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The Black Sea to Amsterdam – a cruise through central Europe (part 2)

by Sabrina Humphrey

Bamberg Photo: Marcus Humphrey

[Following on from her article in the last issue - The Black Sea to Amsterdam – a cruise through central Europe (part 1) (, Sabrina takes us through Germany to Amsterdam]

We arrived in Germany after going through the U-bend of the Schloegener Schlinge, with pretty villages at the water's edge and the inevitable abbey or church looking down on the village, until we came to the charming town of Passau. Here we arrived just in time for an organ recital in the cathedral. Until a few years ago its organ was the largest in the world; but it has now been superseded by an even bigger one in a mall in the USA. The organ has 17,974 pipes and 233 stops. The cathedral itself is more Gothic than Baroque which was a pleasant change from all the other cathedrals we had seen recently. We then moved on to Regensburg which contains an enormous Gothic cathedral with a Baroque altar. The architecture in the old city is lovely and walking through the streets you realise how powerful and wealthy it once was. The city also has one of Europe's oldest stone bridges that has spanned the Danube since the 12th century. Luckily the city was not bombed in WW2. In the evening we left the Danube as we entered the Rhine-Main-Danube canal on our way to Nuremberg.

We set off in the morning to see the area where Hitler held his infamous Rallies. It is in a terrible state. I cannot understand why it was not pulled down and either left bare or rebuilt as a stadium with facilities for the young. The concrete stands are falling down and covered in weeds; it is just so unsightly and a horrible reminder of what happened there. We could not wait to leave the place. We took a look, from the outside, at the place where the post-war trials were held in Courtroom 600; a very fine building which is still in use today as a courthouse. Modern Nuremberg has awful architecture. By contrast, the old city is lovely; many houses were saved from the bombing. But it is up and down steep hills, all cobbled, and on a very hot day one or two of our fellow passengers found it tough going. We saw Albrecht Dürer's house, rebuilt, after the bombing, to its former glory.

Albrecht Dürer's house Photo: Marcus Humphrey

As we moved further into Germany, we became aware of the Protestant influence and the change in religious denomination amongst many churches. St. Sebaldus in Nuremberg was formerly Roman Catholic but is now Lutheran. Our lecturer on board had told us about Dürer and also what she referred to as the "Green Men", stone facial carvings with foliage growing from them which may be pre-Christian in origin. I went back to St. Sebaldus church with her and found a good many; they can also be found in churches in the UK.

We sailed on to Bamberg, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Also known as the "Frankish Rome", it was built on seven hills a thousand years ago. It is beautiful right from the start; all commercial building is hidden from sight or down by the canal. The streets of the modern town are narrow and have lovely buildings, reminding me of some of our most picturesque English villages. Our excellent local guide marched us up a hill topped by an enormous square, free of cars. Here is a four-towered cathedral - so peaceful inside. And we found one green man. The houses are half-timbered with Baroque facades but not over the top. Below the cathedral is a magnificent Rose Garden in front of the Bishop's Palace, laid out quite beautifully and with individual labels! The Rathaus (Town Hall) sits over the river with its half-timbered walls (see photo at top of article). Beyond is the former fishing village known as Bamberg's "Little Venice".

We returned to the ship to leave the R-M-D canal and enter the river Main on our way to Wurtzburg. Our arrival there was later than expected as we were held up going through the many locks: barges with grain etc. have priority. Because it was so hot - 35C and rising - the walking tour was cancelled. We went by coach to the vast Residenz, home of the Prince Bishops in former times and now another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole of Wurzburg was obliterated by the RAF in 1945 except for the Residenz, which lies slightly outside the city. There we saw the impressive ‘Europa’ ceiling fresco by Tiepolo, and the staircase by Balthaser Neumann, which reminded us of the one in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. On our way to a wine tasting in the cellars, we came across an extremely over- decorated Baroque room and some exquisite, coloured china chandeliers from Hungary. Refreshed by the wine tasting, we emerged from the cellars to a temperature of 38C!

Miltenberg Photo: Marcus Humphrey

Overnight we sailed on to Wertheim and, close by, Miltenberg, a gloriously pretty town. Most of the houses are half-timber framed with narrow cobbled streets and, it being Sunday, were empty. We had arrived before all the other tourists, and the locals were still in bed. There is a Catholic church in the middle of the town square. A few years ago, the neo-Nazis wanted to hold a rally, which under Germany’s constitution they are allowed to do. Most of the nearby towns refused to let them but the priest in this church, after discussing the problem with his fellow priests in the town, drew up a cunning plan. He agreed for the rally to go ahead in the square. In marched the neo-Nazis. But before they could utter a word all the churches started ringing their bells, so drowning out the speakers. The bells rang for two hours until the rally was dispersed. The priest was made a bishop soon afterwards and still lives in the area.

We were sitting in the square with cold drinks, including our friend Bill from the USA, and Simon, a British passenger. We began talking politics when Simon berated Bill about Trump. Bill is a Trump supporter and, much to our surprise, went for Simon. We sat there with our mouths open. Bill is such a nice man and we had never seen that side of him before. We managed to cool everything down, and by the time we were back on board the ship they were both laughing together.

Amorbach Abbey Photo: Marcus Humphrey

In the afternoon we were taken to the Benedictine Amorbach Abbey; not too much bling except for the pulpit, which, as you can see above, was way over the top! A lot of blue and white stucco carvings made it feel light and airy. We then moved into a room within the abbey called the Gruner Saal, decorated with musical instruments, and here we were given the most wonderful concert by five artistes from the London Festival Opera who sang a mixture of songs and arias by Handel, Mozart, Gilbert & Sullivan, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and many others.

We then left the river Main for the river Rhine. We tied up with difficulty at Eltville, as the Rhine is flowing strongly at this point. There was a lot of unhelpful advice from the armchair sailors on board. Next: Kloster Eberbach, a former Cistercian Abbey now run by the State, which provided the backdrop to the film "The Name of the Rose". Our musical quintet entertained us again in the Monks' Refectory, and when the mezzo-soprano, Hannah Pedley, sang from Carmen, my husband, Marcus, and our friend, Richard, were each presented with a red rose, making the other males very jealous!

Our ship sailed on to Rudesheim and Vollrads Castle, the Greiffenclau residence since the 14th century, where the making of wine can be traced back to 1211, making it the oldest winery in the world. The castle is in amazing order with some fabulous furniture tapestries, glass, etc. We had a wine tasting, of course, if a little early in the day. Declared bankrupt, the last Greiffenclau shot himself in his vineyards in 1997 and his biggest creditor, the local bank, took over running the castle and vineyards. We then had the final concert by our singers in the castle, with performances of Purcell, Mozart, Bizet, Gershwin and Britten. They specially sang the Champagne song from Die Fledermaus at Marcus's request, but no red roses this time.

Back to the ship for lunch, then a magical cruise down the Rhine with castles on both sides and, of course, the Lorelei Rock. The Rhine is very narrow in this part and used to be very dangerous until some rocks were dynamited, but still not easy navigation as the current is very strong. We were amazed at how many trains were running on both sides of the Rhine - endless goods and passenger trains every few minutes.

Cologne Cathedral Photo: Marcus Humphrey

In the evening we sailed on to Cologne. I had last been there as a child in 1948. On a glorious sunny morning we set off on a walking tour of the old part of the city. Most of Cologne was flattened by the Allies during WW2 and quite honestly the reconstruction is not up to much. Compared with Warsaw and Gdansk in Poland where these cities were totally restored to a very high standard, the restoration here is nothing like as good. However, the Cathedral, the largest in Germany, was not that badly damaged but is blackened by carbon, probably caused by the burning buildings around it in the war. An attempt was made to clean it but the stonework started to crumble, so it has been left as it is which in some ways is a shame. But once inside it is a different story. I have never seen such beautiful stained-glass windows. Acres of them and some looking so pristine they could have been put in yesterday. No doubt they were removed during the war and kept safely for the duration. Looking at postcards of the cathedral in 1945 there were certainly windows with no glass in them. When I was there with my brother and parents I do remember the rubble still beside the cathedral, and we were not allowed inside the building as it was unsafe. I also remember the wide promenade beside the river with no one on it. Now it is full of cyclists; you cross at your peril.

Amsterdam was our final stop. We spent our last morning in the Rijksmuseum, concentrating on the Rembrandt section where we were able to admire a beautiful display and interpretation of The Night Watch. We also saw the most amazing collection of dolls’ houses. We then went back to the ship to pack and get ready for our return to the UK early the following morning.



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