Cruising the Rhine River

Story and photo by A.L. Shaff
Contributing writer

When Judy and Jack Burk of Baton Rouge, La., wanted to visit their daughter in Germany last spring, they sent a daunting list of what they’d like to see and do, including a Rhine River boat trip, a castle visit and a sampling of good German food and wine.

Their daughter Melinda Gregg and Mrs. Gregg’s husband Gene, both Department of Defense Dependents Schools educators in Ramstein, found they could fulfill the list with a single United Service Organizations trip for $89 per person. The tour covers one day from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. with comfortable bus transportation to and from the Middle Rhine.

“My parents wanted sightseeing,” Mrs. Gregg said, “but we didn’t want to walk everywhere to see a castle, get some history and relax. With this trip, we passed through history and great landscape including the Lorelei and castles to (the) right and left.”

Starting at the Vogelweh bowling alley, the bus smoothly rolls through the German countryside to Burg Rheinstein, a private castle built in the 10th century just outside Bingen. The mistress of the house greets guests with a talk about her home, then invites the tourists to wander through many period-furnished rooms and gardens. The walls and windows of the castle present fantastic views up and down the Middle Rhine Valley.

Then the tour travels to St. Goar and boards a ship for the two-hour upstream trip past the storied Lorelei, the Mouse Tower and the Pfalzgrafenstein, a small fortress in the middle of the river that resembles a ship. Turning about, the boat lands the tourists at Assmannshausen and the bus whisks them to a rural wine village for a “burgerlich” lunch of classic German food and wine.

In the wine locale next door, Hans, a connoisseur, awaits to show his American guests wine tasting in the proper way. Also a local banker, Hans makes people laugh at themselves as they purse their lips and suck air over a wine sample while trying not to cough the wine onto the crowd. Hans singles them out one after another to come forward and learn more about the joys of wine.

In mid afternoon, they bus to Ruedesheim, famed for Asbach Uralt and for Ruedesheimer Kaffee made with that brandy. Narrow lanes of timbered houses offer wine restaurants with fanciful, carved facades on each side. Walking around the famed wine town for an hour provides participants opportunities to buy wine and souvenirs or for delicious afternoon pastries and thick German coffee.

“My family enjoyed this tour so much that I sent my neighbor, a new teacher in this area,” Mrs. Gregg said. “She got the perfect introduction to German culture and some of what’s available when people get out and travel. One of the great things about this trip is that we didn’t worry about driving home because after the wine tasting, we just got back on the bus and safely slept our way back to Kaiserslautern.”

One caveat: Because of the steep climb at Burg Rheinstein, this trip is not suitable for strollers, handicapped or wheelchairs.

PRICE: $89 at USO offices in the Kaiserslautern area.
NEXT TRIP: July 12 and twice per month through the summer and fall.