Chapter Twelve
January - February, 2000

Whenever we mention that our time in Europe included living in a castle, our listeners' eyebrows vanish into their hairlines. It seems everyone has a fairytale-shaped idea of what "living in a castle" means: walls hung with tapestries illuminated by candlelight and a basement laced with secret passageways. I always feel like I'm going to disappoint people when I tell them Rheineck was outfitted with most modern amenities: electricity, heating, indoor plumbing.

But still, it really was a castle, complete with stone walls and the ocassional arrow slit. And yes, we really were living in it, as I regularly had to remind myself. But despite the wonder and the strangeness of it all, sometimes we left the castle grounds to go exploring. After all, no one spends all their time at home. There were errands to run, groceries to buy, trains to catch, and cities to see.

Evening traffic in Köln. Concentric roads ring the city, linking platzen, routing cars from the highways into the zentrum and the Dom. We were either in the traffic or crossing the traffic on nearly every trip into the city.

The Ludwig Museum of Art, with the Köln Cathedral, the Dom, behind. We never quite got around to the Ludwig, but it and the Dom, at the very center of the city, made convenient landmarks.

Construction of the cathedral began in the mid 1200s with the intent of building a suitable place for the relics of the Magi; more than six hundred years later it was an enclosed structure and the final cross could be mounted on the southern spire. By 1900, restoration work had already begun, and a full-time staff of artists and repairmen still work to protect the Dom from the continued ravages of time and air pollution. Although it was damaged in World War II, the windows still contain the original medieval and Renaissance stained glass, thanks to the foresight of someone who had them all removed and stored before the war began.

These bananas appeared in the strangest places: by the front door of the Ludwig Museum, on an elevator near a bookstore, on the door to an art-house movie theatre in Bonn, on the wall of a bank. They appeared with no explanations and rarely did they appear marred or tampered. Were they the guideposts to a tour of Köln and Bonn? Were they someone's sign of endorsement? Were they just there to make people smile?

Sub-freezing temperatures have a tendency to encourage one to stay indoors, next to a heater, swaddled in three or four blankets, drinking something either hot or spiked or both. I worried that perhaps we were not active enough, but after walking by the Rhein at dawn once or twice, sniffling and unable to feel my fingers, I began to think that waiting for spring might be the thing to do. The sun rise was beautiful; staying warm was even better.

When the snow in Switzerland begins to melt, the Rhein in Germany starts to flood. Here the waterlevel is at least 20 feet above normal, submerging trees and flooding fields. In Bad Breisig there is a strip of riverfront restaurants and hotels, each with pictures of floodwaters up to their awnings. The older buildings have small plaques marching up their sides, marking the high water levels back to the 1600s. Some years the water reaches into the second floors of these buildings, and still the businesses thrive. In flood season, they close up shop, move the furniture, and pile sandbags in front of the door; when the waters recede, the people return, clean up the mud, put out the tables and invite you in for a beer.

The winter of 2000 was not a landmark year in the flood department. Still, I was impressed. Although I'm not sure which is more impressive, the immense personality of the river or the stubbornness of the people and businesses on its banks.

Public walking trails wound around our castle-topped hill and through the surrounding woods. On days when the temperature got above freezing Ian and I would go for walks, criss-crossing the hills and the fields behind the Rheineck. We found a tennis and recreation park closed for the winter, the remains of some logging operation, hunting blinds, the road to Waldorf, a cow or two, the road to Brohl and a shrine to the Virgin. Occasionally, we'd encounter other people; most were joggers but once we met a group of women in their Sunday clothes and dress shoes walking up a neglected and muddy trail from the shrine. On days when the clouds thinned a little and the sun poured its light on the winter earth, I swore I could see God.

Little bits of green in an otherwise bleak winter-shrouded world. The sky was nearly always gray, the trees nearly completely devoid of leaves, the wet ground covered with the faded colors of fall. But if there was green here, perhaps we would see Spring return someday.

Chapter Thirteen

Ian Gilman / Germany Journal
DolciDeleria / Germany Journal
Copyright 1998-2013, Ian Gilman & Christina Willott