Days of Wine and Romans

Upon leaving Luxembourg on Saturday the 11th, we spent the next day and a half in the beautiful Mosel River valley.  The Mosel River valley is one of the great wine-producing regions of Germany, and has some of the oldest recorded history in the country.  Seeing the beautiful valley and drinking its wine was a highlight of my time living in Germany so far.

Our first stop in the Mosel was in the ancient city of Trier.  I know I described Aachen as historic, but Trier beats it, hands down.  Trier is the oldest city in Germany, and it was briefly a capital of the Western Roman Empire.  There are a few architectural remnants of those days, including a former imperial throne room (now a Protestant church) and ruins of three public baths, an amphitheater, and a huge black gate that was part of the city walls and later because a church because a hermit spent his last days in one of its upper rooms.

We didn’t actually tour any of the Roman sites.  We would have liked to have seen the imperial throne room, but it was the site of a wedding that afternoon, and most of the other sites are visible without paying the entrance fee.  One exception is the Thermen Am Viehmarkt, one of the Roman public baths.  Those baths are interesting because they weren’t discovered until into a few years ago during digging for a new parking garage.  The ruins that remain are now protected by a large glass cube, and the baths can be rented for parties and events.  Quite strange.

Additionally, there’s a large and impressive cathedral.  I’ve gotten a bit jaded by cathedrals, but I really liked this one. It’s mostly Romanesque, so there’s not a lot of decoration.  However, there are Roman and Gothic influences, and a bizarre organ that Lonely Planet rightly describes as looking “a bit like the fuel tanks of a NASA space shuttle.”  Additionally, the cathedral holds the tunic that is supposedly the robe Jesus wore leading to the crucifixion.  Riiiiight.  Unfortunately, it’s on display only about twice a century, so we didn’t get to see it.

Of course, like any other self-respecting European city, there is also a cluster of cute medieval buildings around a lively pedestrian area.

Palace Gardens

The Palace Gardens behind the Prince-Elector's palace

The Roman Imperial Throne Room / Protestant Church

The Roman Imperial Throne Room / Protestant Church

The Cathedral and another church, the Liebfrauenkirche

The Cathedral and another church, the Liebfrauenkirche

Rotes Haus and Steipe, two medieval buildings on the main market square

Rotes Haus and Steipe, two medieval buildings on the main market square

Thermen Am Viehmarkt

The Thermen Am Viehmarkt, ruins of Roman baths that can be rented for parties

Barbara Thermen

Barbara Thermen, one of the largest public baths in the Roman Empire

Kaiser Thermen and Amphitheater

The Kaiser Thermen, another set of ruined Roman baths, with the Roman amphitheater in the foreground

Churches in the Center

The city from a hill, with the Roman Throne Room, the Liebfrauenkirche, and the Cathedral visible

Porta Nigra

The famous Porta Nigra, the "Black Gate" of the Roman walls

After leaving Trier Sunday morning, we spent the rest of the day driving down the Mosel River valley.  We had hoped to make it all the way to Koblenz, where the Mosel flows into the Rhine River, but we simply had too much fun on the drive down.  We made it only to Cochem before we had to turn back to Hamburg, so we’ll have to go back someday to see the lower portion of the valley.

There are some irrepressibly cute towns along the river just begging passersby to stop to try some wine.  We managed to limit ourselves to stopping only twice, but we still ended up with eight bottles of wine that we’ll be drinking over the rest of the summer here in Hamburg.  The first stop, in the tiny town of Wintrich, at the Geierslay winery, wasn’t that interesting.  The wine was good, but we didn’t really get to sample that much.  The second stop, at the Walter Kroth winery in St. Aldegund, was much more interesting.  We talked with Mr. Kroth himself for about fifteen minutes as he encouraged us to sample many of his varieties.  We learned about his family, which has been making wine since 1503, and his life as a vintner.  I hope the wine is as good later when we drink it as it was when he was talking about it.

After Trier, there are really only three town of significant size: Bernkastel-Kues, Traben-Trarbach, and Cochem.  They are all very well-touristed towns with a castle dominating the valley from a cliff sabove.  Cochem’s is the most impressive, but it’s actually a fake reconstruction from the 1800s.  The other two are beautiful ruins of larger buildings that used to be there, but both are now just overpriced cafés.  It really made me wonder: how does one buy the ruins of a castle to put in an ice cream shop?  I guess there are so many of them in Germany that it’s not a big deal, but it seems odd to this American.

All in all, the drive down the Mosel River was fantastic, if slower than I expected.  We’re thinking about going back later for a week to ride our bikes from Trier all the way to Koblenz, stopping for wine along the way and staying in private rooms.  It would be a wonderful week.

A typical scene on the Mosel

A typical scene on the Mosel: a cute town on a bend in the river, laid out under vineyards

Bernkastel-Kues

Bernkastel-Kues, viewed from the Landshut Castle/café above

The Grevenburg ruins above Traben-Trarbach

The Grevenburg ruins above Traben-Trarbach

Castle Metternich

Burg Metternich, one of many castles overlooking the Mosel

Castle Cochem

The beautiful, but fake, Castle Cochem

A sign for the speed limit for tanks.  These are common across Germany.  Our guess is that they are a holdover from the Cold War, but we’re really not sure.

Cold War Sign

Cold War Sign

Once we sadly left the Mosel River valley, we had to race back to Hamburg.  It was already after 6 PM when we left, and we had to drive about 300 miles.  There was a good chance that we wouldn’t get home until after midnight, so I didn’t know if Jenny would accept my proposal to take a bit longer route home.  The quickest way back would have been through Cologne and Bremen, retracing our steps.  I wanted to go a different way to see more of the country and to give Jenny more cities to read about in Lonely Planet.  I’m very grateful to her that she let me try it.

Fortunately, the Autobahn itself helped me make up a lot of the time.  Three days earlier, I hadn’t really tested the limits of the Autobahn because traffic was heavy.  Late Sunday night, traffic wasn’t heavy.  On the three-lane, flat, straight stretch of Autobahn from Hanover to Hamburg, I had a lot of fun, and we got home by 11:30

I’ll leave it at that.

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About Lance Finney

Father of two boys, Java developer, Ethical Humanist, and world traveler (when I can sneak it in). Contributor to Grounded Parents.
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7 Responses to Days of Wine and Romans

  1. Jenny says:

    So, I actually do have one answer about what it takes to buy a castle, although I’m sure it’s not true in all cases. Last year, on a cruise on the Rhine river enjoying the views of all those castles, a distant cousin told me that actually a lot of them are for sale. They are all falling into ruins, and it takes a lot to keep up a castle. So in many cases, you can buy one for a ridiculous amount like 1 Euro. The catch is just that the contract includes a clause that you have to invest something like 1 million Euros in rebuilding / improving the castle. Somehow I doubt that the castle cafes we saw involved 1 million Euro investments, but they also were relatively small ruins, so it’s probably a smaller scale. And charging tourists for overpriced drinks and cake with a view is probably a very lucrative business.

  2. Mario says:

    Lance,

    I can imagine that you are probably bored out of your mind with all the travelling and culture you and Jenny have gotten to lately. Are you now second guessing your decision to go out there and not be back here in the thick of it with your old 9 – 5 job? If so, switch with me.

  3. Lance Finney says:

    Mario,

    Thanks for the generous offer. However, I think I’ll try to survive my current lifestyle with my sanity intact. However, if a need a break, I’ll know who to call.

  4. Rob says:

    Lance,

    If you get bored, just buy a castle and start working on it. 🙂

  5. Lance Finney says:

    Perhaps in September when my German class is completed and I have time to put my newfound fluency to good use.

    Until then, I don’t think I’d be able to slip it into my schedule.

  6. Tom Wheeler says:

    I was in Trier in 2003. It was incredible. There’s a small vineyard on the side of the hill by the coliseum. It provided a good view of the whole place. I am not a fan of Gewürztraminer wine, but I had a beer in Bitburg on the way back.

    I am envious! Have you ever considered adopting a 32-year old programmer?

  7. Lance Finney says:

    Tom,

    I think we found the same spot. We didn’t have any wine at the winery, but there was a lookout over the city right above the amphitheater. There was also an interesting drive through the vineyard on the way down with signs talking about the art and science of growing grapes and information about the different varietals.

    The picture of the Kaiser Thermin above was taken from that lookout.

    Sorry, I’m not ready to adopt anyone in that immature stage of life right now.

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