Rüdesheim + Koblenz, Germany

We followed the Rhine south on Saturday to the small town of Rüdesheim to visit their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). After several days of gray clouds, the afternoon’s sunny skies were a welcome change.

Stalls with vendors selling hot food and drinks lined the narrow streets and main square in town. We wandered through Rüdesheim with the weekend crowd.

After a warm lunch, we boarded a gondola lift that carried us over the vineyards lining the slopes along the river. Now and then, a gondola would pass carrying an inflated Santa. Yes, the Germans do have a sense of humor.

The December air was cold as we slowly climbed but the ride provided us a beautiful view of the gentle landscape along the Rhine.

At the top of the hill, the massive Niederwald monument could be seen for miles. It was finished in 1883 to commemorate the unification of Germany.

In 1870, Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck may have deliberately provoked a French attack in order to draw the independent southern German states of Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia.

The now-united Germans defeated the French in the ensuing Franco-Prussian War and proclaimed the German Empire. The victory dramatically shifted the balance of power in Europe with repercussions in the first World War some 40 years later.

It’s difficult to convey how impressive this monument was. It’s been said its size and positioning were expressly designed to taunt the French.

A cold front with snow came through on Sunday morning. Initially, we planned to drive up out of the Rhine valley to explore towns along the Moselle River. The weather got worse as we climbed the twisty road and we decided we didn’t want to risk the slick streets.

We turned around and dropped back down to Boppard. We decided to follow the road north along the Rhine to the city of Koblenz.

The Moselle joins the Rhine here and the Germans chose this symbolic confluence to again celebrate unification. Germany’s relatively late rise to a unified nation-state (compared to powerful neighbors like France and Great Britain) is cited as one of many factors that led to both World Wars.

The Deutsches Eck (German corner) is capped by an equestrian statue of William I. The original was erected in 1897 to commemorate the unification of Germany. In 1945, American artillery badly damaged the statue when a forward observer saw a German soldier depart from it. It was completely taken down after the war and the pedestal remained empty for 45 years.

When Germany was reunified in 1990, a replica statue was mounted on the pedestal once again and the monument was lined with flags from the 16 German states. Germany was a unified country once more.

Along with all the German flags, I noticed a large American flag along one side. There was a plaque on the pole which indicated it was placed here following 9/11. It represented friendship with the American people.

The weather is expected to improve tomorrow with warmer temps and no precipitation. If that holds, we’re planning to drive up to Cologne.

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