ALSACE-LORRAINE 2006 - Week 9

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WEEK 9 NEWS - the Mosel Valley through Germany:

We had followed the River Moselle, virtually from its source high in the Vosges mountains, and across Lorraine through the cities of Nancy and Metz. The plan for the final stage of this trip was to follow the river as it meandered through Germany, changing its name to the Mosel, for a further 250 kms ultimately to its confluence with the Rhine at Koblenz. In contrast with earlier weather, we were at last to be rewarded with some glowing autumn sunshine; so for this trip's final edition, we have 2 pages of photographs.
                                                   Click on map for details 
After another night of heavy rain, we left our final camp in Lorraine on a heavily overcast morning, a chill autumn wind rustling the trees and bringing down more leaves. Our route was to take us through the SE corner-tip of Luxembourg, at Schengen, sandwiched between France and Germany; the village had given its name to the Accord declaring open 'Schengen' borders between EU states. The main street is one continuous series of filling stations where vehicles queue for cheap fuel at €0.87/litre. And 5 minutes after entering Luxembourg, we crossed the Mosel into Germany.

But a chastening shock awaited us. Weeks of heavy rain in the Vosges had swollen the river beyond Metz 3 metres above normal levels, washing away trees, flooding surrounding areas and closing roads. At Nennig just across the border, there should have been 2 riverside campsites; both had been overwhelmed by the swollen river, leaving waterlogged devastation and a generous covering of stinking river-mud. That evening we retreated to higher ground between the Mosel and Saar rivers at Saarberg, but what did this bode for villages and campsites further downstream? Despite its setting in a woodland valley, Campingplatz Waldfrieden was run by the most surly, ill-mannered and unresponsively unhelpful people ever encountered (were they deliberately trying to live-out the sour-faced German stereotype, we wondered); it is a place to be avoided at all costs. By contrast, at Camping Treviris at Trier, we were greeted with smiling courtesy; the campsite is not the most attractive, but to our relief, was safely above river-level and within walking distance of this delightful city, allegedly the oldest in Germany; a medieval inscription claims Ante Romam Treviris stetit annis mille trecentis. 1,300 years before Rome is a bit of a tall order, but Trier was certainly founded as a Roman colony in 16 BC, and its Roman remains (imperial baths and palace and a magnificently preserved amphitheatre) and the pre-Carolingian Cathedral, are worthy testimony to its illustrious past. In lovely autumn sunshine (yes sunshine!), we spent a happy afternoon admiring the town with its busy market-place (Photos 1 and 2).

North of Trier we reached Trittenheim, a classic Mosel wine-village, where the river traces a spectacular meander, turning through 180 degrees. The large village is clustered along the banks of the Mosel around the bridge at the apex of the meander (Photo 3). The Mosel is still a busy river, with huge barges transporting bulk coal to power stations further upstream and tanker-barges ferrying oil and gas past the steep vine-covered river-bank (Photo 4). This idyllic part of the central Mosel valley is wine country par excellence, and here among the vines we stayed at Campingplatz Im Grünen run by the Schuck family. And the campsite with its lush turf certainly lived up to its green-sounding name: it was a delightful setting, bounded by walnut trees and the valley-bottom vines along the river bank, and overlooked by the steep vine-covered slopes on the far bank (Photo 5). It was grape-harvesting time and the village was busy with tractors bringing in the grapes. The following morning, while autumn mist still filled the valley, we climbed up the high eastern bank overlooking the river and village to examine the vines at close quarters. The steep vine-covered slopes dropped at a staggering 60 degrees; how in today's safety-conscious world were grapes harvested at such a hazardous angle? From this vantage point, we could look down across the full sweep of the river's meander with Trittenheim spread out on the far bank beyond the bridge (Photo 6). Most of the grapes, particularly on the steeper slopes are harvested by hand (Photo 7) but on the flatter valley-bottoms, machine-harvesting is increasingly used (Photo 8). As we watched the harvesting at work, the vigneron showed us the ripened grapes and explained to us the significance of the 'Noble Rot': the Botrytis fungus attacks the grape berries, and if the grapes are ripe and healthy, and the ambient conditions are alternately damp and sunny as on Autumn mornings, the 'Noble Rot' shrivels the grapes and concentrates the natural sugar enabling top quality sweeter wines to be produced. Looking at the wizened and mouldy-looking grapes, it seemed hard to believe that this was a benevolent condition (see sub-picture on Photo 6). Trittenheim had been a jewel.

Further along the Mosel, we hoped to find more places like Trittenheim, but where our map indicated campsites, these turned out to be sordidly fetid mud-patches overcrowded with noisy holiday-making Germans seemingly indifferent to such squalid surroundings. There was no option but to continue on to Cochem in the hope that the town campsite was acceptable. It wasn't. Again overcrowded with monstrous camping-cars packed in like sardines, it was such an alien world, amid folk who seemed unable to cope for even a brief week without bringing with them all their materialistic accoutrements. While it was mildly entertaining watching them spending long hours tuning in their gargantuan satellite dishes, the noise of TVs blaring out the German moronic equivalent of Eastenders induced paranoia. The indifference towards the impact of their noise on other people seemed to epitomise today's loutish society. It was all a million miles from the peacefully straightforward life-style we had chosen. But Cochem it had to be, so that we could catch the train into Koblenz to complete our Moselle pilgrimage. And what of Cochem? Well, the best you could say was that the gloomy weather didn't help: having seen the railway tunnel (according to the Tourist Office brochure, one of the town's highlights), eaten a unprecedentedly mediocre lunch, and failed to find a worthwhile shop for provisions, that summed up Cochem. A visit to the Aldi 'supermarket' was the most underwhelming shopping experience ever, despite the hoards of Germans flocking there. Such a nutritionally impoverished race, their interminable diet of sausages and sour cabbage perhaps explains their woeful 20th century history of invading other civilised countries leaving a trail of atrocities in their wake - they were simply searching for edible food!
                  
Thankful to leave Cochem behind, we reached the delightful wine village of Pommern (Photo 9), and here we found not only a peaceful campsite but also a railway-halt where the Koblenz trains also stopped - what a wonderful attribute is hindsight. We had made an appointment to visit one of the local producers, Rieslinghof Schützen-Mies, whose wine we had previously drunk at Brodenbach. We were received with warm hospitality by the Winzermeister, Herr Günther Mies, and his wife for an enjoyable tasting session in their sunlit courtyard (Photo 10), and a visit to their cellars where this year's new wine was fermenting vigorously. A box of their excellent Riesling added further to our camper's already overladen burden. After stops at the beautiful riverside villages of Beilstein (Photo 11) and Hatzenport (Photo 12), we reached Brodenbach. On a bright, blue-skied afternoon, with the sun glinting across the Yacht-hafen (Photo 13), and the now peaceful Mosel flowing gently by, it seemed so far from the dark, rather forbidding place we had known when staying at Vogelsang ('Birdsong') Camping in March on drives across the Continent on previous trips. It scarcely seemed credible that this was the same river we had seen just over a week ago in raging torrent. That evening, we walked back down to the village for our customary drink at the Yacht-hafen bar, exactly as always, preserved in a time warp, and as before we were welcomed with goblets of luscious Mosel wine. And in the morning, the mist wafted mysteriously across the river (Photo 14) before the sun finally broke through, transforming the cold, damp morning into a bright sunny autumn day for our visit to some of the nearby Mosel villages (Photo 15), and of course more sampling of their wines.

The climax of our Mosel(le) peregrination was to visit its confluence with the Rhine at Koblenz. The Mosel valley railway ambled around the sweeping meanders past delightful river-side villages such as Pommern, Müden, Moselkern, Burgen, Brodenbach, Alken, Oberfell, Lehmen, Niederfell and Dieblich.  With unsmiling Germanic efficiency, the official (no other description would fit!) at the Koblenz Tourist Office issued us with city-plan and instructions as to what we should see in his city. Ignoring all of this, we headed along to the Rhine embankment. Although the Alsace Wine Road had followed the broad Rhine valley, this was our first sighting this trip of the mighty waterway, which, judging from the number of huge barges, is still an important European trade-route. In the garden of the former Elector's palace along the river-bank, an allegorical statue portrayed Vater Rhein as a bearded old man embracing a rather nubile and decidedly naked young Mutter Mosel (see right). And a little further along the embankment, we reached the prow-shaped spit of land which protrudes into the confluence of the 2 rivers (see left), the so-called German Corner (Deutsches Eck). But having travelled virtually the whole 544 km of the Mosel(le), and witnessed the river in its wildest spate, this final phase was something of an anticlimax; what were we expecting?  With not even a whimper, the waters of Mutter Mosel were lost into those of Vater Rhein (Photo 16). And imperiously dominating this peaceful natural setting was a monstrously oversized equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I (whose grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II inflicted WW1 on the world), set on an unsightly blackened granite monolithic plinth (see right). With its grotesquely exaggerated proportions and domineering tone, the statue seemed an apt symbol of the Germanic national character. It was destroyed in 1945 as the Allies crossed the Rhine, but reinstated in 1993; was this the ultimate gesture of daft political correctness? On such a note, we felt we had reached the culmination of this current trip, and turned for the railway station.

The following morning, as the autumn mist lifted above the pines at Vogelsang Camping and wafted across the Mosel, we left Brodenbach to begin our drive across Belgium back towards Calais. This had been a markedly different trip from others: despite being shorter in distance, (we shall have travelled only 2,800 miles), it had been distinctly less relaxing. The seemingly endless wet and gloomy weather eclipsed any recollection of the glorious summer days along the Alsace Wine Road and the refreshing autumn sunshine along the Mosel. Paul's hospitalisation at Reims was a thankfully brief but unwelcome intrusion into the trip - remember, always carry your E111s. Although we felt that the time spent at the Somme and Verdun represented a fundamental obligation to that generation who at such personal cost resisted German aggression, the psychological impact was profound - as of course it should be. Perhaps we should suggest that Mr Blair makes a week in the Somme mud an obligatory part of the National Curriculum - and you thought He had a monopoly on silly ideas! But the most pessimistic memory was the over-commercialisation of French rural campsites with 'creeping staticism' crowding out visiting emplacements. Where do you go to avoid the overcrowding and 'mobile materialism' and escape the seemingly omni-present noise of satellite TVs to which western Homo Philistinus is self-indulgently addicted? The number of memorably idyllic campsites with hospitably welcoming owners and peaceful environment could be counted on less than one hand. But to offset that wretched fact, we have been privileged to meet along the way some delightfully empathetic fellow-travellers with whom to share experiences and to keep in touch by email.

And 2007 ? .... plans are already afoot for a trip to remoter parts; as usual, no clues at this stage. Before that however, there's a busy winter ahead, as the backlog of log-writing and photo-editing grows longer. We do hope you have enjoyed sharing our travels via the web site, and for those who have emailed us, we thank you for your welcome companionship. Stay tuned ....

Sheila and Paul                                                                               Published: Sunday 29 October

Music this week:  J S Bach
Harpsichord Concerto no 6 in F BWV1057


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