Friday, January 21, 2011


The castle/hostel from the train station below
It probably means "Altar to Bacchus" which makes sense for a village about the size of Mayville, ND that has thrived for centuries on its wine-making expertise.  For my only night in small-town Germany, I am holed up at Burg Stahleck, Bacharach's ancient castle perched high atop the Rhine Valley that has been converted into a hostel.

Yes, I am staying in a castle, and I couldn't recommend it more highly.  For my 27 euros, I am housed in a private room that I am told once served as quarters for soldiers.  I am right behind the castle's main tower, and the assessment seems right.  The burg (German for castle...berg means mountain) feels just like a Medieval castle should outside of the actual rooms, which have been fitted up with modern amenities like plain white walls and, you know, running water.

The town itself is two main streets along the Rhine, which sees constant shipping traffic throughout the day and barge after barge of coal and shipping containers steam past.  It was cold but sunny today, making the town and its riverside park all the more picturesque.  A memorial in the park somberly chronicles the town's dead from German wars in 1864 and 1866 (Austrian Succession), 1870 (Franco-Prussian) and 1914-18.  There are quite a few names for a town this size.

The town's main business is tourism, though, and most of it is shut down in January.  None of the recommended restaurants in my guidebook were open, all the owners either on vacation or not wanting to bother putting in the effort in such slow months.  After making my second climb of the steep hill to the castle (which I must say is much easier without baggage), I made do with a frozen salami pizza in the Burg cafeteria, which wasn't half bad, particularly for someone like me who needs a regular tomato sauce fix.

The hostel clearly has a family clientele, and the vast majority of tenants are German.  Screaming children are playing at swordfighting in the courtyard and in the hallways, so I walked to a more silent spot below the castle to watch the town at night from above.

River traffic does not flow at night, and the only lights in the semi-hibernating town were street lamps and residents' homes.  I watched a passenger train pull into the train station below.  No one got on or off.

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