From Heidelberg John and I headed to the Rhine -- and so of course did the Neckar, with its overflow of water. We'd had a notion of driving north along the road that hugs the west side of the Rhine, and did this until the first yellow UMLEITUNG ("Detour") sign sent us up into the woods and vineyards high above: the road ahead was under water.
After a few miles, the detour signs led us back to the river, only to point us uphill again around another flooded stretch of the shore road.
Thinking that the road on the opposite bank might be better, we took a ferry across to Lorch.
And a churning, lurching
battle it was, this small boat against the swift current. The ferry crossing was closed later that day.
The east bank had as many umleitungs as the west. We found a room for the night in the charming, flower-lined little riverside village of Assmannshausen where our hostess told us there was a walk we could take in the morning right at the river's edge. "Don't try to cross the busy highway. There are stairs that will take you to a tunnel underneath it."
In the morning we walked across the deserted highway strung with red and white Hoch Wasser (High Water) streamers and saw where the stairs come up from the tunnel . . .
Doubtless that outer railing lines the river walk.
Since we both enjoy the 12th century music of Hildegard of Bingen, we were delighted to hear that the Abbey of St. Hildegard was only a 20-minute drive from Assmannshausen. Twenty minutes, that is, if the river road hadn't been closed. In our case it was an hour and ten minutes of hairpin turns through hamlets and vertical vineyards, praying that no one was coming the other way.
It was worth every tire-squealing turn to visit this hushed and holy place with its black-robed nuns and great deep-toned bells we could hear long before we could see the twin steeples.
Enroute, however, the detour took us through the Nieder Wood and the grandiose, over-sized monument to a very different Germany. "Germania" is a colossal Teutonic goddess standing above a frieze of spike-helmeted generals. Doubtless when it was erected in the 1880s to celebrate the uniting of the German people under the Prussian king, it caused appropriate sentiments of national pride. But given the terrifying and tragic history of the 20th century, it seemed to us to glorify exactly the wrong qualities of the country.
(We're never far from our traveling companion, Louis XIV. We met him in Heidelberg, which he pretty much destroyed in an effort to annex it, and we spotted him even here at this most-German site. A signboard displays a reproduction of a painting of Kaiser Wilhelm in 1871 crowning himself as German Emperor amid a throng of much-medalled officers. The place isn't identified, but it's unmistakably Louis' Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.)
After two days in Assmannshausen we crossed back to the Rhine's west shore (the bridge at Wiesbaden) and are now at Hotel Gunther in Boppard with a view from our balcony of what everyone tells us is a lovely tree-lined river promenade.
I'm sure the Gunther has a welcoming front door on the river side. We'll never see it -- and we'll never forget how we entered instead. A thoughtful local man, seeing us in obvious perplexity, asked if we were looking for a hotel.
"There's one right here," he said, pointing to this unpromising alley.
A few feet into it, sure enough we saw the sign: Hotel Gunther.
Deftly sidestepping the water, we ducked beneath a low door -- too dark, photo didn't come out -- walked through the hotel kitchen, and had arrived!
The strangest thing, to John and me, about this silent brown (!) Rhine, is the absence of river traffic.
We made this trip by boat four years ago and remember best of all the enormous barges and other commercial shipping constantly plowing north or south. Pleasure boats too, sailboats and yachts, fleets of tour boats like our own -- a constant procession and pulse of tugboat engines. Nothing is moving now, the long barges tethered, the sad excursion boats moored, water pouring over their gangways.
This is about the only thing moving on the Rhine right now.
We feel sorry for all the out of work bargemen and all the people who planned boat trips -- and just a little guilty at sitting here on our balcony with the window boxes of pink geraniums, delighting in this river in all its moods.