|Cochem from above the Mosel. The Reichsburg is on the right.|
|Inside the Ratskeller|
|A trio in Russian uniforms singing the Ave Maria! No joke!|
(more photos follow the prose)
The Mosel (Moselle in French) nestles in a valley like a carelessly thrown necklace on folds of green velvet. Half-timbered towns, some large, some small, dot the necklace as the river threads its way north, as it has for thousands of years. Above the towns, row after row of green-leafed vineyards line the sunny hillsides. This is wine country, one of the best and most productive in the world, and has been since Romans marched in.
Before the days of railroads, trucks, and cars, there were boats on the river, and thin laned roads on either bank. The Mosel has always meant commerce and commerce always means money. Dotting the crests of the steep hills, the remains of castles stand as ruined reminders of money’s powerful pull.
Beneath the castles, boats carrying ore, timber, wine, and other products of civilization curve the river’s path in near silence. River traffic has also been here since men first ventured from their caves. As the boats passed, in the old days they stopped and paid tolls in coin or goods to the castle owners.
Germany, Europe, and the world have come a long way since then. Borders are gone. Money changes hands with the speed of electrons. The castles are long since converted to homes, or restaurants, or left as jagged memories for the eyes of tourists. Tolls, along the Mosel and other rivers, are long forgotten. Huge barges stacked with coal or containers, colorful tourist ferries, and small motor craft still wind past the towns these days, idly observed by shoppers, and sightseers who sit in riverside cafes, sipping and enjoying the comforts of the times. Hotels and restaurants abound.
The castles, many of them dating to the first millennium, mark the passage of time, of war and peace, good times and bad luck. You can see timelines charted in the walls, with rough hewn stones marking the beginnings, and newer, higher walls, as well as towers and bridges, leading toward the present. A question I often hear on these quests for knowledge is: How old is this castle? The answer always depends on what you’re asking. When was it begun? When it was destroyed? When did it start to look as it does now?
The Reichsburg at Cochem is no different than many other Mosel castles, although more opulent and better preserved than most. The first stones were laid shortly before 1000 C.E. Over the centuries, the castle swapped ownership a number of times, finally being destroyed by the troops of Louis XIV in 1689.
Which brings us to a startling discovery. Europe has lived in constant war and turmoil almost since the beginning. In the past three centuries, France and Prussia (later Germany) especially have been at each other’s throats and especially in the general region of Alsace. When we come to the late 19th Century to the middle of the 20th Century, Europe saw the French-Prussian War 1870-71, then World War I 1914-18, and finally World War II 1939-45, which some regard as Act II of the world war.
Since 1945, there has been peace, at least in Central Europe, some 67 years of it. Although, as the philosopher Plato famously said, only the dead have seen the end of war. Still 67 years is a grand start on the side of peace. Never have military forces been so overpoweringly strong, yet we have had peace in Europe.
After the Sun King’s forces did their worst, for near 200 years, the castle at Cochem remained a ruin. Then in 1868, a rich merchant, Mr. Louis Ravené, renovated it, turning it into a 19th Century chateau. In 1942, his descendents were forced to sell the property to the German Reich, and in 1978 it became the property of the town of Cochem. Outside it is still possible to glance at bits and pieces of the old castle, but inside it is definitely 19th Century.
There’s much more to do in Cochem than climb the steep streets to the castle (or take a shuttle bus). Shops and restaurants abound. Stroll through the park near the river, or stay a while, pick out a shady spot and picnic. Buy some of the justly famous peach schnapps. I’m told a touch of it in a glass of champagne is a delight.
Get the whole Cochem story, along with activities and schedules for buses and tours at www.reichsburg-cochem.de
We stopped in at the Ratskeller, a cellar pub right on the market square. Good choice, although I’m sure there are others. Wonderful sandwiches, wine and beer cost about $22. Later, we had a parting snack at the Burg Hotel, on the upstairs terrace, overlooking the Mosel. The view alone was worth the price for coffees and smoked trout.
Travel does more for me than show me ‘stuff’ I haven’t seen before. With only a modicum of reading and listening, it gives me a sense of time and place, allows me to at least plant a toe into the sandy soil of another culture, and best of all, I get to drink some great wine and beer. Prost!
|The Reichsburg - Cochem Castle|
|View of the city from the castle.|
|Entry to the castle. On the right you can see the earliest walls in rough gray stone.|
|A glimpse of the magnificent 19th Century ceiling.|
|One of the many wine shops in Cochem.|
|The lower floor of the Burg Hotel and restaurant.|
|Smoked trout with a light horseradish cream, dill and marinated onions.|