IRENE's TRAVELOGUE

JUNE/JULY 1999

TRACING ROMAN GERMANIA I

The Trip
Bad Ems
Bad Kreuznach
Köln/Cologne
Mainz
Saalburg
Trier
Xanten
Abtei St. Hildegard  Lennep  Remagen/Linz

MORE TRAVEL
Tracing Roman Germania 2002
Tracing Roman Germania 2003 in the works
Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001

Objects which are usually the motives of our travels by land and by sea are often overlooked and neglected if they lie under our eye…We put off from time to time going and seeing that we know we have an opportunity of seeing when we please. Pliny the Younger

Porta Nigra, Trier

THE TRIP : A SUMMARY

Links above and below lead to more detailed descriptions of what I saw, and often photographed, and to Internet sites – a few of those in German where nothing was available in English, to accommodate readers who may speak the language.

Note: Links have been checked and upgraded December 2008.

I had tentatively planned a trip to Germany this year, but without a clear plan yet as to what I wanted to do aside from visiting family and friends, when a chance reference on the Internet to the Saalburg (a reconstructed Roman camp near Frankfurt) and an invitation to a reunion of high school friends in Bad Godesberg (Bonn) gave me an idea: Why not trace the Romans in Germania in the Rhine area? We had read quite a bit about that in the Roman History Reading Group, and so I decided to see for myself.

So I mapped out my tour – see map, made arrangements with friends and family, and hotel reservations elsewhere, and off I went. The first thing I learned was that my literature about Roman archeology in Germany was greatly outdated! Many new sites have been discovered in recent years, new museums have been built, educational reconstruction is becoming more and more the thing, and excavations are still going on all over the place. People told me, “You have to go to such-and-such place, they found a Roman villa there,” etc. With a set time frame for my trip as well as no car, I had to skip some of those things of course – such as the Römischer Tempel Tawern bei Konz – but still I saw plenty!

I did not exclusively look for things Roman, so this travelogue also includes photos of town and river scenes.

The weather was great except for an exceedingly hot last week, and this is the year that produce is outstanding in Germany: Those cherries, red currants, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, tasted better than ever, as did the last white asparagus of the season which I sampled in Karlsruhe. The chanterelle season had just started (they serve them sautéed over pork tenderloin – yummy!), and the “Matjes” had appeared in the markets. Matjes are a special kind of small herring, filleted and cured in spices and sugar, and they melt in your mouth! I managed – mostly – to stay away from the Kaffeeklatsches, tempting as the pastries were. And those breakfast buffets…often skipped lunch when I stayed at a hotel. And I sampled the local wines, of course, in the Rheingau, on the Nahe, and on the Moselle…

The first five nights I spent in Wiesbaden at the excellent Holiday Inn Crown Plaza, within walking distance of the railroad station, as base for the Saalburg and Mainz (Moguntiacum) visits, with side trips to friends in Karlsruhe and in Eibingen. The latter is situated above the little Rhine town of Rüdesheim, where a friend is a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of St. Hildegard. Remember Hildegard of Bingen? That's the one it's named for. Bingen is across the river from Rüdesheim. Some of the Benedictines' income nowadays derives from management training courses based on the Rules of Benedict! Quite a change from the old days when one could talk to them through a grille only…

The next is of interest to Beatles fans: A rather obscure city by the name of Siegen – an ancestral town of mine in the southernmost part of Westphalia where I visited family – had an exhibition of paintings by Paul McCartney! The show had more American than German visitors, I was told. We had planned to go there, but in the morning I talked shop with the city archivist, and after an afternoon of sightseeing in a town with very steep hills – horror on my poor knees! – we decided we were too exhausted to go to the show. And the rest of my stay I spent with the family. I saw the exhibition catalogue though, not bad! click here for my photos.

As to museums in Germany in general, beware: All of them are closed Mondays, and on other days they are frequently open from 10:00 to 17:00 (5 p.m.) only. Nor are many of them handicapped accessible.

From Siegen, I went to visit friends in Bad Ems, on the Lahn river which flows into the Rhine opposite Koblenz (and opposite the Moselle river). The Limes – see also this excellent site: NOVA ROMA-Provincia Germania – went along there, and there were two camps in Roman times. Like every respectable German town with Roman antecedents, Bad Ems exhibits its Roman finds in the Town Museum. But the place is more famous for being a popular spa in the last century, boasting such guests as Queen Victoria, The Prussian Royal (later German Imperial) family, Wagner, and Dostoyevsky. The Russian Church is testimony to the popularity of the place to the Russians who indeed at one time made up a quarter of the spa visitors. From there we made another trip to Mainz, and my friends surprised me by taking me to Bad Kreuznach, a spa on the Nahe river, close to Mainz, with interesting Roman finds new to me.

Looking at the steep and even today densely wooded valleys of all those tributaries to the Rhine river, I imagined Germania to be a forbidding place to the Roman legionaries! All those tools and weapons and other things I saw came to be a special meaning to me, having read about and trying to visualize them before.

Two nights in Trier, Germany's oldest city, dating back to before the Romans – remember Caesar's adversaries, the Treveri?

Our reunion was in Bad Godesberg, a quiet suburb of Bonn, the latter also going back to Roman times, though I did not have the time to explore this. Bonn is a city in transition, with the government moving to Berlin. It has a very pretty downtown, but it was truly too hot to go and explore it, so we decided instead on a boat trip up the Rhine past the ruins of the infamous Remagen Bridge to Linz, a picturesque little town on the East bank of the river.

Then from Bad Godesberg to Cologne to visit my brother. Cologne was one of the largest Roman settlements in Germania. The city was still basking in the afterglow of the “Clinton visit.” (Forget about the G8, a president is a president is a president overseas.) The suite in the Hyatt, which he was scheduled to stay in, burned down two weeks before the visit, and they had to scramble to get it back into shape for the event. The G8 dined on top of the Roman Mosaic in Cologne – twice, they told me proudly in the museum! The floor of the mosaic was covered with Plexiglas for the occasion. They should have reclined on couches, of course…

From Cologne we made a side trip to Xanten with its Archeological Park. It also has a nice little medieval old downtown, badly damaged but rebuilt after the war.

The last days of my stay I spent in my hometown, Lennep, now a suburb of the city of Remscheid, not far from Cologne. Together with Solingen, Remscheid is the hub of the tool & die industry in Germany. Lennep, which boasts city rights from 1230 A.D., is also the birth place of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, who got the Nobel prize for his discovery of the x-rays. In his memory a museum was furnished there, even though the family left town when he was three … The name Röntgen though is a common family name in the region.

Then back on the train to Frankfurt, with a night at the conveniently situated Sheraton Hotel at the airport, and a flight home the following morning.

The trains don't run much on time any longer…but they are still an efficient way to travel. However, getting back to the “Alten Römer,” literature about the German Limes whetted my appetite for an automobile trip along the Limes, beginning in Regensburg on the Danube and going Northwest from there. Another year…

© Irene B. Hahn 1999

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