About Germany
Home Up

Rhine 2015 Home Page About Germany Rhine Passengers Rhine Registration

About Germany

An Overview of the Rhine, the Swiss Alps and a Look at the History of Germany

Written by Rick Archer
March 2014

A Note from Rick:  

I have never been more excited about a trip than I am about Rhine River 2015.

My reasons are easy to list - the luxury of a Longship, incredible scenery visible from the comfort of my cabin, and the benefits of learning the history and culture of Germany, one of the world's most important countries. 

Marla and I understand that river cruise trips are expensive.  The the lowest cost of a cabin starts above $2,000 per person.

At the same time, if you stop and think about it, a river cruise promises great value for your hard-earned money. 

I am absolutely convinced this trip will reward our passengers with one of the best vacations imaginable, but I don't expect you to simply take my word for it.  Therefore the purpose of my "About Germany" article is to point out the many things about this trip I think are interesting. 

Hopefully you will begin to share my view that Germany is a fascinating place to visit.

Germany and Switzerland are considered two of the most beautiful countries in the world.  I love mountains, I love forests, and I love rivers.  I also love history.  Germany certainly has all the above in great abundance.

I also love fun!  I grin at the thought of spending an evening in the medieval town of Rüdesheim drinking beer with my wife and friends while we dance the German Polka to an oompah band!

France is beautiful as well.  When we visit the wine town of Strasbourg, we will see how the French have built their city around a river that passes through the center of town. Bridges and canals abound!  One thing the Europeans do very well is create beauty along the banks of their rivers.  Through careful landscaping and tasteful architecture, Strasbourg is the perfect example of a town that has made its lovely river a work of art.

Speaking of bridges and canals, what about Amsterdam, our last stop?  This fabled city is built on a river delta that brings huge amounts of water to the center of town.  An intricate canal system featuring four concentric rings of canals is the ingenious way the Dutch have solved their water problem.

Rüdesheim, Strasbourg and Amsterdam are just a few of the many highlights on this trip.  There are plenty more. 

Before we begin, I would like to share two small coincidences. 


As most of you know, in April 2014 we have Rhone 2014, our first river cruise.  Rhine 2015 will be our second river cruise. During my research, I learned that the source of the Rhine and the source of the Rhone high in the Swiss Alps are only 12 miles apart.  A hiker can literally walk from one spot to the other! 

Considering the Rhine finishes in the North Sea and the Rhone finishes in the Mediterranean Sea 600 miles apart, I think it is really cool that two rivers separated by only a single valley can end up going in two different directions and end up so far apart.

Then I had another thought.  Isn't it interesting how closely these two trips are linked?   France and Germany - joined at the hip by the Alps and the Rhine River.  So much history together, so much in common and yet century after century of fighting.

At this very moment, we are witnessing the longest prolonged stretch of peace in the entire history of these two amazing countries.  Let's enjoy it! 


On the very same day that I published my story about Germany, I received an email from Viking River Cruises announcing the christening of 16 new ships.  This event included the Hermod (Rhone 2014) and the Kvasir (Rhine 2015), the ships scheduled to take us on our back to back trips.

Here is some of what the announcement said:

From: Viking Cruises
Sent: Friday, March 21, 2014 1:58 PM
To: rick@ssqq.com
Subject: Viking Launches 16 New Ships in Europe!



Viking Cruises® set a new world record with the inauguration of its newest Viking Longships®.

In a multi-phased event taking place over 24 hours, the company christened 16 of its award-winning Viking Longships – nine were christened in Amsterdam; four were christened in Rostock, Germany; and three were christened in Avignon, France.

The first-of-its kind ceremony was subsequently certified by a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ adjudicator as ‘The Most Ships Inaugurated in One Day by One Company.’

Viking already held the previous record, having christened 10 new ships in one day in 2013.

All of Viking’s new ships will be deployed on its most popular itineraries in Europe, and 2014 marks the first year that the company’s award-winning Longships® will sail in France.

Since debuting in 2012, Viking Longships have amassed a long list of prestigious awards. They recently topped Condé Nast Traveler’s annual readers’ Cruise Poll for best river cruise ships – with Viking Odin specifically being named the #1 top-ranking river cruise ship – and the entire class of vessels was named “Best New River Ships of 2012” in Cruise Critic’s® Editors’ Picks Awards.

The expansion of Viking’s fleet comes as a response to increased traveler demand for destination-focused cruises.

(view 5 minute video of this inauguration)

It was a cute video.  It showed 16 different women cutting the ribbon to release a champagne bottle to smash on the ship.

Incidentally, the announcement came as a complete surprise to me.  I had no idea what Viking was up to.  That said, I smiled at the knowledge Viking made all these launches on the very same day I published my Germany story.  I took it as a good omen.

Personally speaking, I love coincidences.  There is something about coincidences that makes me wonder if there is more to this world than meets the eye. 

Why is Viking so Confident? 

The massive launch of new ships underscores a huge rise in interest in river cruises.  Apparently sales are going through the roof.  This Cruise Critic blurb is an example of the fuss being made within the industry over river cruises:

The biggest name in the mid-priced tier of river cruises, Viking Cruises, is holding fast to its traditional onboard offerings (price includes shore excursions and beer and wine at meal times). 

will be undergoing another huge expansion in 2014, adding 14 new ships and new itineraries in France and Southeast Asia.  (cruise trends)

Cruise Critic was definitely correct about that huge expansion.  Not only did Viking christen 16 new ships on March 19, Viking also christened 10 new ships in 2013. That makes 26 new ships in two years. Viking clearly anticipates a surge in demand.

One has to wonder what they know that accounts for their ambitious expansion project.

My guess is that they have done their homework.  Their projections show the general public has finally caught on that a river cruise is superior in many ways to an ocean cruise.

I read an article that said the river cruise idea is fairly recent.  Viking Cruise Line was the first to take the concept global.

Viking started in 1997 with several cruises on Russian rivers.  The idea took off like a flash and Viking has grown as the interest has grown.  The company has concluded the general public is just now starting to catch on.  I suppose the word for that is "trending". Viking anticipates a demand will kick in shortly and wants to be ready to catch the surge at its peak. 

I wouldn't bet against them.  Marla is the expert.  She's the one who predicted Carnival was headed for rough waters NINE MONTHS before their run of problems in early 2013.  On the other hand, Marla feels exactly the OPPOSITE about Viking

Marla explained to me that Viking definitely knows what it is doing.  Based on her experience while organizing the Rhone 2014 trip, Marla was pleased to find this is the most efficient cruise line she has ever worked with.  Marla says Viking has an intriguing business model and some of the most creative ideas for creating customer satisfaction she has ever come across.


So the Viking Hermod was christened on March 19th and we sail on April 13th.  Our Rhone 2014 group of 34 will be traveling on a brand new Longship making only its fourth voyage

How about that for being in the right place at the right time?

Give the credit to Marla.  Marla made the right call on this "River Cruise" idea before it became fashionable.  I give my wife high marks for taking her cruise group into 'river cruises' a full year BEFORE the rest of the world figured it out. 

At the time of her decision, Marla understood that she was taking a chance asking people to spring for a higher priced trip. 

But her instincts said the trip was so special people would see it was worth the higher price.  Here is how Marla explained it:

"Rick, half of an ocean cruise is spent on water looking at nothing.  What if there were no days at sea?  What if a cruise constantly gave you something wonderful to look at? 

What if the trip visited areas of historical significance?  What if you could just step off a boat and walk directly to the center of each town?  What if the excursions were free and you had the chance to actually learn something about the places you visit?   

What if there was practically no wasted time and you never had to stand in a line?   What if you got all the wine you could possibly drink at each mealtime?   What if you never had to worry about getting back to the ship on time?"

I smiled.  Very persuasive!  I didn't hesitate.  Sign me up!

Marla made an educated guess that many people in her cruise group felt exactly the same way she and I did.  If the idea knocked our socks off, Marla was sure other people would feel the same way.  Yes, a river cruise would cost more than an ocean cruise, but look at what we were getting in return!

So Marla booked her first cruise, Rhone 2014, a year ago.  To her delight, Marla sold 17% of all the cabins on the ship on HER FIRST TRY.  In other words, a lot of people agreed with her - a river cruise promised to deliver a vacation experience on a whole different level.  To heck with the cost; the thought of seeing France / Germany on a river trip was well worth taking a chance.


The Rhine 2015 River Cruise will mark Marla's 32nd trip.  At this point, Marla has as much cruise experience as any travel agent in Houston.   What makes Marla special is her thoroughness.  Marla makes sure every detail is covered for every passenger. 

Most of you know the legend of how Marla got started as a travel agent, but if you don't, here is the link to Marla's bio.

I am eternally grateful to Marla because she has given me a chance to see the world.  When it comes to travel, Marla is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met.  I realize it is odd to say this, but I feel safe on these trips because I know it was Marla who planned the trip.

I am comfortable because I know Marla has researched everything well in advance.  Every venue, every means of transportation, every ground rule, what to bring, every money issue... Marla knows the all the ropes and all the tricks.

In other words, when it comes to these travel adventures, I am just like everyone else in the group - I look to Marla to be our guide and take care of us.  There are so many things that can go wrong on a trip that it is reassuring to have an expert along.

I consider Marla to be extraordinarily gifted at what she does. I will say without hesitation that I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have Marla as my leader.  And you should too.

And now let's begin our story About Germany and the Rhine!

This same Ribbon Cutting - Champagne Splashing
Christening Ceremony took place 16 times in one day!


When asked what is special about the Rhine, the first thing that comes to my mind is the constant warfare.

Did you know the recorded history of the Rhine started with Caesar's Gallia?   The Germanic people had no written language, but they did know how to fight.  Caesar warned Rome that "Germania" was dangerous, but Rome didn't listen.  

Germania would not only begin the "Decline of the Roman Empire", Germania would also put the final stake in its heart. 

The Rhine has seen centuries of constant raids across the river and countless war.  As a way to deal with the threat of yet another surprise attack, during the Medieval Era, the Germans built one castle after another to keep the Franks out. 

For that matter, the Franks built one castle after another to keep the Germans out.  Consequently, today there are castles upon castles looming high above the Rhine River.  This amazing spectacle explains why our trip is called "Castles on the Rhine".



The Legend of Lorelei Rock

This imposing cliff is Lorelei Rock.  This outcropping is a famous landmark on the Rhine River.  It overlooks the most narrow part of the river.  Apparently many ships have crashed here. 

That faint red slash in the background marks the presence of Burg Katz, a magnificent castle located half a mile further down the river.  Burg Katz and the Lorelei Rock are considered a pair.  Together, these two landmarks are the most photographed part of the Rhine River.

In the picture above, note the depth of the river compared to the land on top. In a manner similar to America's Grand Canyon, over the centuries the Rhine River has carved a huge valley out of the soft slate rock.  There are literally two worlds here - the Land Above and the Land Time Forgot down at the river level.

Lorelei Rock is the center of a long stretch of the Rhine known as the Rhine GorgeLorelei Rock is said to be the home of the Lorelei Mermaids.  Legend says that if you listen carefully, you can hear an echo of their song.

So who are the Lorelei?  They are beautiful German mermaids who serve as the mythical counterpart to the stunning but deadly Sirens of Greek mythology mentioned in Homer's Odyssey.

According to German legend, it started with a woman who threw herself headlong into the river in despair over a faithless lover.  Upon her death she was transformed into a siren.  From that time on she could be heard singing on this rock high above the Rhine River.  Her hypnotic music lured sailors to their death.

In 1801, German author Clemens Brentano further popularized the legend with his sad story of a heartbroken enchantress.  In Brentano's poem, the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, was accused of bewitching men and causing their death. She was found guilty.

Seeing the sadness in her eyes, the bishop took pity. Rather than sentence her to death, he consigned her to a nunnery.

On the way to the nunnery, Lore Lay was accompanied by three knights.  By chance, they passed what is now known as the Lorelei Rock.  Lore Lay asked permission to climb out to the edge and view the Rhine one last time.  She did so and then surprised the guards by throwing herself to her death.  The Norse Gods took note of her sorrow and transformed her into a Siren.  They made sure the rock retained a permanent echo of her name. 

Thanks in large part to an 1824 poem by the famed German author Heinrich Heine, the Lorelei myth was expanded.  In Heine's version, it was no longer just one woman, but rather an entire group of maidens who sit upon this rock.

As these stunning women sit upon the cliff overlooking the Rhine, they comb their long hair and sing their song.  As the sailors pass by, they hear the song of the Lorelei and look up.

At this point, the Lorelei unwittingly distract the shipmen below with their beauty and their song.  The sailors become hypnotized. They lose all track of their task, thus causing them to crash to their death upon the treacherous rocks below.


The Song of the Lorelei
Heinrich Heine

I know not, what does it mean
That I am so sad.
A legend of of bygone days
That I cannot keep out of my mind.

The air is cool and night is coming.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain dazzles
With evening's final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
Up there, a beautiful delight,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She's combing her golden hair.

She holds a golden comb,
Singing along as well
An enthralling
And spellbinding melody.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized by it with a savage woe,
He does not look upon the rocky ledge
But rather high up into the heavens.

I think in the end
the waves will devour
The boatman and his boat
And this by her song's sheer power
Fair Loreley has done.

Burg Katz Castle and Lorelei Rock are a half mile apart.  These  two pictures show the castle and the Rock from different directions.

Burg Katz and Lorelei Rock are linked. As the most interesting point in the 60 mile long 'Rhine Gorge', this spot has become the symbol of most river cruises on the Rhine.  Burg Katz and Lorelei Rock are easily the most photographed segment of the entire river.

This picture is a perfect illustration of the Two Worlds of The Rhine Gorge.  The Rhine has carved a canyon of sorts.  Up above is an entirely different world.  It is the modern world complete with cities and farms and highways and traffic.  Down below is the Land that Time Forgot.  The entire stretch of the Rhine Gorge is not only lined with castles above, but down at the river level our ship will pass one quaint "Old German" town after another. 

There is only one way to truly appreciate the spectacle of these Medieval towns and the castles looming above, but I am not going to tell you what it is.

Figure it out.  

The Lost World of the Rhine Gorge

The Rhine Gorge is part of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.  This halfway point on our journey is considered one of the most famous locations in all of Germany.

Between Rüdesheim, Koblenz and Bonn, the Rhine cuts deeply through slate mountains to create a gigantic canyon-like gorge.

The Rhine Gorge is 60 miles long.  It is lined with a seemingly endless string of castles, palaces and vineyards stationed high on the hills above.  The Rhine runs through the area like a sunken ditch with 650 foot hills rising on either side.

This is also wine country.  Many of the steep slopes are terraced with vineyards.  For example, as the Rhine passes the picturesque towns of Bingen and Rüdesheim, one can see the vineyards lined with rows of grapes that will create the famous Rhine wines.

As the Rhine meanders through hillside castles and steep fields of wine, it creates a magical mixture of beauty and legend.

This is Germany’s landscape at its most dramatic – densely forested hillsides alternating with craggy cliffs and nearly-vertical vineyards that are perfectly terraced.

Idyllic villages appear around each bend, their neat half-timbered houses and Gothic church steeples seemingly plucked from the realm of fairy tales to create a Lost World.

Meanwhile, half a mile above the river, there exists a modern world complete with highways, automobiles, rail lines, and farmers who toil in some of the richest soil Germany has to offer.

At the crest of the hills on either side run a series of ominous medieval castles. Today these castles loom over the river in ghostlike silence. Some are ruined, some are restored, all are mysterious.  They serve as a poignant reminder of Germany's long legacy of battle. These castles are the remaining vestiges of a vicious era that was anything but tranquil.

With increasing wealth, many of these castles appeared when the valley became a core region of the Holy Roman Empire.  Most castles were built by a mafia of local robber barons – knights, princes and even bishops.  These were men who extorted tolls from merchant ships by blocking their passage with iron chains stretched across the waters of the Rhine.

French troops under Louis XIV laid waste to many of the castles during the Thirty Years War.  Time and erosion did the rest.  Several castles were restored in the 19th century.  This was a time when Prussian kings, German poets and British painters rediscovered the timeless beauty of the Rhine Gorge.

There are many highlights along the way.  The famous Lorelei Rock can be seen two-thirds of the to Koblenz.  One mile past Lorelei Rock comes the incredible Katz Castle.  12 miles further is the town of Braubach featuring the impressive Marksburg Castle built so high it seems to touch the clouds above.  (Note: our ship will stop at Marksburg Castle and visit it).

If you would like a recommendation, consider watching an excellent 6-minute Youtube video on the Rhine Gorge.  The accompanying Celtic music is exhilarating and the pictures reveal the canyon-like phenomenon of this area quite well.

The Rhine Gorge is a strange place indeed. It is two worlds in one.  Up top are modern towns, wineries and farms that seem to have no relationship with the Land that Time Forgot down below. 

Down below at river level are small towns that Time Forgot.  The Rhine has acted as an important trade route through central Europe since prehistoric times.  Over time, a string of small settlements has grown up along the banks.  Constrained in size, many of these old towns such as Rüdesheim deliberately retain their original historic feel today.

Indeed, these little hamlets are living replicas of perfectly preserved "Old Germany" architecture from medieval times.  Here in this time capsule the German cuckoo clock and chalet-style buildings reign supreme once more.

Perched at the divide between the two worlds is the endless string of castles that date back 700-800 years ago.  There is said to be at least one castle on every mile of the Rhine Gorge.  Built on cliffs and bluffs overlooking the river, they seemingly guard the strange world below from the modern world above.

If it were not for the occasional barge traffic on the river, one might completely forget this is the 21st Century.  This Land that Time Forgot is a very weird, highly intriguing Lost World indeed.

Some say this area is Romantic.  Indeed, some unknown tourist agent has attempted to label this area "The Romantic Rhine". 

Personally, I think not.  Too much blood has fallen.

The Rhine has long been an object of frontier trouble.  Back in the days of the Roman Empire, the legions learned the hard way that crossing the Rhine was dangerous. In 9 AD, the Germanic tribes fought the Battle of Teutoburg Forest against the Romans.  This was one of the worst defeats the Romans ever suffered.  

The Rhine Gorge was a major battleground of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). This was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history.  The prolonged struggle against the French left many of the area's castles completely in ruins.

Napoleon tried very hard to extend France's borders beyond the Rhine, but was repelled several times by the Prussians.

No one will ever forget the brave men on both sides who died fighting along the Rhine during World War II.

Considering all the bloodshed and all the battles fought along the Rhine, this 'romantic' label simply does not feel appropriate.  

Like it or not, over the ages, the Germans have been regarded as warlike people.  Dating all the way back to Germania in the days of the Roman Empire, Germany has developed a reputation as an aggressive and powerful nation. 

This reputation started with the Huns, Goths, Visigoths, Teutons and Vandals, fierce barbarians who were a constant thorn in the side of the Romans.  Indeed, it was Alaric, King of the Visigoths, who ended the Roman Empire with his sack of Rome in 410 AD.

Next came the Teutonic Knights who became famous as the German Crusaders.  Then came the mighty Prussian warriors who created the most powerful empire in Europe back in the 18th century.  And of course we know all about the ruthless German soldiers of World War I and World War II.  Much has been forgiven, but those two wars will never be forgotten. 

Today Germany is a peaceful and prosperous land. However one suspects this country would quickly flex its muscles again if ever faced with a threat. Therefore it is no surprise that the eternal presence of these castles overlooking the Rhine has become a national symbol of Germany and a source of great national pride.

Romantic Rhine?  I think not.  A much better name for the Rhine Gorge would be the "Valley of the Castles".  

This picture of Lorelei Rock explains why this area is called the
"Rhine Gorge".  The Rhine itself carved out this enormous valley.

The Rhine Gorge is said to extend from Rüdesheim to Koblenz, a 40 mile stretch of castles, terraced vineyards and quaint towns.

However, Castle Row doesn't end at Koblenz.  Indeed, past Koblenz there is another 20 miles of castles extending all the way to Bonn. 

This picture of the Rhine River at Lorelei Rock comes from Google Earth.  It clearly demonstrates the two worlds of the Rhine Gorge.  

Down below is the Land that Time Forgot.  Notice the little white specks of ships as they sail down the Rhine... one every half mile.
On the land above the river gorge one can see modern towns and acres upon acres of farmland.  These farms were surely carved out of what once had to be a thick forest. 

The Rhine Gorge cut through a part of Germany known as the Palatinate Forest  I believe that until the farms cleared much of the land along the Rhine, this area was once completely covered with a complete blanket of forest.

Note how heavily forested the deep ravines are.  Furthermore, on the left of the picture, note how dense the forest is.  These hints suggest that during medieval times the thick forest must have been nearly impenetrable.  This explains why the waters of the Rhine became Germany's first "highway". 

The Valley of the Castles is a very strange world indeed.

The Magnificent Swiss Alps and its Rivers


Rhine, Rhone, Danube, and Italy's Po River

Did you know the Four Major Rivers of Central Europe are created by the Swiss Alps?


Rick's Note: I went a little crazy on the Swiss Rivers.  My story grew so long that I moved this story to a separate page:  

The Rivers of the Swiss Alps


A Look at the History of Germany


Rick Archer's Note:

Many of you will be surprised to learn Germany did not become a nation until 1871.  By that time, the United States was already 100 years old.  The reasons are so complicated that only a thorough retelling of the story will make any sense.

However, we can share one reason immediately... it all dates back to the Roman Empire.

Although this is an over-simplification, basically when Spain, France, and England did eventually gain their freedom from Roman domination, there was always one main tribe in the territory that had worked closely with Romans to keep order.  By aligning their fortunes with the Roman governors, when the Romans did finally leave, the main tribe was ready to step into the vacuum and take over the reins of power.

At the time of the Roman Empire, Germany was populated by countless barbarian tribes that valued their freedom fiercely.  Unlike Spain, France, and England, the Roman Empire was never able to conquer Germany... or Germania as the Romans called it.  Rome came very close, but something very strange stopped Rome in its tracks.

There was no leader in Germany when the Romans left.  This is because Germania was the only province ever to forcibly evict Rome against its will.  Once Rome was gone, there was no central leader to take their place.

Instead, there were many leaders and many tribes, none of whom had the strength or the inclination to take on the other tribes.  Each tribe was left alone to become strong within its own domain.   

Without any central authority to say otherwise, Germany was completely divided right from the start, a situation that was to last for 2,000 years.  As a result, the German territory was free to take a radically different course to nationhood than its neighboring territories. 

Put on your seat belts. This is quite a story. 

The History of Germany

Rhine 2015 Home Page About Germany Rhine Passengers Rhine Registration
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ