Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Koenigswinter: Touristy but Fun

Koenigswinter may be the most visited German town you've never heard of. Rhine cruisers - day trippers (it's 50 minutes from Bonn by boat) or lengthy excursionists - stop here at the foot of the Drachenfels (Dragon) Mountain.
Legends of dragons and knights were the draw for Lord Byron and other romantics. The Counts of Drachenfels sported a winged, fire breathing dragon in their coats of arms and Siegfried is supposed to have slain the dragon which lived in a cave on the hillside.

Today, the castle is in ruins and the only dragons you are likely to see will be in logos and on shop signs.

As you walk from the ferry dock up into the quaint medieval town (you leave "flat and level" with the river) look down at the entrances of houses and shops. The occupations of the original inhabitants are indicated by picturesque tiles.

The "castle" most Koenigswinter tourists visit was neither a stronghold nor even lived in. Schloss Drachenburg, halfway up the mountain, was the Gothic fantasy status symbol of Stephen Sarter, who had been born into a middle class Bonn family of hotel keepers and made his fortune in the Paris stock market.

Status and image in the land of his birth were all for Sarter, who glorified himself and the former glory of Germany at the same time. He started his castle in 1882 and was made a baron in 1881 by Duke George von Saxony-Meiningen after a payment of 40,000 gold marks.

Sarter, who became a French citizen and died in a tiny Paris apartment in 1902, never lived in his castle although he was buried in Koenigswinter below his folly. His nephew allowed guided tours of the castle, the Roman Catholic church ran a boarding school on the grounds and the Adolf Hitler School took over in 1940. Now owned by a North Rhine-Westphalia foundation for preservation of local monuments, it is again a tourist attraction.

The views of the Rhine from the terrace are stunning, the tour of the castle's interior is interesting and the grounds are lovely.

Warning: Getting there is a hike, with steep hills and lots of steps. The Drachenfels Rail, a rack railway and the oldest mountain railway in Germany, will take you most of the way. but you will have a steep hill and 17 steps to reach the station.

Tip: A little train will take you from the Rhine to the 17 steps up to the station; it runs every 30 minutes or so.

Warning: Once you arrive at the rail's terminus, you will have 37 steps up, another short hill and 22 more steps to reach the castle's main level.  Once there you have 11 steps to the first floor entrance and 34 steps to the second floor.

Tip: There is a lift and by spring of 2011, improvements should cut out the first 37 steps from the train.

You might prefer watching traffic along the Rhine from the terrace at the Maritim Hotel Koenigswinter. The adjacent bar is a great place to snug in with an adult beverage if the weather turns wet or chilly.


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