Lots and Lots of Castles

It’s late so today’s pictures will mostly have to speak for themselves.

We took an early morning stroll on the Sun Deck and were greeted by St. Killian’s Church in Wiesbaden.

St. Killian

We left the Main for the Rhine during breakfast and enjoyed castles all morning.

Castle Brömersburg
Germania Monument
Castle Ehrenfels
Castle Rheinstine
Castle Reichenstein
Castle Sooneck
St. Mariae Himmelfahrt and Castle Honeck
Castle Fürstenberg
Castle Fürstenberg
Gutenfels Fortress and Pfalz
Gutenfels Fortress
Castle Schönburg

We docked in Oberwessel; Diane and I took a short stroll before lunch.

Diane and River Empress

Even though we’d docked in Oberwessel, the excursions were in Bacharach, a few kilometers upstream. Most passengers went for a wine tasting, but Diane and I climbed up to Castle Stahleck to enjoy the view.

Castle Stahleck – we made it!
Rhine Selfie
Stahleck Tower

Our guide, Paul, took us on a stroll through Bacharach; they’re already getting ready for their annual Weinfest.

Weinfest is coming!

The only Jewish content today was a brief glimpse of the former Jewish Quarter – it was, of course, outside the walls.

Former Jewish Quarter

We said goodbye the Bacharach and Oberwessel and boarded the Empress for tonight’s cruise to Cologne. We passed the Lorelei soon after departing.

Loreley Statue

There were more castles before dinner.

Katz Castle
Katz Castle
Rheinfels Castle
Maus Castle
Liebenstein and Sterrenburg (note the wall between them)

And during dinner.

Marksburg Castle
Stolzenfels Castle

We sailed past the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine just in time to see the Kaiser Wilhelm I statue before it got too dark.

Deutsches Eck

I took nearly 300 photos today…and I still have 182 of them in Lightroom. Maybe when I’m more awake….

Same Port, Different Ship

We woke up this morning and found ourselves on the Main River, sailing towards our docking location in downtown Frankfurt. At breakfast, I caught a glimpse of Höscht Castle.

Höscht Castle

We docked a bit after 10 and were joined by Matthias Gemächlich, a history professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, who gave us a talk on “Jewish Life in Germany” from the 1st Century to today. He said that the first documented anti-Semitism happened in the 11th Century with the First Crusade; the 14th Century had some significant pogroms, too. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Jews in Germany finally were legally equal to other Germans; more than 100,000 Jews fought for Germany in WWI. Many German Jews were unwilling to leave Germany after Hitler’s rise…until it was too late.

After lunch, we took a quick stroll to the Städel Museum Garden to admire (or be puzzled by) the sculptures. The Garden currently hosts a temporary exhibition of Ugo Rondinone’s Sunrise. East., which occupies most of the back garden.

Sunrise. East.

Some of the other sculptures were a bit more straightforward, like August Gaul’s The Donkey Rider or Tobias Rehberger’s Capri Moon.

The Donkey Rider

Capri Moon

I especially enjoyed Olaf Nicolai’s Shutter’s Lullaby / Ellipse for Städel.

Ellipse for Städel

As we walked over the bridge to return to the ship, I was surprised by the Goodyear Blimp!

Goodyear Blimp over Frankfurt

This afternoon, we took a tour at the Frankfurt Jewish Museum, a ten-minute walk from the ship. It incorporates two buildings – the Rothschild Palais and a modern extension.

Frankfurt Jewish Museum

The sculpture in the courtyard sporting the two buildings was quite interesting; our guide, Alexandra, asked what we thought it represented and one of the other people on the tour immediately responded “Like the Torah, it’s a tree of life”. The sculptor, Ariel Schlesinger, chose not to title it to allow viewers to react organically.

Untitled - Ariel Schlesinger

Unlike many others, this museum isn’t heavy on “Judaism 101” and exhibiting ritual objects and books; instead, it’s focused on the Frankfurt Jewish experience from the enlightenment to today. One exhibit presented the history of three Frankfurt families: the famous Rothschild banking family, the middle-class merchant family Frank (you may know of their daughter Anne), and the Eastern European family of the well-known author and communist Valentin Senger.

Although the exhibition doesn’t focus on ritual objects, I thought this Torah Shield was interesting – it has “Jewish” elements (the palm leaves) and “German” elements (the oak leaves), illustrating that Frankfurt Jews in the late 19th Century thought of themselves as Jews whose permanent home was Germany, not as temporary residents until they could return to the Land of Israel.

Torah Shield with Oak and Palm Leaves

I discovered that Germans don’t refer to “Kristalnacht” – they call it “Pogrom Night” or the “November Pogrom”, because it wasn’t just one night, and much more than glass was broken – four of the five synagogues in Frankfurt were destroyed, and hundreds were killed. And that, of course, was only the beginning.

It was an interesting and sobering day.

Speyer (again)

We sailed into Speyer this morning. This time, there was a third tour on offer: “Speyer and the ShUM”, part of Uniworld’s Jewish Heritage series of tours. I was afraid it might not operate because today is Yom Kippur, but it did, so we met our guide and set out for…

…the Cathedral! I was a bit surprised, but not only was it beautiful, but it was also relevant to the history of the Jews in Speyer. When the First Crusade came through Speyer in 1096, the Bishop invited Jews to take refuge in his palace on the northern side of the Cathedral. The Emperor at the time was Heinrich IV; he is depicted fighting a wolf (I think it signifies the Church) in a statue outside the Cathedral.

Speyer claims to have invented the pretzel (it’s disputed), but they take that claim seriously; there’s even a pretzel-maker on the façade of the Cathedral alongside an angel.

We left the Cathedral and walked to the Judenhof, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the ruins of a synagogue and an extremely well-preserved mikvah which we could walk down and see.

We spent about an hour in the Judenhof, then our guide took us to the market street and turned us loose. The market street is part of the North Route of the Palatine Ways of St. James which eventually connects to the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. I saw a pilgrim on the street (he looked like a backpacker but he was also carrying a pilgrim’s staff) but I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture. Fortunately, there’s always a pilgrim on the market street.

We walked to the new synagogue (our guide said that the Jewish community is now mostly from Eastern Europe).

Our guide told us that the synagogue had been placed so that it faced the Cathedral; it certainly didn’t align with the surrounding streets. It adjoins St. Guido’s Park, where we found a menorah with this inscription:

A gift from Speyer’s Catholic and Protestant Christians for the inauguration of the synagogue, 9 November 2011

We walked back to the ship, had lunch, and set out again to meet one of my oldest blogging friends, Andrea Frick. She and I had both started blogging on EditThisPage.com (thanks, Dave Winer!) and we’ve read each other’s blogs over the years. She lives near Speyer and offered to come and take us around the area, and we were delighted! Unfortunately, her husband André (also an early EditThisPage blogger) had to work.

Andrea took us out of Speyer and along the Palatinate Wine Road to the Kalmithaus for a short hike and a great view of the Rhine River Valley.

We then drove to Rhodt, a small town along the road, and walked up its Main Street to enjoy the atmosphere.

We stopped at Hofverkauf Familie Wolff to look at their cordials, jams, and honeys; the woman running the shop asked where we were from and when I said “California”, she gave me a free jar of fig jam, which I look forward to enjoying at home.

Andrea brought us back to the ship and we parted – I hope it’s not another 23 years before we see her again!


We sailed overnight to Strasbourg, docking about 100 yards from where we’d started the cruise on Friday. We took the City Tour, which began with a quick drive past the European District where we got glimpses of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament through the bus windows.

We also drove by Synagogue de la Paix, built in the 1950s to replace the synagogue that the Nazis had destroyed. It has a six-branched menorah to represent the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

We got off the bus and walked to La Place de la République, where we saw the war memorial sculpture depicting a mother with her two dead sons, one French and one German.

We crossed the River Ill, which separates the German and French quarters of the city and saw the Janus Fountain also known as The Birth of Civilization, which was designed in 1988 by Alsatian illustrator Tomi Ungerer, on the occasion of Strasbourg’s 2000-year anniversary. The two faces of the fountain represent the duality of French and Germanic culture in Strasbourg and Alsace. One of the faces is turned towards the historical city center, while the other points towards the old German imperial quarter of the Neustadt. The aqueduct structure, composed of 5000 bricks, symbolizes the Roman origins of Strasbourg, where the military outpost of Argentoratum was once located.

We continued walking through Place Broglie, passing the Opéra National du Rhin, the Monument au Général Leclerc, and City Hall.

Our guide took us through the streets between City Hall and the Cathedral; they were quiet because it was early on Sunday morning, though a few bakeries were open. We weren’t able to go inside the Cathedral because services were in progress, but we could hear the organ and enjoy seeing the outside of the building.

The guide left us outside the Cathedral and we explored the area with our friends.

We spent most of the day at the Historical Museum which covered Strasbourg’s history from ancient times until nearly today. It was comprehensive without being overwhelming, and all the exhibits were explained in French, German, and English (though the English explanation was usually much shorter than the others).

We took a break partway through our exploration to have lunch; we found Restaurant Le Rimini a few blocks away from the tourist area. The food was great and inexpensive. Diane and I ate for less than $40, including two Picon Biéres, an interesting mixture of beer and Amer Picon, a local apéritif. They gave us soup and our choice of digestif for free, too!

We walked back to the ship by way of the University of Strasbourg.

Lots of discoveries!

A choice of B’s

If the lock keepers hadn’t gone on strike, the ship would have stayed in Basel last night and we would have had a full day there today. Instead, we sailed overnight to Breisach, Germany, a small but historic city of 15,000 citizens. We had a choice between a bus tour into Basel or taking a walking tour in Breisach; we chose to stay and explore.

Our guide, Johannes, met us at the ship and we walked a short distance along the Rhine until we got our first view of the walls of the city and our goal, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, atop the Long Path up the walls.

Johannes talked about the importance of wine to the area from ancient times through today; we passed the site of their annual wine fest, complete with statue of Bacchus with grapes.

We continued through the Rhine Gate – it was easy for us to cross, but not so easy for the various invading armies through history.

The Long Path began just inside the gate; it’s been there for a long time and was first documented in 1319. Today, there’s a cobblestone circle marking the start of the path – and a sign giving its history.

To commemorate this “first major work of the National Socialist city council” (as a contemporary article in the press called it) the cobblestone circle – with a swastika until 1945, and inscribed with the year 1933 – was created for the celebration marking completion of the work on 5 November, 1933. It now serves as a reminder of the start of the NS regime and, thus, of the darkest chapters in Germany’s history, and its victims.

The path wasn’t really all that long – we reached the top in about 15 minutes. We stopped briefly at the Radbrunnenturm, a treadle wheel well tower with a 41-meter-deep well shaft, driven by a wooden treadle wheel built beginning in 1198. It’s also served as a town hall, court, and torture chamber with prison and is now an exhibition and concert venue.

St. Stephens Cathedral was only a few steps away, but first we stopped to pay our respects to Europa, a symbol of Europe’s integration.

We walked around the church as Johannes told us about the history of Breisach, the unification of the Germanic tribes (it was Julius Caesar’s fault), and the bombing of the church in 1945 (the Allies used it as a marker and got too close).

In 1978, the church’s crypt was transformed into a memorial for the city of Breisach.

We left the church grounds and walked over to the city hall (Rathaus) in time to see a newly married couple emerge.

Johannes walked us back down to the market square and took his leave of us; we went back to the ship for a quick lunch, then returned to town for dessert – and a rainstorm. As soon as it ended, it was back to the ship to dry off!

A couple of hours later, the storms had passed, so Diane and I went back to Breislach for one last visit. Johannes had mentioned that we were near what used to be the Jewish quarter of town and we wanted to find it.

The street known today as “Rheintorstrasse” (Rhine Tower Street) was known as “Jüdengasse” (Jew Alley) before 1938; we followed it until we reached Blaues House, which was the center of the Jewish Community in Breisach before 1940.

It was owned by a Jewish congregation and used as a school and accommodation for teachers and the cantor. After Breislach’s synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938, the top floor was used as a prayer room until Breisach’s last Jewish citizens were deported on October 22, 1940.

Today, the building is owned by the “Ehemailges Jüdisches Gemeindhaus Breisach” (Association for the Blue House) and is a memorial site and educational establishment dedicated to the history of the Jews of the Upper Rhine. It’s only open on Wednesday and Sunday, so we couldn’t go in.

There was a memorial stone (not the usual “stumbling stone”) for Michael Eisemann, the last Cantor of the Breisach synagogue, and the square where the Blue House stands has been named for him. May his memory be for a blessing.