July 9, Cochem — Another day, another castle. In this case, Reichsburg, which towers above this stretch of the Mosel Valley.
The history of the castle is less glorious than the others — it was pawned to pay debts to the archbishop of Trier. In the 1800s, a rich Berliner bought and fixed it up according to the tastes of the 19th Century. It's beautiful but not very historic.
The best part of our tour was a display of falconry. The owl and the Harris hawk were fascinating and well-behaved. Mausi the half-breed peregrine falcon flew away and had to be fetched from some craggy outcropping beyond our sight. The falconer came back panting but unapologetic — at least in English. He explained quite a lot to the German guests that we didn't understand.
July 10, Hotel Eisenhut, Rothenburg ob der Tauber — This was a hot and muggy travel day — 90-plus degrees with humidity to match.
For part of the trip we took an ICE (Inter-City Express) train, which is an elegant, full-service bullet train, reputed to travel at well over 100 miles per hour. However, it didn't feel any faster than Amtrak.
The air conditioning didn't work, either. We saw on CNN that it's so hot, the units were overwhelmed. We arrived needing another shower and another nap. The Hotel Eisenhut is elegant. The bathroom was the biggest we had on the whole trip.
After dinner at the hotel, we squeezed into the weingarten for the third-place game of the World Cup. Germany dominated early but didn't score against Uruguay. A flurry of goals followed and Germany won 3-2. The crowd was pleased but not wild.
Apparently, Germans are not excited about winning third place.
July 11, Rothenburg — Our destinations have gone from "reizen," to "reizener," to "reizenete." Cochem is cuter than Bacharach, but Rothenburg is, in the words of Rick Steves, "the height of German cuteness."
We set out in the morning to explore. I whipped out the map and headed us to "The Old Forge." It's a traditional German building with freshly painted red timbers and a shiny coat of arms displayed prominently. At first glance it was deserted, but in a moment out came the owner, a German man in his early 70s.
"Is the blacksmith shop open?" I asked.
"It's never really open," said Hans Gerlach. Although it's on the tourist map, the shop is not an exhibit of German history. It's his home. "Do you want to see it?"
Well, thank you.
Hans' father was the last blacksmith in Rothenburg, having moved to this building after Rothenburg was accidentally bombed late in World War II. The father's tools — a couple of anvils, dozens of tongs and specialized tools for bending and shaping iron are all there. The forge still works and on cold winter days, Hans likes to fire it up and make things.
"Have you had breakfast yet?" he asked.
Yes, we had.
"Good," he said and pulled out shot glasses and a bottle of Jim Beam. "Then it's not too early."
As we downed a shot of Kentucky whiskey at 10 a.m. he talked about leaving his Dad's blacksmith shop and completing an apprenticeship at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Stuttgart. He worked in the division that developed new engines. There were over 100 engineers, but Hans was one of a handful of skilled machinists who built the prototypes from their designs.
After building a 10-cylinder engine for a sports car, he was part of the team that went to Le Mans for the famous 24-hour race. I couldn't help think that our mayor, former racecar driver Phil Katzakian, and my old go-kart racing buddy Randy Roget should meet Hans.
He recommended we walk around the city on its ancient wall. As we walked we noted stones placed in the wall with people's names and a note under each one — "1m," "3m," "5m," etc. After the war, there was an international appeal to restore the bombed buildings and the wall. People from all over the world gave. The increments of their gifts were honor in meters — enough money to restore a meter of the wall, or three meters, etc.
We took in the Museum of Crime. There were all sorts of medieval barbarity on display; I'll spare you description of a real live chastity belt.
We finished the day at the Christmas Museum. Talk about cute! Germans go over the top at Christmas time and at Rothenburg's Christmas Museum every day is Christmas.
Even if it's hot enough to trip the circuit breakers on the air conditioning.
Tomorrow: Rothenburg by night.