When I lived in Norway, I was constantly on the go. There was always another mountain to climb, another hike to try and another trip to go on and my list of places to visit still only kept on growing. There is so much to discover in the world and most of the time we don’t have to go far to find it, so I knew that when I moved back to Germany I would have to make it a priority to get to know my home country a little bit better.
A couple of weeks ago, we drove up to the Rhine Valley for a bit of exploring. I grew up pretty close to this area, but it had been years since my last visit and so I was wondering if it was still as magnificent as I remembered. There are few places that look as picture book German as the Rhine Valley - small towns of half-timbered villages, lush vineyards lining the slopes of the surrounding hills and one medieval castle after the other. Never mind that most of Germany doesn't look this way: The Rhine Valley is what you think of when you think of Germany.
We started our day in Rüdesheim, which is one of the bigger town in the Rhine Valley and probably one of the most touristy in all of Germany. It's a short drive away from Frankfurt and lies just at the entrance to the valley. Some streets seem almost abandoned while others - especially the notorious Drosselgasse - are filled with so many people that you can barely take a step without bumping into someone. There are stores selling kitschy knick-knacks, restaurants serving traditional German fare and ice creams parlors offering gelato - but somehow the rustic charm of the town makes the ambiance relaxing, rather than chaotic.
Looking at these pictures and seeing the bright blue sky while hearing rain drops splatter against my window makes me wonder if it's really only been two weeks since my visit - let's hope summer will stick around a bit longer!
Rüdesheim may be an adorable little town, but that's not the main reason people are visiting. Rüdesheim is also the home of the Niederwalddenkmal, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a memorial built at the end of the 19th century commemorating the establishment of the German Empire after the German-French war of 1870/1871. The monument is nestled above the vineyards of town and can be seen from kilometers away. You can take the cable car from the town centre, but walking up leads you through peaceful vineyards that make it well worth it.
After living in Norway for a year and going on plenty of strenuous hikes, I thought I had finally ceased to be a totally unfit person, but somehow I seem to have lost all my stamina while traveling through Asia and moving back to Germany - I was huffing and puffing all the way up to the monument, even though the path was pretty easy and well-maintained. Let's blame in on the sun, okay?
The views from the Niederwalddenkmal were absolutely outstanding, though, and quickly made me forget the pain from the walk. You could see for miles and miles and I could scarcely believe that this is actually the non-exciting part of the Rhine Valley.
All decked out with extremely nationalistic symbolism, the Niederwalddenkmal feels like a remnant from a time long, long gone. Reading the inscriptions proclaiming the glory of war and the honor in defending your fatherland by keeping the Rhine German, made me realize that while I'm glad that the monument has remained as a cultural-historical artifact, I'm even more glad that the political landscape in Europe has changed so much since then and that people don't actually hold these beliefs anymore.
Overlooking the Rhine and gazing towards the West, there's no denying, though, that the monument is extremely impressive - as certainly was the intention 150 years ago.
We took the cable car back to Rüdesheim and I used the short ride to blissfully snap away at the picturesque vineyards, vowing again that I had to make a point of traveling more within Germany.
After grabbing an ice cream cone in Rüdesheim, we hopped back into the car and drove farther up into the Rhine Valley… but that's a story for another day!