A Travellerspoint blog

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Excursion to Schmalkalden and Waltershausen

Schmalkalden palace and the newly reconstructed garden terraces


The conference excursion took us up into the Thuringian Forest. They had hired a large coach for us, which took us across the main ridge through large forest areas. Autumn leaves were everywhere, but the dull greyish weather dampened the colours.

Schmalkalden is a small town in the western part of the Thuringian Forest. Its history is particular: This town and a few villages in the surroundings belonged as an exclave to the Landgraviate of Hessen (Hessen-Kassel). Until 1583 they had shared the possession with the Counts of Henneberg, then they became the sole owners.

Landgrave Wilhelm, the founder

Landgrave Wilhelm IV immediately decided to establish this town as one of his secondary residences. A palace had to be built as a symbol of his government, a modern palace in the then ‘en vogue’ renaissance style. Its completion took no more than five years. In 1590 the new palace was already completed. Some interiors and the gardens took a bit longer, though. After its founder and owner, it received the name “Wilhelmsburg”.

Landgrave Wilhelm and then his son and successor Moritz stayed here often. Later generations of the princely house rarely visited any more, though, hence later times never modernized the palace. Its renaissance architecture and interior have been preserved in their original shape. There is hardly another renaissance palace in Germany in such extraordinary authenticity.



The ground plan is a perfect square. Four more or less identical wings enclose the inner courtyard. The small octagonal towers in the corners contain spiral staircases.


Two portals, big enough for horse-drawn carts and carriages, lead into the courtyard from opposite sides and allow a straight passage in and out.

There is one larger tower on the outside. It marks the location of the palace chapel.
There were renovation works going on, thus the strange ‘box’ on top of the roof.

The interior from the late 16th century is almost completely preserved. Most rooms and halls are decorated with frescoes.

Giant guardsmen keep watch by the doors.


The White Hall, devorated with
modern gobelins showing abstract landscape views

Two rooms, however, differ from all others. Their walls and ceiling received a more special and surely more expensive coat. All surfaces are covered in “white work”: three-dimensional stucco.

A skilled Dutch artisan, the sculptor Wilhelm Vernukken, was engaged to create this elaborate decorum which must have been the ultimate fashion in those times.

The two interiors thus distinguished are the palace chapel and the adjacent White Hall, from there the princely family entered their box on the upper gallery of the chapel.


The palace chapel

The palace chapel of Schmalkalden is an incunable in the history of protestant church architecture. It is not unusual to see the pulpit behind the altar and the organ above them both, forming one vertical axis, and a princely box on the opposite side – but here in Schmalkalden, this design was employed for the very first time. And even more - the baptismal font is integrated in the altar. Schmalkalden is one of the most important Lutheran churches of the reformation era.




A visit to the town centre was not included in our schedule, unfortunately.


Stadtkirche Waltershausen


The group re-boarded the bus after a tour of the palace, guided by our conference experts, and many discussions about details. Lunch was booked at a restaurant in Friedrichroda. We were in Thuringia, hence it necessarily involved Thuringian dumplings together with a beef roast and red cabbage. I will never be over-enthusiastic about Thuringian dumplings – give me honest boiled and salted potatoes any time. But they belong to this area.

Then we continued to the other side of Thüringer Wald ridge to the small town of Waltershausen. This place would hardly be remarkable if it wasn’t for their parish church, a large and beautiful baroque building which proves the widespread assumption false that there is no evangelical baroque style.


The structure is the same as in Schmalkalden, here in perfection, 150 years later, but the basic idea is the same: altar and pulpit form the liturgic centre, the organ is placed above them, while the gallery on the opposite side is occupied by the box for the Duke and his court. The Duke occasionally came to Waltershausen for hunting and took great interest in the building of the church.


Built in the years 1719 to 1723, it was designed on an oval ground plan. The high inner hall is surrounded by galleries in three storeys. They let us climb all the galleries, and we all took loads of photos from many different perspectives.

The ceiling fresco shows the Holy Trinity, surrounded by allegories of the virtues.



The church’s treasure is the huge organ, they claim it is the largest in Thuringia, built in 1730. After some changes throughout the centuries, it has in recent years been restored to its original state and sound. The organist of the church gave us a little concert and explained the instrument and its special features.


Market square, gate tower and town hall


I took the chance and ran off for five minutes between our tour of the church and the beginning of the concert to see what the town is like.

I did not get far, imaginably, but I discovered the wide market square and the pretty half-timbered town hall.

In the distance I spotted an old gate tower, somehow forlorn in the middle of the main street since the town walls are gone.


Posted by Kathrin_E 23:19 Archived in Germany Tagged churches castles thuringia thüringen Comments (0)

Cruising the Rhine on a Whale

M. S. "Moby Dick"


“The” famous day cruises on the Rhine are those on the Middle Rhine Gorge. However, there is another scenic option further north, starting from Bonn in upstream direction past the Seven Mountains. During my recent stay in Bonn I decided to dedicate my last day, a beautiful sunny afternoon in early October, to this pleasant and relaxing pastime.

It was a “trip down memory lane”: As a kid I used to do Rhine cruises with my grandparents, who lived in the surroundings of Bonn. The classic tour from Bonn goes to the small town of Linz on the right river bank. The ride takes about two hours – a bit longer in upstream direction, a bit less back downstream. To make it really classic, the family would stay in Linz for two hours for a walk of the town and of course coffee and cake.


A local company named Bonner Personenschifffahrt is doing these cruises. They have ‘normal’ boats, the usual white ones just like those on any other lake or river, but they also have a peculiar vessel which is unique… it is meant to resemble a whale, and they named it “Moby Dick”. When the boat was built, I was ten years old – the perfect age for such funky designs. On the one hand we laughed about this weird thing, on the other hand it was and still is fascinating.

There is a story why they wanted a whale sailing on the Rhine, and why the boat got this name. Some years earlier, in 1966, a real whale had indeed made an appearance in the river. It was a captive young Beluga who was meant to be transported to London zoo. But the ship he was on toppled over in a storm, the whale escaped and made his way from the North Sea into the Rhine and upstream as far as Bonn. Media named him Moby Dick after Herman Melville’s novel. Protests from nature activists with growing support in the population frustrated all attempts to capture the whale. This was one of the first pro-nature movements in Germany. Moby Dick finally found his way back to the sea and disappeared.


My plans were tight because I had to catch the train back home in the evening, hence there was only one possible departure time for me. By coincidence it was the “Moby Dick” that did this course. My original plan had been taking my bike on board and going as far as Bad Honnef, and then cycling back to Bonn along the right river bank. However, the low water level made this plan obsolete since the stops at Bad Honnef and a few other places were cancelled. Königswinter was too close for a cycling tour, Linz much too far.

So it was Plan B: I chained my bike to a lamp post behind the ticket office and bought a ticket to Linz and back. I would not have time for the obligatory coffee break in Linz but simply stay on the boat and go straight back to Bonn.


I grabbed a seat on the upper deck by the railing, with the intention to keep it for the whole cruise so I’d have the view of one river bank on the way to Linz and the other on the way back. They have tables there, drinks and small food dishes can be ordered from a waitress to be served right there.

All seats were soon taken. I was, not surprisingly, not the only one who decided that a river cruise would be a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the most glorious weather October is capable of. Most passengers disembarked in Linz, so the boat was much less occupied on the way back.

Good views from the lower deck, too, thanks to the big windows

I shared the table with two retired couples. The two men were notorious “explainers” who knew everything (a type of men that I heartily dislike) but luckily they sort of neutralized each other. Next to me I had a single lady, a bit younger than myself, with whom I had a pleasant long chat and happily shared my pack of biscuits. She told me that she was staying in Bonn for work for some weeks and that she was doing this cruise to relive her childhood memories, and it had to be on “Moby Dick” – her grandparents had been living in the area and they used to take her on cruises… doesn’t this sound oddly familiar?

The wombats enjoyed the cruise, too…

The cruise starts at Bonn Alter Zoll, a bulwark that’s left of the city’s fortifications. This is a few steps from the palace and a few minutes from the city centre, hence easy to reach. Tickets must be bought on shore from the pavilion by the boat landing. But you can also board at every other stop along the way. All details, routes and timetables and a lot more can be found on the company’s website: https://www.bonnschiff.de/en

During the ride there is a commentary in German and English. It is quite basic and superficial but enough to know where you are and what you are looking at. Besides, it is pleasant that they are not talking all the time.

Langer Eugen

The route first passes the former government quarter. The government of the Federal Republic of Germany had its seat here in Bonn from the foundation in 1949 until the move to Berlin in 1999 after the reunification. Some buildings are still used by our government while others now host UN and other organizations.


The parliament building is located right on the river bank, but recent construction works have changed a lot there. The skyscraper nicknamed “Langer Eugen”, now used by the UN and proudly displaying their logo, was built in the 1960s and contained the offices of the Members of Parliament. It is a landmark of Bonn. Its even taller neighbour, the post tower, is a more recent addition.

The bridge across the Rhine was built in the 1950s for Chancellor Adenauer: He lived in Rhöndorf on the opposite riverside, and crossing by ferry was too time-consuming, so he ordered the construction of the bridge. Consequently, it was later named after him.


Round the bend the landscape view opens up. The Seven Mountains appear on the eastern river bank. This ridge has, strictly speaking, far more than seven peaks, but the name has stuck.

Petersberg made history. The large complex of buildings on top is now a luxurious hotel. It previously served as the guest house of the Federal government. All state guests who paid official visits to Bonn the capital of West Germany were accommodated up there. This includes all the big names from all over the globe. The remote location was easy to handle security-wise. And the views from up there must be breathtaking.

The most spectacular mountain is Drachenfels, the one that is closest to the Rhine. A castle was built on top in the middle ages in order to control the valley. Only a ruin is left of the castle. Drachenfels is a popular destination among locals. A funicular goes up, but many people do the hike.

Halfway up another castle appears, but this one, known as Drachenburg, is not as old as it pretends to be and in fact it is not a castle either. It was built in the 1880s in neogothic style as a residential palace for a rich banker and broker, who, however, never lived there. In the meantime it has been turned into a museum.

Rolandseck on the opposite side of the river used to be a proud castle, too, but hardly anything is left of it except one open arch, named Rolandsbogen. A restaurant has been built next to it, this is another popular destination to visit.



The village below is famous among art lovers. The train station building has been transformed into a “Kunstbahnhof” that does exhibitions of contemporary art. A large museum building has been erected on the hillside above, which is dedicated to the abstract painter and sculptor Hans Arp.

Outside Bad Honnef the river forms two islands, Nonnenwerth and Grafenwerth. Nonnenwerth is the seat of a convent and a renowned school. The former castle on Grafenwerth is long gone. The island is now covered by a park with leisure activities, a boat harbour etc.

The village of Oberwinter appears in regional radio news every day: It is the seat of the tide scale which measures the water level of the Rhine. Important for ship traffic on the river.

Low water creates new playgrounds
Water levels are terribly low after the long, hot and almost rainless summer. Boats and barges are still able to run but not all boat landings are accessible. Wide pebbled banks have fallen dry. People enjoy playing on them. But this is not what the river bed ought to look like.

Then the boat reaches Remagen, a small town on the western river bank. Its skyline, if we want to call it such, is dominated by the beautiful neogothic church of St Apollinaris on a hilltop above the town.



However, Remagen is most famous among the so-called “history buffs” whose interest in German history is focused on World War II. The bridge of Remagen was, in March 1945, the last functioning bridge across the Rhine. German soldiers were to blow it up before the arrival of the Americans but they failed because they used too small an amount of explosives, but they nevertheless caused substantial damage. The U.S. Army were able to use the bridge for several days until it finally collapsed.

The bridge towers on both sides are still standing. They are memorials, but not for ‘military glory’. One of them contains the Peace Museum which informs about the gruesome sides of war rather than glorifying it.



Linz is the turning point. The boat stops for some 10 minutes to let passengers disembark and new passengers board. I simply stayed on board. It was a pity not to have time for a walk round the town, though. Linz is known for its beautiful half-timbered houses and I would have liked to see it and take some photos. But then I would have missed the evening train back to Karlsruhe.

The right riverbank was now in my full view. It was accompanied by a serving of French fries and an alcohol-free beer that I treated myself to.

Traffic on the river was heavy. The Rhine is a major highway for freight barges.

Opposite Remagen lies a village with the funny name of Erpel (which is the German word for a male duck) with its pretty church.
The mountain behind Erpel, where the railway line across the Remagen bridge entered a tunnel, is formed from basalt. The typical rock structures are amazing.

Unkel is another of those landings where we could not stop due to low water. It is a wine village which looked quite interesting from afar.

The panorama of the Seven Mountains can now be seen from the other side. The view of Drachenfels is most spectacular from the south, where it has its steepest and rockiest slope.

Königswinter sports the river promenade of an upscale resort town. Another place that would have merited a stopover.

Back in Bonn

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:50 Archived in Germany Tagged cruise bonn rhine nordrhein-westfalen Comments (0)


Beethoven monument and one of the prettiest post offices in the country

Münster church (currently under renovation), the historical city hall, and the monstrous new Stadthaus


Bicentennary advertised on the hoarding

I came to Bonn because of a conference I had signed up for. Since I had neither paper nor talk to give, I had a relaxed approach to this event. The programme had some nice features but not everything was of interest to me. So I granted myself the freedom to run off the last panel of the day.

The conference took place at the university’s main building, which is no other than the big yellow palace that had once been inhabited by the Archbishops and Electors of Cologne. At some point the city of Cologne did not want the Archbishop to reside within their boundaries anymore, so Bonn was chosen as the new residence.


The university of Bonn is celebrating its bicentenary this year. In time for the festivities they decided to do some renovations and refurbishments…in other words, parts of the building are a construction site. The iconic view from Hofgarten is thus obstructed by an ugly high fence.
Hofgarten, formerly the gardens of the palace, is now a public park. Its wide lawn is a popular hangout among university students, be it for studying, chatting with friends, playing games or just doing nothing.


The interior of this university building is a maze. The organizers failed to set up a logical system of signposts, so finding one’s way was a complicated matter, at least for those who, like me, did not know the location. I have always considered universities (semi-)public buildings but in Bonn they are very tight about who may enter. That means many corridors and passageways blocked by locked doors secured by alarm, which does not make matters easier. Or doors were opened for a few minutes before and after lectures, and then relocked. Even to leave the building you needed to ask for the door to be opened. They say that due to their location in the middle of the city they have to be this careful, but to me it all seems overzealous. It was certainly confusing and annoying for us temporary guests.


The conference programme included a guided tour of the main palace as well as a visit to Poppelsdorf, the summer palace of the Archbishops. Sadly, both have been hit excessively by World War II bombings. There are very few rooms which have preserved a bit of original stucco and give an idea of the baroque splendour that ruled here. After all, the Archbishop of Cologne was the one who crowned the Kings and (in the early modern era) the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the second highest in rank (after his colleague in Mainz) among the Prince Electors. He needed a home that befitted his status.

The palace consists of four wings around a rectangular central courtyard, with the characteristic four towers on the corners, and a number of side wings. We learned, though, that not everything is as old as it pretends. In the baroque era the palace had not been completed. One and a half wing and one of the towers were still missing. Only in the 1920s the gap was closed. The interiors show distinct 1920’s style.

Clandestine snapshot of a historical photo from the beginning of the 20th century that we were shown during the tour. Front wing and tower are still missing.


The central courtyard, unfortunately used as a parking lot for university employees, which does not add much good to its looks.


Two rooms in the souterrain, once the Archbishop’s private “party cellar”, have preserved their stucco. They now host the library of one of many university institutes.


A seminar room on the first floor with some leftover baroque stucco.


The neoclassical university church, formerly palace chapel. In recent times it has been turned into a protestant church.
This is, apart from the inner courtyard, the only bit which is freely accessible. All the rest is off-bounds to tourists.

A perfectly straight boulevard in westward direction, lined with trees, connects the main palace with the summer palace in the suburb of Poppelsdorf. Perspective makes it look rather close but in fact the distance sums up to about 3 kilometres. It’s quite a walk. I wish I had rented a bike already on the first day!


Weird things were going on along the way. These must have been some strange rituals for the welcoming of the new first-semester students of medicine - including some kind of race dressed in underwear.



The little palace on Poppelsdorf has a square ground plan which looks rather simple from the outside. It was supposed to be one storey higher but financial problems required a simplification of the plan. The architect’s fanciest idea was inserting a circular inner courtyard into this square block. Unfortunately, you guessed it, this building is also currently undergoing renovations.

It is occupied by university institutes like zoology and botany, and the politics of closed doors apply here just the same. The inner courtyard is accessible during the day but not the interior of the building. There is one hall which is preserved in its original shape with baroque stucco, all the rest is post-war.



In order to show us this hall, the organizers had obtained an arrangement with the caretaker who had, after some negotiations it seems, offered a time slot for us in the last 15 minutes of his workday.

It almost went wrong because the caretaker had expected a call on his cell phone while our guide had expected him to show up at the appointed time… a search party then found him somewhere in the building, so all looked well… but the battery of the electronic key was empty so the substitute key had to be found… phew… in the end the door opened and we were able to enter.


The hall has some interesting stucco that shows gardening tools and devices. The Archbishop had founded some kind of “gardeners” order who held their meetings in this room. Nowadays the university rents it out as a venue for seminars and conventions. They do not even use it for their own events.



The palace is surrounded by the botanical gardens of the university. These, including the greenhouses, are open for everyone and can be visited for free. They are worth seeing. After the tour we still had plenty of time before the evening reception, so some of us took the chance for a walk in the gardens (while others did not get any further than the terrace of the café). In the meantime the sun had come out, the first autumn colours were shining.

Once in every couple of years the botanical gardens of Bonn make the headlines and attract thousands of visitors at once: when the titan arum is in bloom. The largest flower in the world blooms for hardly more than one single night. They are currently hoping in Bonn… the question is whether this here, about 25 cm high at the moment, will grow into a blossom or a leaf.

Information board showing the life cycle of the titan arum



Biking Bonn and the Rhine



My hotel offered rental bikes, and the next morning I got one for the rest of my stay. No more painful walking…

Biking in the centre of the city isn’t that entertaining. Bike lanes exist on the main roads but they are narrow and car traffic is heavy. The pedestrian zone in theory allows cyclists, which is fine in the evenings, but during shop opening hours the crowds of pedestrians are just too dense. The side streets are a maze of one-way streets, tram tracks, huge buses that take almost the whole width of the street. But the numbers of cyclists are nevertheless high, also due to the vicinity of the university, so we hold our ground.


Ready for takeoff

As soon as you leave the immediate centre, though, the situation changes drastically for the better. A signposted network of bike trails and bike lanes leads practically everywhere. The finest route for a little bike tour is, of course, the river promenade.

The weather was much too nice and sunny to spend the whole day inside a darkened lecture hall watching PowerPoint presentations. During the afternoon coffee break I ran off and jumped on my bike. The wombats were already hiding in my backpack as they had expected this and wanted to join – they know me ????

We made our way down to the Rhine promenade and cycled upstream. There is a bike trail right by the river that leads I don’t know how far, but one could cycle for several days in a row.


This afternoon I went as far as Mehlem, the southernmost suburb of Bonn. The next day, watching the river bank from the boat, I was actually very proud of myself when I saw how far I had come, all the way against the wind!

The route first passes the government quarter, seat of the Federal Government from the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 until the move to Berlin after the reunification.

After passing the former parliament building (Bundestag), the trail runs through a large park that covers a vast area in the wide river bend, known as Rheinaue. This area was the site of the Bundesgartenschau (garden exhibition) in 1979. I remember our family visit. My father was very much into gardening, so the Buga was a must. As a teenager who had to spend far too much time in the family’s allotment garden, I probably wasn’t as enthusiastic. – The exhibition grounds were then turned into a permanent park, truly a gain for the city and the citizens.

The Rhine promenade continues along the following suburbs of Plittersdorf and Bad Godesberg, the spa town within Bonn's boundaries.

In Plittersdorf this chapel-like building next to church and cemetery caught my eye. In the 19th century it had been built as mausoleum for the noble family von Carstanjen. The last member of the family died in 2005. For about a decade it has now been used as a burial site “for everyone”. The architecture was designed after the Pantheon in Rome, a popular model in neoclassical architecture, though at much smaller scale (obviously).

Cycling past Bad Godesberg, the Seven Mountains on the other side of the Rhine came into clearer view. I was already opposite Königswinter, and almost opposite Drachenfels. Two car ferries cross the river, one at Bad Godesberg and one at Mehlem.

The Mehlem-Königswinter ferry and Petersberg

Reaching the promenade of Mehlem, I decided it was enough and I deserved a break. The café by the river wasn’t open, unfortunately, so the snack was limited to an apple and some water on a park bench, enjoying the landscape view.

And resting my aching backsides: the bike itself was fine but it had a terribly hard saddle!

Enjoying the view of Drachenfels

The return back to Bonn was easier because I now had the wind in my back. In the city I had a quick light dinner and a big glass of Apfelschorle, before it was time for the evening event.

Memories coming back - found this in an old photo album: Family walk on the Rhine bank, 1971.
That's little me with my Mum, Grandma and Dad. Grandpa must have taken the photo. I like how he bent down to my eye level to catch the picture from my perspective!
In the background you can spot the Mehlem-Königswinter ferry. Mehlem used to be a popular destination for an afternoon outing from my Grandparents' place (they lived in Rheinbach, about 20 kms west).

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:15 Archived in Germany Tagged bonn rhine nordrhein-westfalen Comments (1)

Frankfurt Airport: Gateway to the Wide Wide World



Frankfurt Airport (FRA) is my home airport. Most of the (rather few) flights I have taken in my life started from here. On internet forums I see that many who consider themselves seasoned travellers hate this airport. What can I say – I am used to it. I have, for obvious reasons, never been in transit there so I cannot tell how well or not so well that works. Sure, sometimes patience is required, be it in long lines at security, or at baggage claim. But, so what.

To me Frankfurt has a big advantage: a long-distance railway station at the airport. No need for uncomfortable transfers on crowded commuter trains, the ICE takes me from Karlsruhe right to the terminal in one hour.


This airport always has the feel of being part of “the wide wide world”. Even when going for a lame inner European flight, it feels like being on big travel. Planes are departing and arriving from all five continents. The big display lists names of distant cities I’ll never see. People from all over the globe roam the terminals, a multitude of languages reaches the ear.

Yes, I am still a bit romantic about all this… you can tell that I don’t fly very often.

Early morning landing - on board Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur, returning from Australia. After a seemingly endless night flight, Frankfurt's skyscrapers in the morning sun welcome us tired travellers home.

A 380 Spotting



The A380 planes use the new Z wing in terminal 1, the back front of the bay behind the A gates. Looking into that bay is rewarding, often there are two or even three Lufthansa A380's docked to the gates. I also saw a Thai Airways one, and once at a takeoff there was a Singapore Airlines one in front of us.

I admit that spotting these big fat planes excites me. Frequent flyers may shrug their shoulders but I feel like a 10 year old again if I see them. I know it is just a matter of physics, but still amazing to see such an enormous mass of steel airborne.

We landed in Frankfurt on the way back from Stockholm and they put on a show for us. There were two Lufthansa A380's at the gates and while we waited for disembarkation, they both went out and got ready for takeoff. The disinterested rest of our party prevented me from waiting to actually watch the start and catch photos, but at least I caught a glimpse of one of them taking off.

How can this flat plump thing fly?

For Visitors: Coach Tour of the Airfield



The airport also offers something for visiting tourists. First of all, there is the visitors’ terrace on top of Terminal 1. When I was a kid, we visited a couple of times, even though this was quite a detour on our usual family travel routes.

One walks along the rooftops of concourses A, B and C to watch the planes at the terminal, the landings and take-offs. The terrace had been closed for many years but I hear that it has recently reopened.

There is a visitors’ terrace on the newer Terminal 2, too.


Another activity is a coach tour. They take you out on the taxiways, almost to the runways. You get to see the planes from close by. The guide explains how the airport works and what is going on around the various planes.

Refuelling. Looks like this is a boring job.

There is a tight security check before the bus enters the high security zone. You can take your camera but nothing else. All bags had to go into lockers. They would not even allow me to take Russell the wombat. (It is wise to carry a handkerchief in your pocket that day.)

Airplanes always have right of way

I have done this tour twice. Once, we came over with two elderly relatives, to give them a day out with something interesting to see. My boyfriend had organized the tour. So, luckily I knew about these tours when, on the day we were flying to Tallinn, we were stranded at the airport for a couple of hours due to plane delays. (Never again CSA!) We were a bunch of nine ladies – some went off to see the posh shops and have a coffee, but that’s too boring to me to while away several hours. I suggested checking whether there was a tour on, and there was.

On the taxiway

The whole affair takes about one hour. Except for the security control you stay on the bus all the time, so the tour is suitable for disabled persons.
More: https://www.frankfurt-airport.com/en/explore/airport-tours.html

Photo options are limited from the bus through the windows. Nevertheless you have the chance to catch some good shots.

Loading baggage

Frequent flyers, once more, may find this lame. But to the infrequent traveller, to people interested in how things work, to families with “techie” kids, or to people who have to fill a couple of hours at the airport like us, these tours are a fine offer.

My personal airplane beauty contest winner: Thai Airways Jumbo in the older design


Posted by Kathrin_E 11:39 Archived in Germany Tagged frankfurt Comments (3)

Bad Ems: Once an Imperial Spa



Bad Ems is a small spa town on the river Lahn. It was the favourite summer resort of Emperor Wilhelm I, hence in the late 19th century it became the meeting point of royals and aristocracy, V.I.P.'s and wannabe-V.I-P.'s. At that time it played in the same league as Baden-Baden or Karlovy Vary, although it is much smaller. The appearance is still that of a belle époque spa.


The 'life and soul' of the town is the river. The surrounding hills do not leave much room. The important buildings, the Kurpark and promenades are all lined up along the river banks, mirrored in the waters. A walk by the river is the best way to appreciate the architecture and spirit of the town.

Bad Ems actually consists of two parts: the spa area in the east and the old village centre further west. Its history dates back to the ancient Romans. The border between the Roman Empire and Germania ran right through here. We may well assume that the soldiers stationed in the castrum on the Limes have already enjoyed the natural hot springs.

The 'tourist' part of my visit to Bad Ems was short and rushed - in fact I was there for three days but most of that was filled with business. I had hardly two hours for a walk and a little sightseeing. During that walk I had and enjoyed the company, though, of someone who knew the place well and showed me round, so I learned quite a bit about the town and its history.

On the Roman Limes



Its location right on the Limes makes Bad Ems a World Heritage site. In the 2nd century A. D. the border between the Roman Empire and Germania ran right through the present town centre. The border was fortified with a palisade and guarded by Roman soldiers. Their castellum was located where the centre of the old village and the protestant church of St Martin are standing now.

Various information boards, most of them fairly new, explain and depict the Roman history of the place and area.

On a hilltop on the southern side of the valley, named Wintersberg, next to Hotel am Limes, a Roman watchtower has been reconstructed. From its viewing platform you must have a fine view of the town and valley, I suppose (we did not make it up there).

Emperor Wilhelm I. and the Emser Depesche


Bad Ems owes a lot of its fame to the fact that Wilhelm I, the Prussian King and from 1871 onwards German Emperor, loved this place and came for treatments regularly over almost six decades. Ems became the “imperial spa”; and a meeting point of the European aristocracy in that time.
A monument to Emperor Wilhelm I with his statue made from white marble was erected in the Kurpark in 1892.

Bad Ems made history in 1870 because of the Emser Depesche (Ems Dispatch), sent to inform Bismarck about the then still Prussian King Wilhelm’s encounter with the French ambassador concerning the sequel on the throne of Spain. The text of the telegram was then published in a shortened version which was to, and was indeed, taken as offence in France. The result was the French declaration of war, which led to the German-French war of 1870/71 and finally the proclamation of the German Empire and Wilhelm as Emperor.


19th Century Architecture


In addition to the spa buildings, the residential houses are worth a look. They represent Bad Ems’s golden era in the late 19th century.

Along the long street that connects the old village centre with the spa area (Römerstraße) you’ll find the finest examples, many of them were or still are hotels or guesthouses.

The quarter by the river around Victoriastraße has several fine villas from the late 19th century.


Karlsburg: House of the Four Towers


The so-called House of the Four Towers (Vier Türme), also named Karlsburg, is the oldest among the buildings of the spa area. It dates from the end of the 17th century.

It looks like a small palace with four towers on the corners.

Nowadays it is the seat of the Office of Statistics.

Badhaus – Old Bathhouse


The first spa house was erected in 1715 as Nassauer Badehaus for the Dukes of Nassau.

Spa activities began already around 1700, although Bad Ems’s 'golden era’ took place more than 150 years later. The building is still used for spa treatments. It also hosts a restaurant.


Spielbank Bad Ems



The centre of spa life is the Casino and Kursaal building on the river bank next to Kurpark and the various springs. The complex was erected in the 1830s and unites various functions. In the west there is the casino, one of the oldest in Germany, and the theatre. The central part contains the Marmorsaal (marble hall), the magnificent festival hall, designed after the model of the renaissance Villa Farnesina in Rome. Attached towards the east there is an open colonnade with a café and restaurant.

Bad Ems’s Walk of Fame


The spa town indulges in its history and commemorates the many aristocratic and famous visitors who came to Bad Ems in the past, mostly in the 19th century. Along the northern side of the Casino and Kursaal building, a row of bronze platters is inserted into the pavement, each naming a famous personality. These include rulers like Emperor Wilhelm I and Tsar Alexander II of Russia, authors like Goethe (now show me a place where Goethe has not visited!) but also his Russian colleagues Turgenew and Dostojewskij, the opera singer Jenny Lind, composers (Richard Wagner, Jacques Offenbach, Clara Schumann) and many more.




The Kurhaus is the most upscale location for treatments. Originally these were two separate buildings, one on Hassian and one on Nassau's ground as the border between both states ran right through here. In 1912/13 they were connected and united with a common facade.

The Kurhaus is not an upscale hotel with its own spa facilities. (What a pity that there was this ugly red crane right in front of it.)


The Brunnenhalle (Spring Hall) on the ground floor is free to access. It contains two springs. One of them, the one in the niche underneath the stained glass windows, is the famous Emser Kränchen. The water is free to take but they have no free cups, just elegant glass cups that must be paid for. Bring a cup or small bottle if you have one.

Also note the furniture and design (I could not take photos inside) Far too posh for my taste...



The pavillion on the riverside promenade by the spa hotel and the bridge covers one of Bad Ems's healing springs.

Due to the town's historical origins it was named Römerquelle, although there is no obvious connection to the ancient Romans.

The water is free to take but you need to bring a cup or small bottle. Unlike others in town this one is a cold spring. The taste is - hmmm, but could have been worse.


A few steps lead down to the fountain.

Seems it is only open and runnning in the warmer half of the year to avoid freezing, though.


Robert-Kampe-Sprudel - The Big Spring


The strongest spring in Bad Ems is named Robert-Kampe-Sprudel (no idea after whom). The artesian fountain exits with enormous natural pressure and can reach a height of up to 8 metres. At a temperature of 57 °C it is also the hottest among the local springs. The spring is covered by a modern hall by the entrance to the Kurhaus.

The waters are extremely rich in minerals. They are mostly used to cure asthma, katarrhs and other condiditons that affect the breathing apparatus. The concentrated minerals are on sale in pharmacies far beyond Germany's borders as as Emser Salz and Emser Pastillen. They are a popular remedy against colds and sore throats.

More about the healing waters of Bad Ems and how to use them for which medical conditions is described (in English) on the website of the Staatsbad: http://www.staatsbad-badems.de/EN/thermal_heilquellen.html Before you consume larger quantities, it may be wise to do a little reading about their effects…



Every Kurort must have a Kurpark and Bad Ems makes no exception. Due to limited space in the narrow valley it is not big but pleasantly located on the bank of river Lahn. A long straight double alleyway with flower beds in the middle, sycamores by the river and linden trees along the street, symmetrically designed, extends from the casino to the monument of Emperor Wilhelm I. Further west a park with large trees surrounds the old bathhouse and the Four Towers house.

From Kurpark, we had the best view of some remarkable buildings on the opposite river bank.

Russian Church


The many Russian visitors to the spa got their own church. The Russian Orthodox church of St Alexandra was built on the river bank opposite the Kurpark in 1874-1876. Its five onion-shaped domes, one gilded and four blue, add an exotic feature to the townscape.

The pretty half-timbered house next door with the large veranda was originally a guesthouse and café. The orthodox community recently bought it and uses it as parsonage for their priest and as community centre for their activities. This parish community has got a fine seat indeed.


Balmoral Palace


The white building on the slope behind the Russian church was owned by a Russian and named after a Scottish palace. The style is an example of the German Rundbogenstil, developed at the end of the era of classicism with some neorenaissance features. It dates from the 1860s. Originally it was named "Villa Diana";, but after a few years it was turned into a hotel, then it received the name Balmoral.

Nowadays Balmoral is an “artists house” which grants stipends to talented artists who can stay and work there for a certain time. Their works are then displayed in an exhibition once(?) per year.



This is not a medieval castle keep or watchtower. The so-called Spring Tower is not as old as it may appear – hardly more than 100 years, it was built in 1907. Nevertheless it is a beautiful landmark on the southern river bank. Together with the fountain in the river it is most photogenic from Kurpark - see my intro photo.

From closer by it is less romantic. Its grounds are nowadays occupied by a minigolf course.


The best view of the spa buildings, however, can be enjoyed from the footpaths along the river banks. We crossed the river and walked the trail on the opposite side, too. From there we had the the panorama of Kurhaus and Casino. Here the trail is right on the river bank all the way.



Posted by Kathrin_E 09:59 Archived in Germany Tagged spa rheinland-pfalz bad_ems Comments (4)

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