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Exploring Germany: A drive on Wienstrasse ( Wine Route)

The Travels of a Journalist—9

By Shelton A. Gunaratne © 2010

(January 31, Washington, Sri Lanka Guardian) As a habit, I invariably combined my professional (journalistic) and scholarly interests in planning my travels. My winter 1992 tour of the Rhine Valley wine route (Wienstrasse) and the Black Forest (Schwarzwold) was no exception.

I had made arrangements to visit the editorial office of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) one of the superb elite newspapers of the world and to enjoy the luxury of a grand hotel before I set off to the Black Forest to write a free-lance travel piece for The (Fargo, N D) Forum.

My flight landed in Frankfurt-am-Main Airport just before 9.30 a.m. on a Friday (28 Feb 1992). I rented a stick shift Ford Fiat from Hertz at the airport. After getting lost several times, I finally got to the FAZ office at Hellerhofstrasse about noon. Because I was both a journalist and a professor of international communication, I received a warm welcome from managing editor Werner D’Inka whom I interviewed for about one hour. We discussed the possibilities for American students to work as FAZ interns and as foreign correspondents. (D’Inka became co-editor of FAZ in 2005, and he still continues in that position).

Then I drove 40 km west straight to Wiesbaden (population 275,000), the capital of the federal state of Hessen, on A66 and checked in at Hotel Nassauer Hof on Kaiser Friedrich Platz, one of Europe’s remaining grand hotels. Julia Reichert, the guest relations officer of the hotel, showed me all the facilities of the establishment, including the luxury suites graced by eminent celebrities. Later in the evening, I was the dinner guest of Heidi Gokeler, the hotel’s executive secretary. Finishing the full-course dinner European style at the restaurant Die Ente von Lehel took us about three hours. After dinner, I visited the Kurhaus Bath Quarter (Kurviertel) located around the Wilhelmstrase promenade, the Brunnenkolonnade and the Spa Park (Kurpark).

I learned that the Nassauer Hof had blended wellness, physical fitness and beauty on its fifth floor facility to create an oasis of well being with an ambience of subtle design. The next morning, a hotel employee of Sri Lankan Tamil origin directed me to the hotel’s thermal pool. Guests walked on light brown bamboo floors in a winter garden-like atmosphere and relaxed on teak loungers in front of arched windows.

I visited the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Elizabeth and made it to the summit of the Neroberg Hill to get a panoramic view of Wiesbaden late morning. Then, I headed southward for Mainz (population 200,300), the capital of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, across the River Rhine. Although these two capitals are only 15 km apart, I lost my way a few times before I reached Mainz around mid-afternoon.

Lying at the confluence of the Rhine and the Main, the city is noted for its fine university named after Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468), the supposed inventor of movable type and the printing press. Gutenberg was born in Mainz, where he also died. (Now, it is widely accepted that Bi Sheng, a Chinese alchemist, experimented with movable type for eight years from 1041—four centuries before Gutenberg.). The Gutenberg Museum in the city proudly exhibits the original Bible that Gutenberg printed in the mid—15th century.

Mainz also serves as a center of Germany’s wine industry with the Wienstrasse, where I was heading, located within 100 km of its reach. Mainz is the home of the Haus des Deutschen Weines (House of the German Wine).

After stopping at Stadtpark to visit the Favorite Parkhotel, I drove north on Rheinestrasse to see the city’s Cathedral Quarter. I entered the 1,000-year-old Mainz Cathedral of St Martin (the Mainzer Dom) through a doorway on the Market Square. To my surprise, what I saw was a carnival going on inside. Carnivals are a regular feature in Mainz.

Luther and Worms

My plan was to stay overnight in Worms (population 86,000), another 50 km to the south. I got there on the scenic highway along the Rhine. Having got there about 6.30 p.m., I was inquiring about a place to stay when a kind-hearted old couple directed me all the way to the Youth Hostel / Jugendgästehaus Worms, Dechaneigasse 1.

Worms is Germany’s oldest city (or one of the three claimants to be the oldest with Trier and Cologne). Established by the Celts, who named it Borbetomagus, Worms became well known during the Protestant Reformation. My thoughts went back to the days when Mr. Dissanayake taught us European History at Ananda College in the mid -‘50s. The connection between the Diet of Worms and the Protestant Reformation came to my mind.
Let me dramatize the proceedings of the Diet of Worms (with the help of Wikipedia), which took up matters relating to dissident Martin Luther from 16 to 18 April 1521.
• April 16: Luther arrives in Worms. Ulrich von Pappenheim, the reichmarschall, tells Luther to appear the following day at 4 p.m. before the Diet. Jeromee Schurff, Wittenberg professor in Canon Law, acts as Luther’s lawyer before the Diet.
• April 17: The Imperial Herald Sturm and Pappenheim come for Luther. Pappenheim reminds Luther that he should speak only in answer to direct questions from the presiding officer, Johann von Eck. Eck asks if a collection of books is Luther’s and if Luther is ready to revoke his heresies. Schurff says, “Please have the titles read.” There are 25 of them, including The 95 Theses, Resolutions Concerning the 95 Theses, On the Papacy at Rome, Address to the Christian Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. Luther requests more time for a proper answer, and gets time until 4 p.m. the next day.
• April 18: Luther prays for long hours, consults with friends and mediators, and presents himself before the Diet. A large crowd gathers. Luther is no longer in awe or feeling timid. When the counselor puts the same questions to him, Luther begins, “The Most Serene Lord Emperor, illustrious princes, most clement Lords, etc.” He concedes that he lacks the etiquette of the court and admits, "They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort." Luther goes on to place his writings into three categories: (1) Works pertaining to the Protestant Reformation that no one disputed. (2) Works attacking the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy. “If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny,” Luther declares. (3) Works that attacked individuals. He apologizes for the harsh tone of these writings but insists that he cannot reject them until he could be shown from the scriptures that he is in error. Luther concludes, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

The Edict of Worms, issued on 15 May 1521, declared Luther an obstinate heretic and banned the possession or reading of his books.

On the Wienstrasse

The next morning, after eating breakfast at the youth hostel, I went for a walk in Worms mulling over the historical events while visiting the Romanesque Cathedral and the Church of St Martin (both built in the 13th century). I also went to pay my respects to the Luther Monument (Lutherdenkmal) and the Jewish Cemetery.

Then I set out to explore the Wienstrasse (officially opened in October 1935), which runs approximately 85 km from the Alsace-Palatinate (French-German) border to north of the Palatinate Forest along B 38 and B 271 terminating at the House of German Wine in Bockenheim, which is just 15 km west of Worms.

Although the geography was clear in mind, I still lost my way when I found myself in Horchheim, where a young man asked me to follow him until I was on the correct road to the Wienstrasse. He left me at Dirmstein in the vicinity of the wine route. I looked around me to see vast stretches of plains with vineyards prospering under the watchful eyes of the Hardt Mountains. Being the warmest region in Germany, this area is most conducive to the cultivation of figs, lemons, grapes and the like. The almond blossoms, which painted the area pink and white, pleased me.

I stopped at Frensheim because the ramparts encircling it and its 12th century church intrigued me.

Then I crossed more vineyards to get to Weisenheim am Berg, where I joined the official wine route and proceeded driving southward tasting wine at places that caught my fancy. (Although I was not a habitual wine drinker, I was not averse to wine tasting, which I first did during a visit to Napa Valley in California during my travels as a WPI journalist.)

The spa park in Bad Durkheim caught my special attention. I stopped there for a leisurely walk. Bad Durkheim hosts the world’s largest wine festival every September at the Wurstmarkt in front of the world’s largest wine barrel. I drove past the wine towns of Wachenheim and Deidisheim and stopped at Neustadt an der Wienstrasse to fill up my rented car.

Just to the south of Neustadt, I stopped to see the Hambach Castle, considered to be the symbol of the German democracy movement because of the Hambacher Fest that took place in its premises in 1832. Although parking was free, a young lady at the parking lot was seeking donations.

I turned west at Maikammer to go to the Kalmit (673 m) lookout, the second highest point in the Palatinate. A short walk uphill to a "Pfaelzerwaldhuette" rewards the visitor with great views of the upper Rhine Valley in the east. On the way back, I also stopped at the tiny town of St. Martin, the location of Kropsburg, once the residence of the highest barons of the Reich, the knights of Dahlberg.

Fascinated by the enchanting beauty of the area, I decided to stay overnight at the nearby town of Edenkoben (population 6,800), where I checked in at Pfaltzer Hof. A German couple, Walter and Margaret Ecker from Karlsruhe, joined me for dinner and conversation.

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel next morning, I paid a visit to the nearby Villa Ludwigshohe, the Italian-style summer residence of Ludwig I of Bavaria. Ludwig bought the grounds from the municipalities of Edenkoben and Rhodt in 1845 and built the castle in 1852. The abdication of Ludwig I in 1848 delayed its construction. The villa now houses the Max Slevogt gallery.

My “discovery” of the charm of Pfaltzer Wald committed me to spend an additional day to go deeper into the forest. Thus, after leaving Edenkoben, I headed 50 km west to Dahn (population 4,800) via Rhodt under Rietburg (known for its 350-year-old Traminer vineyard, the oldest in Germany), Frankweiler and Annweiler am Trifels, where I stopped to see the ruins of the castle of Trifels on the Sonnenberg (493 m).

Rain spoilt my enjoyment of the steep climb to the castle, where Richard the Lionhearted of England was imprisoned in April 1193 after his return from the crusades. Trifels (three-fold rock) occupies one of the three peaks arising from the split of a red sandstone mountain. Anebos Castle is on one peak and Munz Castle is on the other.

Dahn, a rock-encircled country resort lying on the headwaters of the Lauter creek just 15 km from the Alsace-Palatinate border, was the ideal place for me to spend my last night in Rhineland-Palatinate. The place is a magnet for rock-climbers. Its landmark is the 70- meter high Jungfernsprung rock. Spending the night at Jugendherberge Dahn Am Wachtfelsen 1 was a pleasure because it gave me much needed rest and time to prepare for my adventures in the Black Forest.

NEXT – Exploring Germany: A drive in Schwarzwold (Black Forest)

(The writer is professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead)

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