After escaping the perilous stretch of the Rhine River rushing past the sirens of Lorelei, a mythical presence that lured gullible sailors into the rocks in an area known as the Rhine Gorge, Kongo arrived at the pleasant little winemaking village of Rüdensheim, Germany and stepped back 1000 years.
Rüdesheim am Rhein has been around since at least 1071 where it was mentioned in ancient texts as a place for winemaking and timber rafting. The Romans were in the area long before that and it was originally settled by ancient Celts. Not much has changed for this village in 400 years. Sure there are electric lights, WiFi, running water, and plenty of tourists but underneath this facade lies the medieval soul of a Rhine River village. The half-timbered house above, built in 1542, is the Brömserhof — the ancestral home of the Brömser family. Johann Brömser was a German knight who fought in the crusades. It contained a private chapel (the painted vaulted ceilings are still intact) and intricate frescoes. Today it houses a mechanical music museum where visitors can see self-playing organs, intricate music boxes that weigh tons, and machines that replicate an entire orchestra, including the strings and woodwinds. Pretty amazing stuff.
Kongo was particularly impressed with one particular instrument that played Wagner melodies by a troop of mechanical monkeys in costume. Even way back then there were talented simians inhabiting this region!
Kongo passed up a wine tasting tour to wander the streets and alleyways of this gothic gem of a town while Mrs. Kongo dutifully tried some of the local Riesling grown on the hills above the town. She said she wasn’t too impressed with the wine but Kongo did note a rosy glow to her cheeks when they met up afterward. Of course, Mrs. Kongo always has a rosy glow to her cheeks.
Narrow cobblestone streets, brightly contrasting architecture, and private gardens draping over ancient walls are irresistible to Kongo. Away from the main drag the village is pretty much deserted and tourists rarely stray into the side streets.
The winding streets lead to tunnels and openings through buildings that reveal a surprising amount of color and contrast. Like most of Europe the windows are colorfully decorated with window boxes overflowing with geraniums. Not only does this make the neighborhood lovely, as the flowers bloom from early spring to winter, the scent repels mosquitos.
Like all very old towns in this part of Europe, there is a hodgepodge of architecture tangled up together in a way that is charming and easy on the eye. The half-timbered buildings consisted of a timber frame that was filled in with wattle and dub, bricks, mud, and then plastered. Using heavy, notched timbers these structures could be constructed to support considerable weight and many of these buildings rose to thee or four stories, even in ancient times.
Everly little village had its church and Rüdensheim was no different. The church was the center of village life and in Germany many changed from catholic to protestant during the reformation. You can tell what denomination a church is by looking at the steeple. In Germany, France, Switzerland, and Holland protestant churches usually had a rooster on top. Catholics had crosses. Now actually this wasn’t a hard and fast rule. Sometimes catholic churches had roosters (particularly in France) and protestant churches were adorned with a cross but in Europe, the practice was generally roosters for protestants and crosses for catholic. Why a rooster? It goes back to the night Jesus was arrested by the Romans and Jesus told Peter, who swore eternal fealty, that in fact he would betray him three times before the cock crowed. The rooster thus became a symbol of man’s failing and the forgiveness of God.
The parish of St. James church in the market square of Rüdesheim, as one can see from the steeple, is a catholic church. It was built by the German knight Johann Brömser in the 14th century. Atop the cross is a weather vane, a star and crescent moon, symbolizing the crusades. The church was heavily damaged by allied bombing in 1944 but rebuilt after the war. Other than that, the village pretty much escaped damage in World War II.
Drosselgasse is the main drag in Rüdesheim and is almost always filled with tourists day and night who frequent the cafes, wine cellars, and museums. The narrow street is filled with interesting architecture and things to see.
No self-respecting medieval village could be complete without a dungeon. Now known as Eagle Tower (part of the Eagle Inn), the structure was built in the 15th century and was originally a cornerstone of the town’s river defenses. The dungeon was in the basement (of course) and accessed through a trap door on the ground floor.
Not much history happened here. It pretty much was always a quiet village focused on commerce from the Rhine River and the good grapes on the hillsides. No great battles were waged here and nobody famous seems to have come from this town. Goethe did stay in the Eagle Castle during trips to Rüdesheim and Johann Brahms reportedly wrote a symphony here. Other than that, life here went on pretty much unchanged for centuries. That’s what makes Rüdesheim such a delightful place to visit.
Travel safe. Have fun!