Round About Coblenz – Germany And Austria

It  is the place which many years ago gave me my first associations with the Rhine. From a neighboring town we often drove to Coblenz, and the wide, calm flow of the river, the low, massive bridge of boats and the commonplace outskirts of a busy city contributed to make up a very different picture from that of the poetic “castled” Rhine of German song and English ballad. The old town has, however, many beauties, tho its military character looks out through most of them, and reminds us that the Mosel city (for it originally stood only on that river, and then crept up to the Rhine), tho a point of union in Nature, has been for ages, so far as mankind was concerned, a point of defense and watching. The great fortress, a German Gibraltar, hangs over the river and sets its teeth in the face of the opposite shore; all the foreign element in the town is due to the deposits made there y troubles in other countries, revolution and war sending their exiles, emigres and prisoners. The history of the town is only a long military record, from the days of the archbishops of Treves, to whom it was subject. .

There is the old “German house” by the bank of the Mosel, a building little altered outwardly since the fourteenth century, now used as a food-magazine for the troops, The church of St. Castor commemorates a holy hermit who lived and preached to the heathen in the eighth century, and also covers the grave and monument of the founder of the “Mouse” at Wellmich, the warlike Kuno of Falkenstein, Archbishop of Treves. The Exchange, once a court of justice, has changed less startlingly, and its proportions are much the same as of old; and besides these there are other buildings worth noticing, tho not so old, and rather distinguished by the men who lived and died there, or were born there, such as Metternich, than y architectural beauties. Such houses there are in every old city. They do not invite you to go in and admire them; every tourist you meet does not ask you how you liked them or whether you saw them. They are homes, and sealed to you as such, but they are the shell of the real life of the country; and they have somehow a charm and a fascination that no public building or show-place can have. Goethe, who turned his life-experiences into poetry, has told us something of one such house not far from Coblenz, in the village of Ehrenbreitstein, beneath the fortress, and which in familiar Coblenz par-lance goes y the name of “The Valley”—the house of Sophie de Laroche. The village is also Clement Brentano’s birthplace.

The oldest of German cities, Treves (or in German Trier), is not too far to visit on our way up the Mosel Valley, whose Celtic inhabitants of old gave the Roman legions so much trouble. But Rome ended by conquering, y means of her civilization as well as y her arms, and Augusta Trevirorum, tho claiming a far higher antiquity than Rome herself, and still bearing an inscription to that effect on the old council-house-now called the Red House and used as a hotel—became, as Ausonius condescendingly remarked, a second Rome, adorned with baths, gardens, temples, theaters and all that went to make up an imperial capital. As in Venice everything precious seems to have come from Constantinople, so in Trier most things worthy of note date from the days of the Romans; tho, to tell the truth, few of the actual buildings do, no matter how classic is their look. The style of the Empire outlived its sway, and doubtless symbolized to the inhabitants their traditions of a higher standard of civilization.

The Berta Nigra, for instance—called Simeon’s Gate at present—dates really from the days of the first Merovingian kings, but it looks like a piece of the Colosseum, with its rows of arches in massive red sandstone, the stones held together y iron clamps, and its low, immensely strong double gate-way, reminding one of the triumphal arches in the Forum at Rome. The history of the transformation of this gateway is curious. First a fortified city gate, standing in a correspondingly fortified wail, it became a dilapidated granary and storehouse in the Middle Ages, when one of the archbishops gave leave to Simeon, a wandering hermit from Syracuse in Sicily, to take up his abode there; and another turned it into a church dedicated to this saint, tho of this change few traces remain. Finally, it has become a national museum of antiquities. The amphitheater is a genuine Roman work, wonderfully well preserved; and genuine enough were the Roman games it has witnessed, for, if we are to believe tradition, a thousand Frankish prisoners of war were here given in one day to the wild beasts y the Emperor Constantine. Christian emperors beautified the hasilica that stood where the cathedral now is, and the latter itself has some basilica-like points about it, tho, being the work of fifteen centuries, it bears the stamp of successive styles upon its face

The Mosel has but few tributary streams of importance; its own course is as winding, as wild and as romantic as that of the Rhine itself. The most interesting part of the very varied scenery of this river is not the castles, the antique towns, the dense woods or the teeming vineyards lining rocks where a chamois could hardly stand—all this it has in common with the Rhine—but the volcanic region of the Eifel, the lakes in ancient craters, the tossed masses of lava and tufa, the great wastes strewn with dark boulders, the rifts that are called valleys and are like the Iceland gorges, the poor, starved villages and the extraordinary rusticity, not to say coarseness, of the inhabitants. This grotesque, interesting country—unique, I believe, on the continent of Europe—lies in a small triangle between the Mosel, the Belgian frontier and the Schiefer hills of the Lower Rhine; it goes by the names of the High Eifel, with the High Acht, the Kellberg and the Nurburg; the upper (Vorder) Eifel, with Gerolstein, a ruined castle, and Daun, a pretty village; and the Snow Eifel (Schnee Eifel), contracted by the speech of the country into Schneifel.

The last is the most curious, the most dreary, the least visited. Walls of sharp rocks rise up over eight hundred feet high round some of its sunken lakes—one is called the Powder Lake—and the level above this abyss stretches out in moors and desolate downs, peopled with herds of lean sheep, and marked here and there by sepulchral, gibbet-looking signposts, shaped like a rough T and set in a heap of loose stones. It is a great contrast to turn aside from this landscape and look on the smiling villages and pretty wooded scenery of the valley of the Mosel proper; the long lines of handsome, healthy women washing their linen on the banks; the old ferryboats crossing by the help of antique chain and rope contrivances; the groves of old trees, with broken walls and rude shrines, reminding one of Southern Italy and her olives and ilexes; and the picturesque houses, in Kochem, in Dann, in Travbach, in Bernkastel, which, however untiring one may be as a sightseer, hardly warrant one as a writer to describe and redescribe their beauties. Klusserath, however, we must mention, because its straggling figure has given rise to a local proverb—”As long as Klusserath” and Neumagen, because of the legend of Constantine, who is said to have seen the cross of victory in the heavens at this place, as well as at Sinzig on the Rhine, and, as the more famous legend tells us, at the Pons Milvium over the Tiber.

The last glance we take at the beauties of this neighborhood is from the mouth of the torrent-river Eltz as it dashes into the Eifel, washing the rock on which stands the castle of Eltz. The building and the family are an exception in the history of these lands; both exist to this day, and are prosperous and undaunted, notwithstanding all the efforts of enemies, time and circumstances to the contrary. The strongly-turreted wall runs from the castle till it loses itself in the rock, and the building has a home-like inhabited, complete look; which, in virtue of the quaint irregularity and magnificent natural position of the castle, standing guard over the foaming Eltz, does not take from its romantic appearance, as preservation or restoration too often does.

Not far from Coblenz, and past the island of Nonnenwerth, is the old tenth-century castle of Sayn, which stood until the Thirty Years’ War, and below it, quiet, comfortable, large, but unpretending, lies the new house of the family of Sayn-Wittgenstein, built in the year 1848. As we push our way down the Rhine we soon come to the little peaceful town of Neuwied, a sanctuary for persecuted Flemings and others of the Low Countries, gathered here by the local sovereign, Count Frederick III. The little brook that gives its name to the village runs softly into the Rhine under a rustic bridge and amid murmuring rushes, while beyond it the valley gets narrower, rocks begin to rise over the Rhine banks, and we come to Andernach.

Andernach is the Rocky Gate of the Rhine, and if its scenery were not enough, its history, dating from Roman times, would make it interesting. However, of its relics we can only mention, in passing, the parish church with its four towers, all of tufa, the dungeons under the council-house, significantly called the “Jew’s bath,” and the old sixteenth-century contrivances for loading Rhine boats with the millstones in which the town still drives a fair trade. At the mouth of the Brohl we meet the volcanic region again, and farther up the valley through which this stream winds come upon the retired little watering-place of Tonnistein, a favorite goal of the Dutch, with its steel waters; and Wassenach, with what we may well call its dust-baths, stretching for miles inland, up hills full of old craters, and leaving us only at the entrance of the beech-woods that have grown up in these cauldron-like valleys and fringe the blue Laachersee, the lake of legends and of fairies. One of these Schlegel has versified in the “Lay of the Sunken Castle,” with the piteous tale of the spirits imprisoned; and Simrock tells us in rhyme of the merman who sits waiting for a mortal bride; while Wolfgang Miller sings of the “Castle under the Lake,” where at night ghostly torches are lighted and ghostly revels are held, the story of which so fascinates the fisherman’s boy who has heard of these doings from his grandmother that as he watches the enchanted waters one night his fancy plays him a cruel trick, and he plunges in to join the revellers and learn the truth.

Local tradition says that Count Henry H. and his wife Adelaide, walking here y night, saw the whole lake lighted up from within in uncanny fashion, and founded a monastery in order to counteract the spell. This deserted but scarcely ruined building still exists, and contains the grave of the founder; the twelfth-century decoration, rich and detailed, is almost whole in the oldest part of the monastery. The far-famed German tale of Genovefa of Brabant is here localized, and Henry’s son Siegfried as-signed to the princess as a husband, while the neigh-boring grotto of Hochstein is shown as her place of refuge. On our way back to the Rocky Gate we pass through the singular little town of Niedermendig, an hour’s distance from the lake—a place built wholly of dark gray lava, standing in a region where lava-ridges seam the earth like the bones of antediluvian monsters, but are made more profitable by being quarried into millstones. There is something here that brings part of Wales to the remembrance of the few who have seen those dreary slate-villages—dark, damp, but naked, for moss and weeds do not thrive on this dampness as they do on the decay of other stones—which dot the moorland of Wales. The fences are slate; the gateposts are slate; the stiles are of slate; the very “sticks” up which the climbing roses are trained are of slate; churches, schools, houses, stables are all of one dark iron-blue shade; floors and roofs are alike; hearth-stones and threshold-stones, and grave-stones all of the same material. It is curious and depressing. This volcanic region of the Rhine, however, has so many unexpected beau-ties strewn pell-mell in the midst of stony barrenness that it also bears some likeness to Naples and Ischia, where beauty of color, and even of vegetation, alternate surprisingly with tracts of parched and rocky wilderness pierced with holes whence gas and steam are always rising.