The last post summarized our recent 21-day Rick Steves’ tour of Europe. From Amsterdam, we headed south through the Rhine Valley in Germany and then Austria. (The Rhine joins the Willamette in being one of only about 30 rivers in the world to flow north.) While the coffee in Europe was found wanting (one either has a mini espresso or a small and watered-down Americano rather than a mug of java), the beer – or bier – was great. I’m sure you’ll agree that experimentation in the different countries was mandated.
To quote the late musician, Frank Zappa: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
Before leaving the Netherlands, we stopped at the Arnhem Open Air Museum – a “village” with farmyards, historic cottages, businesses, shops and a wonderful little brewery – a permanent exhibit since 1996. The title of the exhibit is appropriately “Bier is dranck voor alleman” (Beer is a drink for everyone). Arnhem is noted as the site of the World War II Battle of Arnhem, commemorated in the 1977 movie, “A Bridge Too Far.”
There is a restored 1750 brewery from the Dutch village of Ulvenhout and a new building next to it (shown in the picture). Although I’m Protestant, given the preponderance of Catholic churches in Europe, I need to confess that I spent the most time here rather than lingering at the historic bakery, apothecary, sawmill, etc..
And the two brewers were friendly and gave Janet and me an informative briefing — and samples — of their product.
After two nights in historic (I guess “historic” and “village” or “city” in Europe are superfluous..) Bacharach, where we enjoyed a two-hour boat trip on the Rhine, we headed for one of my favorite cities – the walled city of Rothenburg.
Rothenberg attracts tourists from all over the world based on its notable roots in the medieval era. The incredible wall with guard towers, which can still be traversed around most of the city, was constructed in the 1300’s. It again brings to mind, one wag’s view of the difference between democracy and feudalism – “In democracy, your vote counts while in feudalism, your count votes.”
Rothenburg also has World War II notoriety after initial destructive Allied aerial bombing, when US Secretary of War, John McClory, personally aware of the beauty and historic significance of the city, ordered American troops to refrain from artillery bombardment. Most of the city fortifications and artifacts were saved and it was occupied by the Allies in March, 1945.
Since we had some free time to explore Rothenburg, Janet and I split up and she joined our two new female friends on the tour to hit the shops in town. (I had contracted laryngitis, so I was worthless as a companion for conversation – but it did eliminate any language barrier with the locals.)
Now, many males view accompanying their spouses shopping as tantamount to torture – so consistent with the analogy, I spent a fascinating two hours in Rothenburg’s Museum of Crime and Punishment.
Four floors of exhibits – most notably instruments of torture and items used in the execution of sentences (literally!) – costly books, graphic arts, documents of emperors, princes, the nobility and towns were interesting and in some respects, bizarre.
A beer and dinner were a welcome respite after the museum experience and we had an excellent dinner of bratwurst and sauerkraut before embarking on a colorful Night Watchman Tour of the city. Hans Georg Baumgartner, the Watchman, whose comic timing in his colloquy, would make Jerry Seinfeld envious, took us on a wonderful walking tour of the city.
He pointed out that the watchman job – starting in the Middle Ages and continuing in Rothenburg until the 1920’s – was dangerous. Guarding the city at night was like a policeman, but the pay was low and the job was a dishonorable one. “Only the gravedigger and the executioner were lower.”
Hell’s Tavern (Zur Höll) – We finished off the Watchman Tour with one of Baumgarter’s best lines. This pub is in Rothenburg’s oldest house and the foundation of Hell was laid in 970…. He stated, in effect, “If a citizen in Rothenburg admonishes you to ‘Go to Hell,’ it is a good recommendation.”
And of course, we descended a few steps from where he concluded into the “Gates of Hell,” if you will, which unfortunately due to its restricted size and the tourist season, was full. It has an extensive wine list and some exotic brandies (apple, grape, pear, cherry and small yellow plums) although a limited number of draft beers.
So ended our time in Germany. It was one of the tour’s highlights for me. But after the tour in the Torture Museum, it may force a double-take in future Portland bars with pool tables, when I hear the term, “Rack-em Up!”
Rothenburg was our fifth day of the tour and I realized that except for a few minor snippets on BBC, we were clueless on current events. Of course, that also meant that since we left Oregon we had not had to hear the ubiquitous and chirrupy expression, “Hi, I’m Jan from Toyota,” for a week!
Stay tuned – on to Italy!