Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rhein Wein All The Time

At the tail end of my second summer Europe tour we spent a day in Rüdesheim am Rhein. As its official name suggests this small Hessian village is located on the Rhine. The so-called "Rhine Gorge" is a picturesque segment of this river as it straddles the border of Hesse and Rheinland-Pfalz. The scenic rolling hills, countless vineyards, and historical structures in the immediate vicinity draw more foreign tourists to tiny Rüdesheim than anywhere in Germany after Cologne Cathedral.

Rüdesheim sits almost directly across the river from Bingen, the birthplace of Hildegard, one of the medieval world's most fascinating personalities. Despite being disadvantaged because of her sex, Hildegard counselled popes and saints, abbots and emperors. (She was also author, abbess, linguist, composer, naturalist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeller, visionary, and polymath). In 1165 she founded a Benedictine Abbey on a hill over Rüdesheim at Eibingen. The secularization of the early 19th century dissolved Eibingen Abbey but a century later in 1904 Prince Karl zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, a wealthy Catholic nobleman, reestablished it. Today this house belongs to the Beuronese Congregation of Benedictines.

The reconstructed Eibingen abbey complex features a neo-Romanesque church in rough stone, renowned for its Beuronese decor. The gardens in front of the church contain a beautiful contemporary sculpture of the local patroness. Nuns of this house work vineyards on the surrounding slopes. I missed the winetasting but heard it was phenomenal— labels employ motifs from Hildegard's artwork.

Rüdesheim has more wine in one small space than I have ever encountered. It was okay. Our hotel nudged up against the Drosselgasse, a narrow 15th century alley crammed with souvenir stores, and wine shops. The area produces fine Rieslings. We enjoyed many of these local wines during our night at Rüdesheim— perhaps too many for the 10 hour flight the next morning! Ansbach was tasty too.

Ansbach, a locally distilled Uralt Brandy, finds its way into nearly all souvenir shops and caffeinated beverages— Rüdesheimer Kaffee is not your cup of Folgers! We visited a bar adjacent to the hotel for this local treat. The waitress lit some Ansbach and sugar on fire and doused it with steamed coffee. A generous dollop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings crown this delectable beverage.

The Niederwalddenkmal looms nearby on a promontory just west of town. Kaiser Wilhelm I laid the foundation stone for this massive monument to German unification in 1871. All creepy overtones of nationalism aside, this giant statue of Germania which was completed in 1883 looks impressive. The location affords a breathtaking view of the Rhine valley as well. I could just picture Wagner and the gods high in Valhalla...looking enviously down upon the Rhine Maidens— Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde frolick and sing merrily keeping watch over Das Rheingold...and then comes an ugly dwarf Alberich— "I wants the gold" etc. Who's up for 15 hours of voice killing sonic meat and potatoes?

We got lost as we drove up to the Niederwalddenkmal and found ourselves in the middle of a Rheingau field. It wasn't so bad.

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