Fred Brack   Fred Brack  
Raleigh, NC
Picture of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse

Fred and Kathy's Trip to Germany
May 2006

Map of Trip from Amsterdam up the Rhine in Germany to Basel, SwitzerlandIn 2006 we took a Rhine River Cruise from Amsterdam, down the Rhine River in Germany, ending up in Basel, Switzerland, with a stop in Strasbourg, France along the way.  We chose a new travel company this year, INTRAV, and we felt they were very good.

We started our tour in scenic Amsterdam where we had a little time to explore.  Our first day on the river (actually a canal at this point) took us to the eastern end of the Netherlands to the town of Arnhem, then we crossed into Germany and formally started cruising up the Rhine River.  Yes, up:  the Rhine flows toward the North Sea, so we were going up, against the current, even though we were headed southward.  There were several locks along the way.

Here, then, are some highlights from our tour.  If you want further information on any particular picture, hold your cursor over the picture and a brief explanation should appear.


Amsterdam is a wonderfully scenic city, filled with narrow buildings and canals and lots of bicycles.  (It is said that the national pastime is stealing bicycles.)  Amsterdam, the capital city, is in the province of North Holland (which is where we get the name Holland), which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The word Dutch means the Netherlands or its people.  The house where Anne Frank hid during WWII is in Amsterdam, as is the Rembrandt museum.  The homes are especially interesting, as they are very narrow, all about the same height, but each with a unique "top."  At the peak, there is often a timber supporting a pulley, which was used to transport merchandise to the upper floors, and it can still be used to raise furniture.

Canal with bicycles lining the sidewalk on the left side Narrow home with pulley at the peak

Note the slight tilt of narrow homes on the waterfront These homes have waterfront shops in front on the other side of the street

The Hotel de l'Europe, with a canal that passes in front and goes around the side The Royal Palace and former town hall

No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a ride into the countryside to see the windmills and cheese farms and/or wooden shoe factories.  Yes, many people, especially farmers, still wear wooden shoes.  The farmers shoes, curiously, are painted white.

The Rembrandt Mill, so-named because a statue of Rembrandt appears on the other side This man makes wooden shoes all day on semi-automated equipment and was quite a salesman!


Then it was off for the eastern end of the Netherlands and the city of Arnhem.  Along the way we saw many commercial boats transporting merchandise (sand and coal, for example) and we went through several locks, finally passing from the canal into the Rhine river itself.

 Approaching a typical European suspension bridge, along with several commercial boats (this bridge probably in Utrecht) The first of many locks.  At the end of the trip, the locks were much deeper.

In Arnhem, we visited the Oosterbeek War Cemetery to pay our respect to the dead.  It was clear from the stories the guide told how significant this cemetery was to the soldiers and families of many nations.  The September 1944 story of Operation Market Garden was told in the movie, "A Bridge Too Far."  American, Polish, and British soldiers tried to parachute into Holland behind enemy lines to capture a key bridge at Arnhem.  It was their bad luck to parachute into a division of German soldiers on leave.

Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery Monument Memorial stone, with graves in the background 
Description of the Battle of Arnhem

We also visited the Kröller-Müller museum, dominated by original van Gogh paintings, bought for a song before he became famous.  And we learned that it is just about impossible for us to pronounce "van Gogh" the way the Dutch do!  That "gh" gets really gutteral!  The museum is surrounded by an elaborate sculpture garden.


As we passed from the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal into the Rhine itself, our first city destination was Cologne; and in Cologne, it's all about the twin-spired cathedral.  We arrived in light rain and (as was typical of the mornings in our trip) cloudy weather.  Our first view on land of the cathedral was from across the river.  Our last view (second picture) was as we pulled away on our boat under much improved weather conditions.  A somewhat more modern church is in the foreground.

View of the twin spires of the Cologne Cathedral from across the Rhine Another view of the twin spires, with the more modern St. Maria Lyskirchen church in the foreground

A copy of the top of the spire is mounted on the ground Inside is cavernous with a 130 foot high ceiling.  The lower part was built in the 12th century, the upper in the 14th. An organ is mounted high on the wall

Stained glass windows, the lower part from the 12th century Full view of more stained glass windows

The gold shrine behind the alter Here we see a gold shrine behind the alter, which reportedly contains the bones of the Magi (3 Kings).

The Rhine

Now it was time to begin cruising the Rhine (Rhein) in earnest.  At first the countryside was low and flat, but as we progressed, the hills and mountains appeared.  The really scenic portion (castles) of the Rhine runs from Koblenz to Bingen, where the river turns East and we stopped at Mainz.  Here are some photos (mostly in order) from our cruise up the Rhine.  Again, you can hold your cursor over the photo to get an explanation.  For more information, see Castles on the Rhine (description) and Map of Castles on the Rhine.

We constantly saw commercial ships.  Some of them contained dozens of containers, such as you see at right below at the container loading dock.  Manufacturers load their product into "containers" which are transported from port to port (often overseas) intact.

An early-on view of the shoreline of the Rhine A container ship loading facility
A typical suspension bridge across the Rhine A typical view of a small city by the edge of the Rhine, with a small mountain behind

Closup of a hotel in the riverside city A day-trip boat in the shape of a whale, with the name Moby Dick on the side

At this point, we began to see the castles.  Some were in ruins, some restored, and some used commercially as hotels, and some held as private residences.  Sometimes it's hard to tell castles from elaborate estates built with castle-like features.  Below right notice the bicyclist on the low path, a train track in the middle, and a car passing on the highway above.  Atop the rock is a private estate, not a castle.

A pretty riverside town An estate atop a rock, with separately tiered car, train, and bicycle lanes below

Another town combining old with new Castle Rheineck (also known as Byteburg) above Bad Niederbreisig

 The endpost remains of a bridge bombed out in WWII

Above right you see one of the two endpoints of a bombed out bridge (WWII) which was not replaced.  Below left is the first officially identified castle in the scenic section of the Rhine below Koblenz.  It is called Stolzenfels, restored in a pseudo-Gothic style, and now serving as a museum.  On the right is the castle Marksburg, a fully preserved castle.  (See more information on Stolzenfels.)

A castle with some color The castle Marksburg above Braubach, the only fully preserved midievil castle on the Rhine

This is wine country.  You've heard of Rhine wines?  The vineyards are steep, often extending up behind a village or roads and a train track.  Riesling is the predominate grape, but there are others. 

Massive hillside vineyards with a train passing in front A classic view of a riverside village with vineyards rising on 45 degree slopes behind

Vineyards rising to the mountain Burg Stahleck (castle) above Bacharach (today a youth hostel)

Now the following picture (left) deserves its own explanation. This is a single building:  A church (in the center) connected to a bar (on the left).  The guide told us that the priest is also the bartender!  I guess one way or another, he, ah, serves his parishioners!

The combined pub and church! A very scenic town with the buildings all joined together

And here are the burg's (castle's) Maus (left, built in 1353) and Katz (cat, built later that century), just before reaching the Loreley.

Burg Maus above Wellmich The Burg Katz (cats), above St Goarshausen, is a counterpart to Burg Maus (mouse) and has a lovely view of the Loreley upstream

The picture below left is the famous Loreley, a narrow point at the river where the river curves sharply and presents a challenge to navigation.

The Lorelei -- a narrow spot in the Rhine with strong currents where the river turns sharply Burg Schonburg above Oberwesel, now a hotel and restaurant

Personal Side Trip

When the ship docked in Mainz, we left it and took a cab for a 45 minute ride to visit a 96 year old relative in the tiny town of Altenbamberg.  We had never met Karl before, but the Brack family had corresponded with him for 80 years.  Both Fred's father and grandfather had visited him in the 1920s, and they supported his economic recovery after WWII ended.  Karl reads seven languages, but since he never gets a chance to hear English spoken, he spoke it a lot better than he understood it spoken.  He also plays the piano and one of his seven violins every day!  He has never been to the USA.  It was a once in a lifetime experience for us to be able to visit with him briefly in his home, where he has lived since 1931.  [Addendum:  Karl died at home in late 2007.]

Karl at the piano Kathy, Fred, and Karl

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