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Burg Eltz

Curtis Langacker
Monday, May 26, 2014

After checking out bright and early this morning, we said goodbye to Osnabrück and boarded a charter bus headed south. Our first stop was on the Rhine River. Cologne (or Köln as the Germans call it) was founded as a Roman outpost in the first century AD. Our bus pulled right into the downtown area where we disembarked and met our new host, Sven, who will travel with us for the next few days.

Sven took us on a brief walking tour of the old city. We saw the town hall, which is the oldest government building still in use in Europe. We were told a story about the medieval struggle between the church
and the city government. One day the bishop invited the mayor to come and discuss their differences, but was instead locked in a room with a lion. Having suspected a trap, the mayor brought a knife and was able to slay the beast. This made the mayor a hero among the people, shifting the balance of power from the church to the city.

Other highlights on the tour included the old town square, a bridge covered in padlocks, a monument to the holocaust, and the main attraction; the city cathedral. Begun in 1248, this massive building was not completed until 1880, whereupon renovations immediately began and continue to this day. Sven told us that the locals have a saying that the cathedral will be finished only when the apocalypse arrives. Also, because it took over 600 years to build, the final portion of the Cologne cathedral was actually constructed using steel. This fact saved it from the allied air raids in World War II, when 96% of the city was destroyed and 70 bombs fell on the church itself.

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After a quick bite, we were on the road again, heading yet further south, this time to Münstermaifeld to visit the ancient castle of Burg Eltz. This castle was built in the late 12th century by the Eltz family. It is notable for being one of the few castles of the era to not only survive intact (it was attacked only once, in the 14th century), but still be owned by the same family, now in their 33rd generation.

It was a 1.2km hike from the parking lot down to the castle on a beautiful hiking path through the woods. Because the Burg is built on a small hill in a valley surrounded by larger hills, the walk in was
all downhill. We had a guided tour which gave us a good sampling of the rooms and life inside the castle through the many centuries it was inhabited. In fact, the family still comes back nearly every Friday
from their home in Frankfurt to spend the weekend at the castle. Our tour guide, Felix, was a little nervous because this was his first tour in English. He needn’t have worried though, because he did a very nice
job and handled everyone’s questions with ease. Following the tour, it was time to climb back up the mountain. We took the road this time, which was much steeper but offered spectacular views of the castle from above. After stopping for some pictures, it was back to the bus and on to Cochem.

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In Cochem, a tiny town of 5,000 people, we stopped for our last visit in this busy day: a local winery. The Weingut Rademacher has been family-owned and run since 1882. The owner, Hermann, gave us a personal tour which was very thorough. He started behind the house with the vineyards, which are built into the face of a very steep hill lining the river Mosel. There are many wineries in the Mosel region, around one-third of which are built into hills, which is supposed to provide better growing conditions resulting in better tasting grapes. Hermann walked us through the entire process, from the methods used to properly plant the vines, to their cultivation, their storage, fermentation, bottling, and labeling. The wine is kept in barrels in a stone cellar under the house as well as in a rock cellar cut into the face of the mountain.

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We also learned some of the marketing side of the business that faces a small family-owned winery. In the Rademacher case, they produce 20,000 bottles of wine per year, and sell directly to local consumers. They do not sell to grocers or distributers. Although they have the land available to add a good bit more capacity to their production of wine, the family has found that increasing their market in the past has led to greater uncertainty in demand as well as losing some control over their operations to the demands of their distributors. Both of these combined to reduce the actual profit margin of the company while leading to more headaches. They have decided to remain small and exclusive.

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After the tour we had a wine tasting, which allowed us to sample up to ten different flavors of the specialties offered. We then checked into our hotel for the night and set off on our own to explore Cochem, get some dinner, and some rest.

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