar cutlery — you can find it for sale here, sold in one of the innumerable tourist-trap shops that line the streets.

Our weekend in Rothenburg also happened to coincide with their yearly Meistertrunk Festival — commemorating the (probably apocryphal) salvation of the city in 1631, when the town Burgermeister saved the town from the troops of General Tilly by successfully executing on a dare: if he could drink three liters of wine in a single draught, the town would be spared. He did, and it was, earning him a place in the hearts of binge drinkers and frat boys everywhere, and a yearly commemoration of his Meistertrunk.

The city was filled with re-enactors in authentic costume, making an already-strange city just that little bit more surreal.

On the right-hand side of the picture, our hotel, the Romantik Hotel Markusturm. A new destination on this trip, and very recommended! It has boatloads of atmosphere, a very friendly staff, and an excellent restaurant.
One of the biggest categories represented in the Meistertrunk festival were music groups of various kinds; lots of marching bands, but also a lot of itinerant singers.
On the left, we have a camp of blacksmiths; on the right, a camp of artillerymen, supplementing their income for the afternoon by selling Wurst (Shelby was very impressed by their leave-no-trace firebuilding on top of the cobblestone street.) In a few hours they'd clean up the fire and shoot off their cannon to entertain and amaze the crowd.
There was also a "handmade arts and crafts" market, populated with lots of authentically dressed people. It felt a lot like being inside a Renaissance Faire back in the States, only maybe, you know, more authentic, because this was a city where events like this might actually have taken place long long ago.
Outside the Meistertrunk Festival, normal Rothenburg was in full swing, waiting to sell you any souvenir you could possibly want. These two shops are branches of the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas-shop empire that dominates the town's souvenir trade.
In possibly the world's first "buy a brick" donation program, the fortified wall surrounding the town, heavily damaged by World War II bombing, was rebuilt through donations from around the world. The program is ongoing — donate enough money, and you can be immortalized by having your name permanently placed into the wall.

Buying Gas

Mainly for our American audience, a few shots from our trip to a gas station:
As mentioned in my blog, here's a routine fill-up for Germany: converting to American units, I've just put 11.9 gallons in the tank, at a price of $65.50 — or around $5.48 a gallon! It makes those people we see back in the States crying about the onset of $2/gallon gas seem, well, worked up over nothing. And lest we forget, gasoline is really dangerous and not at all nice, kids (I think the rightmost graphic, letting you know that gas is an environmental danger, is particularly pathos-inducing).
The End: Scout was a very good dog for the entire trip; she sat obidently next to our table — without begging — at meals, and slept in her crate — without barking/whining — for the entire night. We may just yet be able to turn her into one of these hyper-obedient German dogs we see on the street.

Hamburg celebrated our return by giving me a parking ticket; naturally, the "everybody parks here and nobody ever checks" street in front of our house was done over by the police in the few hours between our arrival back in Hamburg and the time I returned the car to the rental company.

This page last modified on Monday, June 07, 2004
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