Historic Koblenz, Germany is a treasure for the historian, the wine connoisseur and the nature lover. Koblenz lies where the west flowing Mosel River meets the Rhine River, which flows north. It’s surrounded by three low mountain ranges: the Hunsrück, the Eifel and the Westerwald.
The name Koblenz comes from the Roman Confluentes, which is Latin for confluence, or “where rivers flow together.” The Romans were the first people recorded here, led by Drussus 2000 years ago (see my recent article on Mainz) and they brought with them their wine culture.
This strategic spot has drawn many different cultures for thousands of years. Many ancient and recent battles have been fought here. The French, the Prussians and the Russians have also claimed Koblenz, as we found as guests of Historic Highlights of Germany.
On top of its history, Koblenz is a beautiful place where hiking in the summer along the mountains is the thing to do. Because of its unique terroir of steep slopes, billion-year-old rock formations rich in minerals, and optimal grape growing climate, it’s also where some of the best wines in the world come from. French influence can be seen in the architecture, like the 18th-century Electoral Palace, and older buildings along the square, and many Art Nouveau buildings in Old Koblenz. The cuisine is not strictly German, but also influenced by the French and their use of delicate herbs.
My friend Jenny and I traveled to Koblenz in December and have compiled our list of ten things to do:
1. Explore the French influence in Old Koblenz and its historical ties to the French Revolution. In 1789, after the fall of the Bastille, the archbishop and uncle to Louis XVI, the persecuted king of France, offered a safe haven to Louis XVI’s brothers, the Comte de Provence and the Comte d’Artois, and Louis XVI’s cousin, the Prince de Condé.
2. Take a walk on the park known as the German Corner (German: Deutsches Eck), where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet. See the towering bronze monument of Emperor William I on horseback that has been built and rebuilt in the wake of all the bombing. Ancient remnants of Roman walls are also here.
A giant optimistic bronze thumb sculpture points upward (thumbs up). Keep walking until you see the beautiful Romanesque Basilica of St. Castor—the oldest church in Koblenz dating from the 8th century and now a part of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage site (more on the region here).
3. Visit the old Mittelrhein Museum, once the old town hall and now an art gallery of 19th-century romantic English and German landscape paintings depicting the Rhine River. Above it you will see the Augenroller, or “eye roller,” which rolls its eyes on the half-hour and sticks out its tongue on the hour. There’s a legend associated with the Augenroller but you’ll have to find out what it is from your Historic Highlights tour guide. See the new modern Mittelrhein Museum in the same building as the Romanticum.
4. Go in December and have Koblenz’s special rosé gluhwein and gingerbread at the Christmas Markets (full list of Koblenz markets) and shop for unique handmade ornaments. German sausages, cheeses and pretzel breads are also found at the Christmas Markets. Hang out with friendly locals and enjoy the merriment!
5. Take a walk on the grounds of the 18th-century Electoral Palace, the last great palace to be built before the French Revolution, and see where the botanical show is held every two years. We were astonished to see pansies growing in December in the garden! Look for the sandstone sculpture of an ancient (but buff) Father Rhine and a lovely young Mother Mosel embracing each other.
6. Visit the old restaurants like Altes Brauhaus brewery, which has been around for hundreds of years and is a great place to try the local beers, eat interesting dishes and meet friendly natives. Have the specialty “Two eggs on salad” at the Altes Brauhaus restaurant. Or check out Alt Coblenz, another Koblenz meeting place with a long and interesting past.
7. Visit the old town and see the combination of century-old buildings with turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau (German: Jugendstil) architecture. At Firmung Strasse 11, look up to see the giant head of the Greek goddess Hygieia. A large part of Koblenz was destroyed by bombs during WWII, and some of the old buildings were replaced with utilitarian ones that are now intertwined with antiques left preserved or unharmed.
8. Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Mercure Hotel before your long walk with a Historic Highlights of Germany guide begins. Breakfasts at all of the hotels we visited in Germany were worth writing home about!
Dinner at the Mercure Hotel’s restaurant Finesse was really good, too. The homemade potato-pancake with rosettes of smoked salmon, mustard dill sauce and salad paired perfectly with the local semi-dry Riesling. We also enjoyed the Mercure’s sauna after a cold day walking along the Rhine and found the custom of going in nude with strangers of both sexes amusing!
Our favorite wines:
The Mosel and the Rheingau are the main wine-producing areas of Germany. We decided to “get educated” by learning about this wonderful product. Spatburgunder, Germany’s Pinot noir, was Jenny’s favorite, while I loved the semi-dry Rieslings.
10. Travel carefree by DB train. Jenny and I rode up along the Rhine past charming villages and slopeside vineyards as snowflakes fell. The Germans seem to be more in tune with the concept of ramps and elevators for train travelers and since I was traveling with a broken arm, I especially appreciated this feature. As we rolled down the tracks, we were excited about going to the historic city of Trier—our next Germany installment.
Visit the Romanticum Museum, an interactive museum fun for adults as well as children and now part of the new Mittelrhein Museum. Explore the hiking and the wines of the Rhine, ride a simulated steamboat through time, visit castles, and listen to music from the turn of the century and the familiar fairy tales associated with this region. I heard from a friend that taking a ferry ride along the Rhine is an incredible thing to do, and that seeing the real castles everywhere is unreal! Some DB rail passes include this jaunt.
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