Cologne to Heidelberg

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Cologne to Heidelberg

In total this day involves approximately 165 miles. It is quite varied. From Cologne, you take the motorway A555 to Bonn, go through Bonn and Bad Godesberg along the Rhine, take the motorway A61 at Remagen as far as Boppard, the boat to Oberwesel, along the Rhine again to Bingen and then the A61 and A6 all the way to Heidelberg. For the stretch between Boppard and Bingen (the most interesting part of the day) and for some general comments about the river, see notes on the Rhine Cruise. You drive through three Länder, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland- Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. Distances are given from Cologne.

Bonn (16 miles) in the Land of Nordrhein-Westfalen, 300,000 inhabitants and shrinking fast. Unless you have a group of devoted Beethoven fans, it is not really worth getting out of the bus.

NB. For the moment at least, Bonn is still Germany's seat of government. The capital is Berlin. At the time of writing, early 1998, the projected date for the transfer of the government to Berlin is 1999. Some ministries will remain in Bonn.

The town itself is fairly ordinary. (It was really only chosen as capital in 1949 because of some judicious lobbying by the Chancellor Konrad Adenauer who, by strange coincidence, lived nearby). Until that time, Bonn's only claim to fame was Ludwig van Beethoven. He was born here in 1770 and lived here until leaving for Vienna at the age of 22. His house in the Altstadt can be visited. As you enter the town you can see the modern concert hall, the Beethovenhalle, on the left.

The federal buildings are all in rich, residential suburbs south of the town centre. You should have the driver take you past the three most important: the Villa Hammerschmidt, residence of the President (currently Roman Herzog), the Palais Schaumburg, residence of the Chancellor (...), and the Bundeshaus, seat of the German Parliament. None of these is particularly grand or, for that matter, particularly visible since they are all surrounded by parkland. Bonn stretches from here into the town of Bad Godesberg with its various ministries, embassies, party HQ's and offices, all in the process of moving out if they haven't already done so.

Siebengebirge  After crossing under the railway viaduct leaving Bad Godesberg you drive close by the Rhine. Opposite you are the famous volcanic hills known as the Siebengebirge, the northern limit of German wines. Above the town of Königswinter stands the ruined castle of Drachenfels named after the dragon who used to live up on the rock. There is a tradition that the dragon was slain by the great German hero Siegfried who then bathed in its blood to make himself invincible. (Another tradition says that the dragon was hurled into the river below by the fervent prayers of a Christian woman it had captured.) The story of Hansel and Gretel also comes from this region. If you look back to the north you can see another building on top of one of the hills, a hotel called Petersberg. This is the most luxurious hotel in Germany where, among other luminaries, Charles de Gaulle, Queen Elizabeth, President Kennedy and President Johnson have stayed.

South of Bad Godesberg, you leave Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany's most urbanized and industrialized Land, and enter Rheinland-Pfalz, the greenest and most rural of the Länder.

Remagen (30 miles) scene of one of the most famous episodes in WW II. Crucially on March 7, 1945, the railway bridge here fell to the U.S. 9th Armored Division, the first time the Allies had been able to secure a bridgehead east of the Rhine. This bridge, the Ludendorff railway bridge, was the only one left over the Rhine — the Germans had already destroyed the rest. The bridge was relentlessly but unsuccessfully attacked by the defending German forces in an attempt to stop the Allied troops and armaments pouring across the river. When the bridge finally collapsed on March 17 (due not to bombs, in fact, but to sheer weight of traffic), other bridgeheads had already been established, the Allies were firmly ensconced in the German heartland and the march to Berlin was underway.

After Remagen you should leave the Rhine and join the A61 south as far as Boppard (71 miles). For the stretch Boppard-Bingen, please refer to the Rhine Cruise notes. At Bingen (96 miles), you rejoin the A61.

At first the landscape through the mountains of the northern Palatinate is hilly, pretty and decorated with vineyards. After Alzey the road begins to descend to the Palatinate plain. There is nothing of man-made interest. Just north of Ludwigshafen you leave the route of the A61 to join the A6.

Ludwigshafen (140 miles) is an unimaginably ugly industrial town on the Rhine. Happily you only skirt it to the north. It is the home of the massive chemicals conglomerate BASF. Helmut Kohl is the parliamentary representative for this city.

On crossing the river you leave Rheinland-Pfalz and enter the Land of Baden-Württemberg. The outskirts now belong to Mannheim, the port city at the confluence of the Rhine and the Neckar.

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