German Rhine – On the River

Rhine Cruise ship
Rhine Cruise Ship

The next day we embark on our Rhine River cruise. We had planned to catch the boat in Bingen, but there’s a boat dock in the park just outside our hotel, so we decide to leave the car behind and hop on the ferry in Bacharach instead. We plan to take the 1-hour trip covering one of the most scenic stretches of the river from Bacharach to St. Goarshausen. We join tourists and locals on the boat’s front deck. The crew pulls up the gangplank, and we are underway. Approaching the center of the river, our coats begin to flap in the wind. The river’s flow is impressively swift, the wind surprisingly strong, and the temperature markedly cooler away from shore.

Pfalz Castle
Pfalz Castle

We pass one of the river’s most photographed castles, the Pfalz Castle. It looks like a ship in the river and was originally built as a toll house. Toll collecting was a lucrative business on the busy Rhine, which was an important trade route in the Middle Ages. Castle owners laid ropes or chains across the river, stopping all traffic. They only lowered the barriers after the merchant paid a toll. In the 1300s, there were apparently 62 toll posts along the Rhine, and the nobles who owned the tolls (and the castles) became very wealthy. 

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Hilltop castle

Our ferry weaves in and out between the markers defining the deep-water channel. Each new hill seems to reveal a different hilltop castle. Almost all of the 40 castles along the Middle Rhine were destroyed by the French troops of Louis XIV when they attacked the region in the 17th century. Some have been thoroughly restored, while others are still in ruins.

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Train tunnel disguised as a church

On either side of the river, a steady flow of trains whizzes along over bridges and through tunnels decorated with turrets and towers. Some of the tunnels even look like castles or churches. It was important to the 19th century railroad builders that the new technology fit in with the surrounding landscape.

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The Loreley

We reach the famous Loreley, a rocky outcropping at a narrow bend in the river where dangerous currents over shallow waters caused many shipwrecks over the centuries. According to legend, sailors were distracted by the spirit of a maiden living in the rocks who murmured to them, causing them to lose focus and run into the dangerous rocks. Saint Goar, who lived on the other side of the rocks, would then nurse the injured sailors back to health. As we round the bend, we can see our next destination, the Loreley viewpoint on top of the huge slate outcropping.

Burg Katz
Katz Castle and St. Goarhausen

In St. Goarshausen, we get off the boat and find the signs for Burg Katz, or Katz Castle in English. A paved path with nice views across the valley zigzags up the hillside, past the entry gate to the privately-owned Katz Castle, to the top of the hill.

We are a bit puzzled when the trail leads us into a residential development. But we keep going past a school, through woods, and finally enter a field. When we see the mountain luge ride, we know we’ve found our destination. A road leads to a large parking lot beside the Visitors Center.

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View from the Loreley Rock

We head right out to the cliffs to see the vista from the top of the famous rock. The view is excellent, but it seems that the view toward the Loreley from the opposite hill might be even better. We decide to investigate that possibility.

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