Jun 27, 2010

Rüdesheim am Rhein

We are invited by a friend to spend a few days at his place in Altheim, near Frankfurt, Germany. Where to go, what to visit? We suggest Rüdesheim, because it's not far, it's famous for its Reingau (Rhine) wines, and we've never been there before.

We arrive by ferry from the other bank, and it rains. A tourist trap under a cloud? 

The lunch, schnitzels, is excellent, even though German schnitzels, as a rule, are not thin enough. It is served with a local sauce, Rüdesheimer Sauce, with a hint of the local brandy, Asbach-Uralt. I also order a glass of the local whine, which is, as expected, disappointing (Rüdesheim is simply located too far up north; there is not enough sun for a decent wine).

Rüdesheim, under the rain

What to do next? We take the cable car up the hill, and discover the official monument of the War 70/71.

Let us explain briefly. Germany, as other European countries during the 19th century, was caught in the throes of nationalism. Divided into many political units, it longed for unity, and Bismark, the prime minister of Prussia, saw a way to realize unity under the leadership of his home state.

First, he had to get rid of rival Austria, which, as the largest state, had traditionally commanded the German leadership position until the dissolution of the "Roman Empire of German Nations" by Napoleon in 1806. War was waged in 1866, and Austria found itself sulking in the corner. Another war was needed to entice the German rulers (the kings of Bavaria, Saxonia, Würtemberg, together with much other assorted aristocracy), to unite behind the new leader, Prussia, and defeat an enemy of choice---and which country would be better suited than France, still vividly remembered from the Napoleonic wars? Bismark managed to provoke France into declaring war again Prussia in 1870. As foreseen, most other German states joined the fun on Prussia's side, and after a brief, successful campaign, a new ("second") German Empire was declared on the steps of the castle of Versailles. The French had to pay a compensation of 5 billion Gold-Mark, and to surrender their provinces Alsace and Lorraine---all this motivated the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles after the first world war, which, in turn, led to the second world war, which led to the European Union (no more wars between France and Germany, please!), Euro song festivals, the Euro, Euromess, etc, etc.

Anyhow, a monument was needed to mark the victory. And where would the monument be built? On the Rhine, of course, which, in some sense, had been the frontier between the two countries before.

And here it is:

German monument of the war 1870/71
Here are two details. This is high German Victorian kitsch, easily the best example. Wait another 300 years, and our progeny will, somehow, discover the charming aspects of this style.

Have a look at the left picture again. What do you read? "(Lieb) Vaterland, magst ruhig sein...," a famous song that many Germans will still recall, if not remember.

Need to know more? Here's a clip from Casablanca. Yes, watch it, it also has the "I'm shocked, I'm shocked" line in it.

In the meantime, the weather had improved:

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