Ancient cultural landscape: The Rhine Valley

Ancient cultural landscape: The Rhine Valley © Igor Plotnikov /

Castles, wine and half-timbered houses

From its source at St. Gotthard in Switzerland up to its mouth of branched river arms in the Netherlands the Rhine covers 1320 km. For thousands of years it has been one of the most important trade routes in Europe. Between Bingen and Koblenz it squeezes through a deep valley which is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Germany and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Castles and ruins alternate with vineyards and picturesque half-timbered towns. Many myths and legends surround the valley; the best known is about the Loreley, who sat on a cliff, combing her beautiful long golden hair and enchanting the boatmen with her enticing singing voice, so that many men drowned in the quickening waters of the Rhine. The best way to experience the valley is from the boat on a trip from St. Goar to Kaub.

Attractions Mittelrheintal

Arp Museum Rolandseck Railway Station

From a meeting place of the aristocracy to the art museum

Since the 19th century, the Rolandswerth Rolandsbogen has been the epitome of Rhenish romanticism. So it was obvious that the Bonn-Cologne railway chose the location as the final station. The station should be as close to the Rhine as possible in order to facilitate the change to the steamships. At the same time from there one has a fantastic view of the Drachenfels. From the very beginning, the station concourse was designed as a classicist reception building for aristocrats and celebrities. Indeed, Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Bismarck, Ludwig Uhland, the Brothers Grimm, Nietzsche, Brahms, Liszt and many others came. After the Second World War, the Federal Railways wanted to demolish the “oversized building”. Instead, at the initiative of Hans Arp, it became an artist's studio. In 2005, the American star architect Richard Meier added a new building. Since 2007, the Arp Museum has housed various collections and exhibitions.

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Medieval half-timbered town in the shadow of a castle

During his trip to the Rhine Victor Hugo noted on Bacharach, it was “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”. High above the village sits the mighty Stahleck Castle from the 11th century. Until today the town is surrounded by a 14th-century city wall. It is one of the best preserved fortifications on the Middle Rhine. Of the 16 defense towers, nine are still preserved. The wall on the Rhine front is publicly accessible. Bacharach owed its obvious richness in the Middle Ages to the viticulture and the rapids at the Binger Loch, which could not be passed by larger ships. The goods were therefore reloaded on smaller ships in the port of Bacharach.


Residence of Cologne's Electorate and Beethoven's birthplace

This city on the Rhine can look back, as can Cologne located 30 kilometers to the north, on a 2,000-year history. In its heyday, between 1597 and 1794, the Roman Castra Bonnensia was the residence of the Electorate of Cologne. By the end of this period (1770) Ludwig van Beethoven was born here. After the Second World War, the Parliamentary Council met in Bonn and drew up the constitutional law – of which one of the prerequisites was that Germany renounces Nazism in the post war period. From 1949 to 1991 Bonn was the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. On the market square lies the Old Rococo Hall, built in1737 and one of the landmarks of the city. Located directly next to the Hall is the “Kurkölnische” (Electorate of Cologne) Castle, now the main building of the University of Bonn.


Winegrower town with a great history

The former imperial city is located on a bend in the Rhine, the Boppard Hamm. Vineyards on the surrounding mountains characterize the place as well as tourism. History goes back to the stone age, as evidenced by the 13,000-year-old stone tools found in 2001 in an excavation. The beginning of the city Boppard is however a Roman fort named Bodobriga, which secured the Roman-Germanic border and today is considered to be the best preserved Roman castle in Germany. The remains can be visited in the archaeological park. The double-towered Severus Church with Romanesque mural paintings bears witness to its heyday in the High Middle Ages. Today the local history museum resides in the tower of the Electoral Castle.


Via ferrata with great views

The best views over the large Rhine loop and the vineyards of the Boppard Hamm can be admired from the Gedeonseck, to which a chairlift runs from Boppard. There's a nice restaurant at the top. In the hinterland begins one of the largest forests of Rhineland-Palatinate, through which many hiking trails lead. Directly on the steep slope below the Gedeonseck, a via ferrata has been set up that offers hikers who are free from giddiness and well-equipped a climbing experience with a magnificent view. (There and back: 5 kilometers, 2:30 hours, up and down: 260 meters)

Umfulana Route:

Kloster Eberbach

Rise and fall of a powerful Cistercian monastery in Germany

On February 13, 1136, Abbot Ruthard founded the first Cistercian monastery on German soil. He had been sent out with twelve other monks by none other than the founder of their religious order, Bernard of Clairvaux, who followed an unusually strict interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. The monks were to live off of what they could produce on their own, and so their first task was to clear the surrounding virgin forest. It did not take long before the hard-working monks had cleared a large swath of farmland, where they grew grains and raised livestock. The well-organized business was soon very lucrative. The abbey produced increasing amounts of wine, which was sold in Cologne and throughout the world with the help of the Hanseatic League. Offshoot monasteries were founded up and down the Rhine. With wealth came power. The abbots played an important role in the conflicts between the king and the Pope. But wealth and power also ended up being the cause of the monastery's decline. In 1525, the abbey was looted during a peasant uprising, after which it closed its doors and was left to decay. It has since been rebuilt and now offers a winery, a first-class restaurant and a hotel. The medieval rooms also provide a venue for concerts and conferences.  


The epitome of German castle romanticism

The hilltop castle from the 12th century towers high above the Rhine on a rock. It is the only medieval castle in the Rhine valley, which was never destroyed and therefore has a long, varied history. Probably already around 1117 a castle existed. Anyway, one hundred years later, it was in the possession of the powerful family of Eppstein, which used the Marksburg as a customs station. In the middle of the 14th century, the castle received its present, Gothic appearance. At that time, the St. Mark's chapel was built, after which the castle was henceforth named. Under Napoleon, the castle was a military hospital and later a prison. Scribbles of inmates can still be seen in the chapel today. In 1900, the neglected building was finally restored. Today, the Marksburg is a romantic castle from the picture book.

Mouse Tower of Bingen

A tale of starvation and man-eating mice

The former watchtower is located on an island in the Rhine in front of Bingerbrück. It was built at the beginning of the 14th century and it probably wasn't named after a mouse but after the word for toll (“Maut”) that was levied here. More impressive, however, is the explanation of a legend: Once there was a terrible famine. The only one who still had plenty of bread was the Archbishop of Mainz, Hatto. The people came to him and begged for flour. But he locked the beggars in a barn and set it on fire. He mocked the cries of the dying folk: “Do you hear the corn-mice squeaking?” At that moment, thousands of mice threw themselves at the bishop, who then fled in his boat to the supposedly safe tower. But the mice followed him there and ate the hard-hearted man of God. The old walls and the grisly legend inspired many poets and painters during the Rhine Romantic period in the 19th century.

Pfalz bei Kaub

Medieval castle on an island

The castle on an island in the Rhine is like the Marksburg and the castle Boppard one of the few undestroyed and hardly changed castles in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. It has been built by Ludwig the Bavarian, who at the beginning of the 13th century was also Count Palatine and German Emperor. Since he needed a lot of money for this office, he had a customs duty castle built in the Rhine to profit from the heavy traffic on the river. However, the baroque tower helmet, which today characterizes the appearance, dates only from 1714. One hundred years later, on New Year's Eve 1813/14, the castle suddenly became the focus of world history, when the Prussian Field Marshal Blücher in a top secret action with 60,000 soldiers, 20,000 horses and as many cannons crossed the Rhine at Kaub to hunt Napoleon Bonaparte's troops.


Where the Allies crossed the Rhine

The small town lies on the Rhine between Bonn and the mouth of the Ahr. The Romans already maintained a castle here. However, the origins are pre-Roman. The city's landmark is the Apollinaris Church, a neo-gothic jewel built by Cologne cathedral master builder Zwirner. The focus of world history was on Remagen at the end of the Second World War, when the Allies took possession of the only intact Rhine bridge and were able to continue their triumphal march on Berlin. The bridge collapsed ten days later. Today, a peace museum is housed in the bridge pillar on the left bank of the Rhine.


Wine bars and manor houses

The city on the southern end of the Middle Rhine is also the capital of the Rheingau, one of the most important wine regions in Germany. At the same time, Rüdesheim has become a magnet for corporate outings and coach tours. The countless wine bars in the Drosselgasse are populated by cheerful drinkers. In the shops of Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas decorations and cuckoo clocks can be bought all year round. The Niederwald Monument rises high above the city and can be reached by hiking or by cable car. The more than ten-meter-high statue of Germania was erected in 1871 after the war against France and till today it stares threateningly towards the West.

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