The Rhine To Heidelberg
( Originally Published 1889 )
HEIDELBERG, August 30,
Here at last ! and a most glorious place it is. This is our first morning in our new rooms, and the sun streams warmly in the eastern windows, as I write. while the old castle rises through the blue vapor on the side of the Kaiser-stuhl. The Neckar rushes on below; and the Odenwald, before me, rejoices with its vineyards in the morning light. The bells of the old chapel near us are sounding most musically, and a confused sound of voices and the rolling of vehicles comes up from the street. It is a place to live in !
I must go back five or six days and take up the record of our journeyings at Bonn. We had been looking over Murray's infallible "Hand-book," and observed that he recommended the "Star" hotel in that city, as "the most moderate in its prices of any on the Rhine; " so when the train from Cologne arrived and we were surrounded, in the darkness and confusion, by porters and valets, I sung out: "Hotel de l'Etoile d'or! our baggage and ourselves were transferred to a stylish omnibus, and in five minutes we stopped under a brilliantly-lighted archway, where Mr. Joseph Schmidt received us with the
usual number of smiles and bows bestowed upon untitled guests. We were furnished with neat rooms in the summit of the house, and then descended to the salle à manger. I found a folded note by my plate, which I opened-it contained an engraving of the front of the hotel, a plan of the city and catalogue of its lions, together with a list of the titled personages who have, from time to time, honored the " Golden Star" with their custom. Among this number were " Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Albert," etc. Had it not been for fatigue, I should have spent an uneasy night, thinking of the heavy bill which was to be presented on the morrow. We escaped, how-ever, for seven francs apiece, three of which were undoubtedly for the honor of breathing an aristocratic atmosphere.
I was glad when we were really in motion on the swift Rhine, the next morning, and nearing the chain of mountains that rose up before us. We passed Godesberg on the right, while on our left was the group of the seven mountains which extend back from the Drachenfels to the Wolkenberg, or Castle of the Clouds. Here we begin to enter the enchanted land. The Rhine sweeps around the foot of the Drachenfels, while opposite the precipitous rock of 'Rolandseck, crowned with the castle of the faithful knight, looks down upon the beautiful Islands of Nonnenwerth, the white walls of the convent still gleaming through the trees, as they did when the warrior's weary eyes looked upon them for the last time. I shall never forget the enthusiasm with which I saw this scene in the bright, warm sun-light, the rough crags softened in the haze which filled the atmosphere, and the wild mountains springing up in the midst of vineyards, and crowned with crumbling towers, filled with the memories of a thousand years.
After passing Andernach, we saw in the distance the highlands of the middle Rhine, which rise above Coblentz, guarding the, entrance to its wild scenery, and the mountains of the Mo-selle. They parted as we approached from the foot shot up the spires of Coblentz, and the battlements of Ehrenbreitstein crowning the mountain opposite, grew larger and. broader. The air was slightly hazy, and the clouds seemed laboring among the distant mountains to raise a storm. As we came opposite the mouth of the Moselle and under the shadow of the mighty fortress, I gazed up with awe at its massive walls. Apart from its magnitude and almost impregnable situation on a perpendicular rock, it is filled with the recollections of history and hallowed by the voice of poetry. The scene went past like a panorama, the bridge of boats opened, the city glided behind us and we entered the highland again.
Above Coblentz almost every mountain has a ruin and a legend. One feels everywhere the spirit of the past, and its stirring recollections corne back upon the mind with irresistible force.. I sat upon the deck the whole afternoon, as mountains, towns and castles passed by on either side, watching them with a feeling of the most enthusiastic enjoyment. Every place was familiar to me in memory, and they seemed like friends I had long communed with in spirit and now met face to face. The English tourists, with whom the deck was covered, seemed interested too, but in a different manner. With Murray's Handbook open in their hands, they sat and read about the very towns and towers they were passing, scarcely lifting their eyes to the real scenes, except now and then, to observe that it was "very nice."
As we passed Boppart, I sought out the Inn of the "Star," mentioned in "Hyperion;" there was a maiden sitting on the steps who might have been Paul Flemming's fair boat-woman.
The clouds which had here gathered among the hills, now came over the river, and the rain cleared the deck of its crowd of admiring tourists. As we were approaching Lurlei Berg, I did not go below; and so enjoyed some of the finest scenery oh the Rhine alone. The mountains approach each other at this point, and the Lurlei Rock rises up for six hundred feet from the water. This is the haunt of the water nymph, Lurlei, whose song charmed the ear of the boat-man while his barque was dashed to pieces on the rocks below. It is also celebrated for its remarkable echo. As we passed between the rocks, a guard, who has a little house built on the road-side, blew a flourish on his bugle, which was instantly answered by a blast from the rocky battlements of Lurlei. The German students have a witty trick with this echo : they call out, "Who is the Burgomaster of Oberwesel?" a town just above. The echo answers with the last syllable "Esel ! " which is the German for ass.
The sun came out of the cloud as we passed Oberwesel, with its tall round tower, and the light shining through the ruined arches of Schonberg castle, made broad bars of light and shade in the still misty air. A rainbow sprang up out of the Rhine, and lay brightly on the mountain side, coloring vineyard and crag, in the most singular beauty, while its second reflection faintly arched like a glory above the 'high summits. In the bed of the river were the seven countesses of Schonberg, turned into seven rocks for their cruelty and hard-heartedness to-wards the knights whom their beauty had made captive. In front, at a little distance was the castle of Pfalz, in the middle of the river, and from the heights above Caub frowned the crumbling citadel of Gutenfels. Imagine all this, and tell me if it is not a picture whose memory should last a life-time !
We came at last to Bingen, the southern gate of the Highlands. Here, on an island in the middle of the stream, is the old Mouse tower where Bishop Hatto of Mayence was eaten up by the rats for his wicked deeds. Passing Rudesheim and Geissenheim, celebrated for their wines, at sunset, we watched the varied shore in the growing darkness, till like a line of stars across the water, we saw before us the bridge of Mayence.
The next morning I parted from my friends, who were going to Heidelberg by way of Mannheim, and set out alone for Frankfort. The cars passed through Hochheim, whose wines are celebrated all over the world; there is little to interest the traveller till he arrives at Frankfort, whose spires are seen rising from groves of trees as he approaches. I left the cars, unchallenged for my passport, greatly to my surprise, as it had cost me a long walk and five shillings in London, to get the signature of the Frankfort Consul. I learned afterwards it was not at all necessary. Before leaving America, N. P. Willis had kindly given me a letter to his brother, Richard S. Willis, who is now cultivating a naturally fine taste for music in Frankfort, and my first care was to find the American Consul in order to learn his residence. I discovered at last, from a gentleman who spoke a little French, that the Consul's office was in the street Belle vue which street I not only looked for through the city, but crossed over the bridge to the suburb of Sachsenhausen, and traversed its narrow, dirty alleys three several times, but in vain. I was about giving up the search, when I stumbled upon the office accidentally. The name of the street had been given to me in French and very naturally it was not to be found. Willis received me very kindly and introduced me to the amiable German family with whom he resides.
After spending a delightful evening with my newly-found friends, I left the next morning in the omnibus for Heidelberg. We passed through Sachsenhausen and ascended. a long hill to the watch-tower, whence there is a beautiful view of the Main valley. Four hours' driving over the monotonous plain, brought me to Darmstadt. The city wore a gay look, left by the recent fêtes. The monument of the old Duke Ludwig had just been erected in the centre of the great square, and the festival attendant upon the un-veiling of it, which lasted three days, had just closed. The city was hung with garlands, and the square filled with the pavilions of the royal family and the musicians, of whom there were a thousand present, while everywhere were seen red and white flags-the colors of Darmstadt. We met wagons decorated with garlands, full of pleasant girls, in the odd dress which they have worn for three hundred years.
After leaving Darmstadt we entered upon the Bergstrasse, or Mountain-way, leading along the foot of the mountain chain which extends all the way to Heidelberg on the left, while on the right stretches far away the Rhine-plain, across which we saw the dim outline of the Dormers-berg, in France. The hills are crowned with castles and their sides loaded with vines; along the road the rich green foliage of the walnut trees arched and nearly met above us. The sun shone warm and bright, and every body appeared busy and contented and happy. All we met had smiling countenances. In some places we saw whole families sitting under the trees shelling the nuts they had beaten down, while others were returning from the vineyards, laden with baskets of purple and white grapes. The scene seemed to realize all I had read of the happiness of the German peasantry, and the pastoral beauty of the German plains.
With the passengers in the omnibus I could hold little conversation. One, who knew about as much French as I did, asked me where I came from, and I shall not soon forget his expression of incredulity, as I mentioned America. "Why," said he, "you are white-the Americans are all black!"
We passed the ruined castles of Auerback and Starkenburg, and Burg Windeck, on the summit of a mountain near Weinheim, formerly one of the royal residences of Charlemagne, and finally came to the Heiligenberg or Holy Mountain, guarding the entrance into the Odenwald by the valley of the Neckar. As we wound around its base to the river, the Kaiserstuhl rose before us, with the mighty castle hanging upon its side and Heidelberg at its feet. It was a most strikingly beautiful scene, and for a moment I felt inclined to assent to the remark of my bad French acquaintance-"America is not beautiful -Heidelberg is beautiful ! " The sun had just set as we turned the corner of the Holy Mountain and drove up the bank of the Neckar; all the chimes of Heidelberg began suddenly to ring and a cannon by the river-side was fired off every minute-the sound echoing five times distinctly from mountain back to mountain, and finally crashing far off, along the distant hills of the Odenwald. It was the birthday of the Grand Duke of Baden, and these rejoicings were for the closing fête.