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Rhine diary.

Traversing the Rhine River from Arnhem, Holland, to Rudesheim, West Germany, on the good ship M/V Rijnhaven is easier than reaching the good ship M/V Rijnhaven in the first place.

Thanks to our travel service, our transfers from plane to hotel to train to bus to ship were made without our winding up in Timbuktu or worse. Day one: The Rhine, having begun its tortuous journey in the melting snows of the Swiss Alps, and the snows evidently having been plentiful this year, was flooded. Not only flooded but, to my surprise, the same shade of dirty brown as the Mississippi at New Orleans. I must have been thinking of the Blue Danube.

The day's diversion was looking down from a chair on the upper deck upon a strange mixture of river traffic: barges laden to the water line with oil, sand, cement, coal, and "Rhine Containers" containing who-knows-what. One long boat had its three decks stacked with new automobiles. A passing boatload of tourists crowded the rail to stare at our boatload of tourists staring back at them. "Personality" and "wagon" ferries, sculls, skiffs, kayaks, and canoes added color to the confusion. We spotted but a single sailboat and but two fishermen and one fisherboy.

Day two: The reason we missed the excitement of our first docking had something to do with its timing--midnight. But as the sun rose over Cologne, the great city of Charlemagne, now restored after heavy damage in World War II, we could see within walking distance the twin spires of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. When finally we stood looking up at those 515-foot spires, we offered no apology for giving of two Hoosiers gawking like--well, like a couple of Hoosiers.

Next door is the Roman-Germanistic museum. Here, the 2,000-year history of Cologne comes to life in a way not to be forgotten: the daily life of the Romans, Roman arts, mosaics, tombs, precious glassware. We were immediately brought back to this century, however, when just across the street we saw--what else?--the golden arches of McDonald's.

Leaving Cologne, we passed the city of Bonn and entered the Seven Hills region with its "castled crag of Drachenfels." No slope is too steep to be cleared, staked, strung with wires, planted with vines, and marked with huge block letters erected to identify the grapes and the wine they will produce. A mystery is how this soil, which appears able to raise rocks only, can grow grapes. The captain explained that the thin layer of soil has slate beneath it and that the slate absorbs the heat from the sun and releases it at night, Thus, a 24-hour outdoor greenhouse.

As no slope is without its vineyard, no respectable mountain crag is without its castle. Due to the prolonged conflict with Louis XIV of France, however, most of them seen today are romantic ruins or reconstructions:

* We passed Konigswinter, with its Ruine Drachenfels castle, where Siegfried killed the last dragon.

* We photographed the castle at Braubach, the only one on the Rhine to escape destruction.

* Pointing out two castles on opposite peaks of the same mountain, the captain explained they were built by two feuding brothers who had left the family castle and who eventually slew each other in Bornhofen church.

* And there was Rheinfels, "the mightiest castle on the Rhine," and the"Wedding Cake" castle, situated on an island so tiny that couples wedding here would have room for little more than a best man and a maid of honor-it has the dubious distinction of being the smallest castle on the Rhine.

The huge abutments on opposite sides of the river were not worth the bother of uncasing our camera--until the captain announced that they once supported tile railway bridge of Remagen. The Germans, we were told, had unsuccessfully tried to blow up the bridge before the Allied soldiers, under the command of Gen. George Scott (excuse me, Patton), could cross. It would be the Allies' first invasion of the Nazi stronghold.

We tied up that evening at Andernach, founded by the Romans, who walled the city.

In the fading twilight we walked along a section of the old Roman wall; then, just before reaching the river street, we came upon a length of water pipe made, according to a sign we were barely able to make out, the century after Christ.

Day three: The next day we safely passed the Lorelei rock, where the legendary beauty was said to sit 400 feet above the river, combing her hair and luring ships and sailors to their doom with her singing. The rock beneath the surface that once impaled the ships has been dynamited to protect river traffic entering this narrow channel of swift currents.

Rudesheim was our turning-around point. Rudesheim being a tourist town, and it being Sunday, the sidewalks were jammed to the curbs, much as on the horrendous day when American bombers dumped their bombs and leveled the town-by mistake, it was thought, the bridge across to Bingen having already been destroyed and there being no other military targets in the area. Mistake or not, most of the old town was wiped out, along with many of the inhabitants.

Today, in restored Rudesheim, the No. 1 attraction is Germaina, a national monument built to commemorate the new German Empire formed at the end of the Franco-German war in 1871.

Day four: One of the favorite off-river tours is that to Heidelberg, home of Germany's oldest university, immortalized by Sigmund Romberg in his sparkling operetta The Student Prince. Here is the hilltop castle of which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, "Next to the Alhambra in Spain, the castle of Heidelberg is the most romantic ruin of the Middle Ages." Part of the powder tower of this 14th-century structure, blown up by the French under Louis XIV in 1693, still lies in the moat where it fell. And it's the wine cellar of this castle that contains the Heidelberg Tun, an enormous cask capable of holding 50,000 gallons. As for the city, none other than Mark Twain, standing on the castle's ramparts and looking down up on it, declared it to be "the last possibility of the beautiful."

Day five: Dusseldorf we saw, eventually, in the rain. First we had to make someone understand that we wanted to find a cab stand. Then we had to make the driver understand we wanted to go to the "Ko," the famous block-long shopping center: After we saw the price tags, we were ready to return to the ship. On our walk back, when the rain was over, we stopped at Woolworth's, so one of us could add a Dusseldorf T-shirt to her collection, and again at McDonald's, where the fellow in line ahead of us ordered a Big Mac and a beer.

Day six: That was about it. Our departure from Dusseldorf occurring at 2 a.m., we didn't see it. At 8:30, after our breakfast of cold cuts, cheese, hard rolls, and jam, the Rijnhaven docked at Lobith. There, coaches were waiting to take us back to Ostend, where a ferry carried us across the Channel to Dover, from which a train returned us to Victoria Station, London.

Our tour company's representative in London replied to my complaint that the Park Plaza beds were only three size-7 1/2 shoe lengths wide: "You Americans are too used to comfort." She should visit us here in Freedom.
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Title Annotation:traversing the Rhine River
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1987
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