Sunday 15th September 2019 – Boppard, Schloss Rheinfels, Illkirch
After an excellent, and beautifully presented, breakfast at the Landgasthof Eiserner Ritter, which made us regret what we’d had for dinner the night before even more, we packed up ready to move on.
It was a glorious day, and we had a plan to start by visiting the centre of Boppard and then, if we had time, moving on to the nearby Schloss Rheinfels before we headed to our first destination in Alsace, and AirBnB in Illkirch-Graffenstaden, just outside Strasbourg.
We parked up at the railway station, which is close to the middle of town, and where we couldn’t argue with the graffitti, which translated to “Wine in principle” – seemed like a fair statement to us. The station also offered free parking under cover, at least on a Sunday anyway, which meant we’d come back to a cool car rather than an oven. Having found our way in, we then picked our way into town past the old city walls.
As in Oberwesel, the railway line runs right next to them, and from there a number of underpasses lead you into the town centre, past some rather odd sights…
It was around 10am and very quiet on the side streets. We walked past interesting – but closed – shops and businesses, including one selling the most odd fish (I think that’s what they were).
We also met a friendly, though not very helpful, local.
We could hear music in the distance, and so we headed towards it, finding ourselves on the riverside, where a local brass band was putting on a concert. Apparently this is a regular thing on September Sunday mornings, and quite a few people were already sitting around in the sun, enjoying the music.
We had also located the municipal museum, which is housed in the former Electoral castle, which was altered numerous times over the centuries, and which was fascinating both in terms of the actual building, and in terms of the history it related. First, something about the town itself. Just as with Oberwesel, there’s been a settlement on the site for a very long time (the earliest traces of occupation go back around 13,000 years) but the first real remnants that the visitor can see are Roman, probably replacing the Celts again. In the mid 3rd century the Romans had to evacuate their territory on the right bank of the Rhine and secure the river as their border. During the rule of Valentinian I a Roman castrum, the Römerkastell Boppard, was built and the Roman troops finally left the area in 405, when they were withdrawn to defend their home base. In 643 Boppard was recorded as a Frankish royal estate and a Merovingian state administrative centre.
It was thus a free imperial city (until 1309), which meant kings turned up to stay at the Royal Estate on a frequent basis. Then in 1309 Heinrich VII pledged Boppard to his brother, Archbishop Baldwin of Trier. The locals however, were having none of that, and they set up their own council, triggering a siege, after which Boppard finally became part of the Electorate of Trier, and Baldwin extended the castle, giving work to the locals both in the administration and the construction “sectors”. Despite this, the locals still weren’t happy, and so they turned to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, who took their side against the Elector. Maximilian freed Boppard from Electoral jurisdiction and tolls, but then had to reverse the decision, which kicked off the Boppard War in 1497. The Elector of Trier sent an army of 12,000 to sort it out, and the resistance of the townsfolk promptly crumbled.
After that Boppard seemed to get in the way of a number of armies, losing a fair whack of its population during the Thirty Years’ War, when the town was occupied by Swedish troops (1632). During the Nine Years’ War the French attacked but were beaten off, but they came back during the War of the Polish Succession. Just to add to the fun, in 1794 French Revolutionary troops occupied the town and stayed for 20 years. As if that wasn’t enough, after Napoleon was defeated in 1814, Boppard was governed by the Imperial and Royal Austrian and Royal Bavarian joint Landesadministrationskommission for a very short period, before it was handed to Prussia as a result of the Congress of Vienna. It’s a miracle that anyone in the place had any idea where they belonged. That can, however, also be said for many places along the Rhine, as we would find out in the coming days.
As the museum was still closed (it was due to open at 11) we stopped off for a coffee at the first open café we could find, the Café Zeitgeist, which was rather lovely and provided an excellent cappuccino.
The owners reckon they are occupying the oldest surviving half-timbered house in the town, and as it dates from 1519 I’m not going to argue with them. It’s been modernised and given a lot of love since then.
After we’d finished, the museum was open, so we popped in and nosed around, surprising ourselves by stumbling across a bit of history we should have known about given our interests, but that had somehow passed us by. That being the story of Richard of Cornwall, the second son of King John, nominal Count of Poitou, Earl of Conrwall and – and this is the significant bit with regards to Boppard – King of Germany from 1257. He seems to have made a great deal of money and managed to become one of the wealthiest men in Europe at the time, and was clearly much more politically astute than his father. He presumably became even richer after he joined the Barons’ Crusade, where “he achieved success as a negotiator for the release of prisoners” and presumably was amply rewarded for it. The whole “King of Germany” thing was less than straightforward too, which shouldn’t surprise anyone I suppose. Only 4 of the 7 Electors originally supported Richard, though the fact that he had powerful relatives finally swung things in his favour, that along with bribes amounting to 28,000 marks anyway! He was crowned “King of the Romans” in Aachen on 27th May 1257 by Konrad von Hochstaden, Archbishop of Cologne. He made only four brief visits to Germany between 1257 and 1269 but one of those seems o have been to Boppard. I think it unlikely he stopped off here though.
Also of interest in the museum was a section all about the inventor of bentwood furniture, Michael Thonet, who was born and worked locally before going off to Vienna and becoming massively successful. The collection is substantial, and well displayed, and made me think about how such items are made for the first time. They’re also lovely, elegant, with beautiful curving shapes that make you want to touch them. It was also a pleasure being allowed to take photographs (without flash), something we found was common pretty much everywhere we went over the time we were away.
Just to add to tour enjoyment, there were also some entertaining portraits of composers from a variety of eras, by Michael Aptiz, another local. His exhibition, CHROMOFONIE, was fabulous. I especially liked Beethoven, though he also went modern with Bob Dylan, that work appearing on one of the staircases. He also creates stunning landscapes, some of which are also in the museum.
We also discovered you could get up into the tower of the castle from inside the museum, and although it wasn’t especially high, it did offer some excellent views up and down the river, and across the rooftops of the town. The tower also contained the remains of a small chapel, which had obviously been gloriously frescoed in its day.
Afterwards we figured we’d stop for another drink, this time at the eccentrically decorated Café and Bistro 60s, where we drank coffee and spotted – and then had to identify – a weirdly wonderful hummingbird hawk moth (macroglossum stellatarum), something I’d certainly never seen before, and that was moving too fast for me to get a photo of. They seem to be rather fond of geraniums. They weren’t at all interested in my coffee.
After coffee we decided we’d like to visit another of the town’s main attractions, Saint Severus’ Church, described as “one of the finest examples of late Romanesque church architecture in the Rhineland”. It stands on the site of the Roman military bath houses, and is visible from all over town with its white washed paired towers pointing up to the heavens. We were also told that “the webbed vaulting in the nave is unique in Romanesque architecture” and “the richness of the colours and decorative patterns is unmatched in the Middle Rhine region”. It had a lot to live up to; it didn’t disappoint. We’re really not used to richly decorated churches in England, given that most decoration was stripped away in the English Civil War, if it had survived the Reformation in the first place. Some of the churches we saw on this trip were mind-bendingly glorious in their vivid designs and colours.
As a throwback to its earliest history, there are Roman gravestones on display, but you could probably miss them if you let the interior overwhelm you, something it is determined to do at every turn.
We swung back through the town centre, stopped and bought a box of wine, and then reunited ourselves with the car, and headed one stop further along the riverside, and stopped at Sankt Goar, another ludicrously pretty town in the UNESCO World Heritage site. As with everywhere else along the Rhine Valley, Sankt Goar was already settled in Roman times, but takes its name from Goar of Aquitaine, a monk, who arrived in the reign of King Childebert I (511-538). He started out as a hermit, but then became a missionary, well known for his great hospitality, particularly towards the Rhine boatmen. He built a chapel and a hospice, and after his death it became a pilgrimage site, and the town developed from there, especially after King Pepin the Younger transferred the hospice and chapel to the Abbot of Prüm Abbey as a personal benefice. There is a claim that Charlemagne built a church over the site of the original hermitage, but then most places in the region make that sort of claim. It later came under the protection of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen, with Count Diether V building the structure we’d come to see, the massively monumental Burg Rheinfels.
Later the castle would be fought over by Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt. which saw Burg Rheinfels and Sankt Goar besieged for several weeks in the summer of 1626 with help of Imperial troops. It was an argument that would continue for some decades, and probably only really stopped in the early 1700s. In 1711, after an inheritance dispute, Landgrave William of Hesse-Wanfried was awarded the Landgraviate of Hesse-Rheinfels and the Emperor transferred the castle to him in 1718. In 1731, Christian of Hessen-Wanfried (known since 1711 as Hessen-Eschwege) inherited the Landgraviate of Hesse-Rheinfels along with the castle and the castle was ceded to Hesse-Kassel in 1735. In 1755, after Christian’s death, the Landgraviate passed to the Landgraviate of Hesse-Rotenburg, in 1794, the castle was given up to French Revolutionary troops without a fight, and in 1796 and 1797, great parts of it were blown up.
And that’s how it remains to this day, despite a tentative plan by Wilhelm II to recreate it in an effort to promote German civilization. It didn’t happen and Wilhelm turned his attention to another castle in the region, but now in France, Haut Koenigsbourg, of which more another time. I think it’s fair to say that none of this stops you getting a good idea of just how intimidating it must have been in its heyday. It also commands the landscape for some distance, looming over the river and vineyards far below.
There is a small museum in the former chapel which detailed the history of the complex, and a downstairs room that seemed to be “we found all this lot lying around the castle and have to put it somewhere” which was diverting if not terribly informative!
With time running out – we needed to get on our way to Illkirch-Graffenstaden by 3pm at the latest and anyway our car parking stay was going to run out slightly before that – we figured we’d better get something to eat or we’d be very hungry by the time we could sort dinner out. We scooted into the restaurant on the other side of the entrance way and completely failed to get a table outside on the terrace. We settled slightly grumpily at an indoor table and looked enviously out of the nearest glass door where two people and a dog could be seen dining. We figured they were also on the main terrace, but then they got up and left, so I stuck my head outside and realised that there was what was in effect a tiny balcony all on its own overlooking the valley. We didn’t need a second invitation and threw ourselves out there, figuring that in this case possession was definitely 9/10ths of the law!
We ordered a flammkuchen each (in effect a very thin based local version of pizza topped with creme fraiche and whatever else the chef fancies if they’re being avant garde or with bacon and onions if they’re being traditionalist), one with feta cheese and peppers and one with wild mushrooms and bacon.
They were big but we were quite prepared to wrap any leftovers up and take them with us – it would save having to go and look for a restaurant open on a Sunday evening in France later on.
Enjoyed with a glass of local wine each, we settled in to enjoy our view, while remaining shaded from the frankly ferocious sun. Neither of us could manage more than half of the flammkuchen so we duly packed the spare up and stashed it in my bag.
We left the Rhine with plans to come back starting to percolate in my brain, especially now we knew about the Schloss Rheinfels Hotel! There followed a rather longer drive than I’d have hoped for as we found the main route from where we were towards Strasbourg was a single lane each way and was full of all sorts of annoyingly slow traffic. We arrived at one minute past the appointed hour and then had to faff around trying to contact our AirBnB landlady, but we eventually got in and got settled, unpacking for our three night stay on the edge of Strasbourg.
Dinner was a ready-mix mushroom risotto, which proved to me the serious limitations of the cooking facilities in the apartment, but I suppose at least I knew what I was dealing with!