When I started visiting Marburg a year and a half ago, I frequently used BlaBlaCar to take the direct autobahn route from Trier. Occasionally, when no lifts were available, I’d take the train along the Moselle to Koblenz and then along the Lahn to Marburg. Since then I’ve been talking about doing a cycle along these rivers from one home to the next. Now I can cross this adventure off my bucket list, well half of it at least.
On Wednesday last week, Jacob and I embarked on this train journey once again and made our way to Trier where we were to pick up two bikes. One was J’s old bike, or to be more precise that of his oldest brother, and the other has been lent to me by a friend. Once off the train, our first destination was Domänenstraße to get the first bike. Upon entering the garage we could hardly believe what good condition the bike was in, not having been touched in nearly a year. We didn’t even need to pump up the tyres. We chatted to one of my old flatmates for a bit and collected some of my post, including a copy of Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue that would later come in handy in various instances of wait.
We stayed with two friends of ours and their new addition to the family, a six month old black lab called Rex. The holiday feeling began here as we were welcomed into their home. After a gorgeous dinner of Raclette and a subsequent tremendous night’s sleep, we woke up to the first day of our trip. In the morning Anna and I went for a walk with Rex whilst Jacob went to salvage a bike rack from one of the world’s many abandoned bikes. Spending time with Anna and Vali was wonderful and it made me realise I’d missed them quite a bit in the last few months. I met Anna in my first few weeks in Trier almost three years ago. We’ve been close friends ever since and I appreciate being able to see her again.
In the afternoon we were ready to set off. We picked up the second bike from the lovely Annette, another close friend of mine from my time spent in Trier. I met her on my first day at the school in Ehrang where we both taught English. Well, she was the teacher and I would “assist” to the best of my abilities with various games and anecdotes from the UK. We reminisced slightly about our year together in the school and it felt like no time had passed at all.
Back at Anna and Vali’s, we packed the last of our things and off we went on our journey along the Moselle. The Moselle valley was inhabited by Celts for the first thousand years BC. In 50 BC the Romans conquered Gaul and started working their way up through northern Europe, cultivating and inhabiting land along the way. They named the Moselle Flumen Musalla (as is mentioned in their map, the Tabula Peutingeriana). Its name is the diminutive form of Mosa, (i.e. Little Mosa) the Roman name for the river Meuse which runs adjacent to the Moselle.
The oldest city on the Moselle in Germany is Trier which was settled by the Romans in around 17 AD, after which they continued to make their way up the Moselle towards Koblenz. The romans didn’t just shape the land around the Moselle by cultivating wine and building bridges and temples, but they also gave the villages the names they have today. Our first stop was Schweich, first recorded in the 8th century as Soiacum (lit. with soya, perhaps referring to the land’s use as pasturage). Here we picked some cherries from a riverside tree and snacked them at intervals along the way.
In Riol we had our first proper break. We’d cycled here nearly exactly two years ago and knew how pleasant it was so we made a slight detour to one of the lakes where you can do various water sports or swim. We did neither of these activities, and instead bought a couple of beers from a kiosk and watched the sporty types around us splashing around, drenched in water and sun.
As night began to fall we cycled into Neumagen-Drohn, in Latin Noviomagus Trevirorum (meaning new market for the people of Trier), a wine-village known as the oldest in Germany. We cycled through the picturesque town and found a campervan park by the river. Although there weren’t any tents to be seen, we debated setting up our tent on the expansive lawn. In an aim to avoid being moved on or asked to leave, we made the decision to continue a couple of kilometers further and found a small spot to pitch our tent next to the river.
In the morning we sat by the river and ate our breakfast, taking in the morning that was growing in noise and action. Once on our way, we were lucky to see the biannual event of the Stella Noviomagi entering the water. In 2007 the “Star of Neumagen” made its maiden voyage on the Moselle. The ship is a remake of a Roman stone wine ship, now located in the Rhineland State Museum in Trier.
All along the Moselle we saw Japanese Knotweed and, despite sounding like it’s not a weed, it very much is. The invasive plant was brought to Europe in the first half of the 1800s and due to its vigorous growth, it can have a negative impact on biodiversity and damage to property. In the UK you can even get a fine if you plant it in your garden. But other than this, we saw the Moselle as a place of ecological importance for animals, such as fish who use the many locks as spawning grounds where the water slows down or lizards who sunbathe on the many slate vineyard walls.
We stopped for lunch in Bernkastel-Kues where we raided the reduced section of a supermarket and enjoyed our picnic feast next to the river. Like many places on the Moselle, the hyphen between the words might as well symbolise the bridge linking the two villages. In other words, Bernkastel is the town on one side of the river and Kues on the other. Bernkastel comes from the Latin name Beronis castellum (the baron’s fortress) and Kues (Lat. Cues) comes from the Latin Covese, meaning granary. Kues is the birthplace of the 15th century philosopher Nikolaus von Kues. Above the town of Kues sits Landshut Castle offering peaceful views over vineyards and slate-roofed houses.
Our next stop was Traben-Trarbach. As we approached the town we first casted our eyes onto the ruins of Grevenburg castle built in the 14th century. Our initial plan was to find a campsite to pitch our tent and drop off our things so that we could hike up the hill to behold the views from this particular meander in the Moselle. Upon finding a campsite on the other side of the river, we were dismayed to find out that campsites in Rheinland-Pfalz are only open for campervans, the idea being that people have their own facilities and don’t have to cross others’ paths in the showers or toilets. We felt lost for a moment and slightly disappointed that we wouldn’t be getting the shower we’d all hoped for, my hayfever being the third party in this scenario.
But not to worry. We bought two ice-creams from the receptionist who told us we unfortunately wouldn’t be able to stay there and proceeded to plonk ourselves on the grass to eat them whilst mulling over our next plan. We ended up continuing downstream, keeping our eyes peeled for an appropriate pitch. As the sun was about to set, we settled too on another tuft of grass next to a vineyard. In the morning we ate breakfast in the sun that gradually made its way over the hill on the other side of the river. It was a perfect and peaceful morning.
We arrived in Cochem (Lat. villa cuchema) in the early afternoon of the next day and ended up spending nearly five hours strolling about its cobblestoned streets. We wandered up to the Reichsburg, the 12 century castle overlooking the Moselle and the town. The castle is quite unlike any other ruins along the Moselle that demonstrate the functionality of a fortress. This is because it was rebuilt in the 1860s by a wealthy Berliner who wanted to transform the Romanesque ruins into a neo-Gothic summer home.
After some hours whiling away the afternoon until evening, we hopped back on our bikes and went in search of a place to rest our heads for the night. We cycled for another hour or so until Treis-Karden (Karden was originally known as villa cardiniacus and Treis as trisgodros villa publica. I would love if any Latin experts could enlighten me to the etymology and meaning of these place names!) We found a perfect speck on a hill between a hedge and a bench which seemed as close as we could get to no man’s land. The night was fresher than before but we settled into our tent and drifted off to sleep unaware that this would be our last night outside.
At about half four in the morning, I woke up to an excruciating pressure in my left ear. I had no idea what was going on, but I thought it must be something to do with my hay fever that had been particularly bad two days before, the severity of which I’d clearly underestimated. We debated what to do. I couldn’t breathe well, my sinuses clogged and swollen, and I couldn’t hear anything out of my left ear. We decided to travel back to the hospital in Cochem. After some blood tests and intravenous-painkillers for my acquired inner ear infection (and a 45 minute nap), we were out of the hospital just after seven a.m. and began the journey back to Marburg. Our disappointment was only slight as we’d had a blissful holiday of 158 kilometers along the Moselle. Back in Marburg a day earlier than planned, we were able to relax and settle back into reality. And as awful as things may seem in the world, trips like this, into nature, into the unknown, that delve into situations of uncertainty and trust, give you time to process what you have to be thankful for as well as make you question what you want to change.