Sunday, May 7, 2006

Bonn and Rhein in Flammen

My friend Andrea, her husband Jeff, and I decided to go to the opening weekend for Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames) yesterday. Rhine in Flames is a yearly event that takes place several times over the course of the summer - beginning generally in the towns along the Northern end of the Rhine and then moving down the river, generally ending somewhere around Bingen each year (usually in conjunction with a wine festival).

Since yesterday's event took place around the area of Bonn/Königswinter, we decided to leave early in the afternoon to spend a few hours sightseeing in Bonn, drive across the river to Königswinter, and then watch the fireworks from there.

It was a beautiful day for sightseeing…low 70s, sunny, just a bit of a breeze, but not enough to be uncomfortable. We had a nice drive to Bonn…it takes a little over an hour to get there. But wouldn't you know, we had no sooner arrived in Bonn, waiting at a traffic light at an intersection, when Jeff's car died. He pushed it to the side of the road and attempted to figure out what was wrong with it. He guessed that the fuel pump went out (an accurate assessment, as we later discovered), and then commenced to calling ADAC (the German auto club). He told Andrea and I to go ahead and get out of the car and do our sightseeing. We weren't far from the main train station anyway, which is where we had planned to park and begin our walking tour. So Andrea and I left him to deal with the car and we went ahead to begin our sightseeing.

We stayed in the general area of the Markt. There were lots of interesting things to see, not the least of which was a beach volleyball tournament right in the cathedral square. Rather odd, but interesting. We wanted to visit the cathedral, but it was closed. It was completely covered in scaffolding too, so I couldn't even photograph it. We had no particular destination in mind, other than the Beethoven Haus, so we just meandered along the shopping district, making note of potential places to have dinner. We eventually found ourselves a bit lost, as the signs for Beethoven Haus came to an end and we couldn't find it. So Andrea consulted her map, realized we were about a block from where we should be, and we backtracked and found it.

So we paid the admission and went in for about an hour. It's a good sized house, but with small rooms. No pictures allowed inside. Beethoven's viola, organ, and his various woodwind instruments were on display. His hearing instruments (ear trumpets and whatnot) were also there, as was his life mask and death mask. It was interesting. The room in which he was born is completely empty, except for a bust of him sitting in the center of the room. It was an interesting way to kill some time, and the gardens outside were pretty. The gift shop was nice too. I picked up a couple of Andy Warhol's Beethoven paintings in postcard form to send to some friends, and I got a magnet that has his sheet music printed on it.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Andy Warhol's Beethoven

After the Beethoven Haus, we were starving. Andrea had already talked to Jeff a few times, and he was in the process of having the car towed to the shop and getting a rental car (all of which is covered by ADAC), so he told us to go ahead and eat. I remembered seeing a tapas bar just a couple of blocks from the Beethoven Haus, so I asked Andrea if tapas sounded good, and she agreed. So we sat outside at the tapas bar, happily nibbling away at our mixed tapas platters, when Jeff called. He had the rental car, he was parked at the train station, and he wanted to know where we were. So we told him the street name (we were sitting across from a big church…I think it was, in fact, the one in which Beethoven was baptized). He took his GPS unit and plugged in the coordinates, and several moments later, we saw him coming down the street. So he joined us, shared our tapas, got a bit more for himself, and we had a nice dinner.

After dinner, it was going on 8, so we decided it was time to leave Bonn. We made our way to the train station and picked up the rental car (emblazoned on all sides with the ADAC logo…AWESOME! :P) and we drove to Königswinter. I should mention that this town's claim to fame is Castle Drachenfels, a ruin at the top of this absolutely massive hill that you can see for miles around. Drachenfels is apparently "the world's most popular hill." There's a funicular that goes to the top to the Drachenfels visitor center, stopping halfway up for people who want to visit Schloss Drachenburg, which is a large Rococo palace. We weren't sure we would be able to visit Drachenfels, since we read that the funicular only operates until 7 pm. But we were in luck, because of Rhine of Flames, they were open until 11:30, and they were taking people up to the top to watch the fireworks. From up there, you can see all the fireworks displays, which started at Linz at 9:50 and ended at Bonn past 11. So we paid our 8 euros round trip, and took the funicular to the top just as dusk was settling in. The views were AMAZING. It was incredible to watch the lights come up on all the towns around the Rhine.

The ruins themselves were closed off by that time, but they don't look that big anyway, so I was content to just hang around the visitor center. Large crowds had already staked out spots, particularly on the side that looks out over both sides of the Rhine. We got there too late…we could only see the river from Linz to Königswater. We wouldn't be able to see the fireworks show in Bonn. But we held on to the spot we could get…fortunately, it was along a wall so I could set up my tripod, and we waited for the fireworks to begin.

Once they began in Linz, we could barely see them…but they were there, at a distance. Ten minutes later, fireworks started going off at a location nearer to us…we could actually hear them this time. At the same time, we started to see the fleet of lighted barges snaking its way down the river toward Bonn. Some barges that were lit up all in red were floating close to the banks, giving off a reddish glow that really did look like flames. Ten minutes later, an island just below us started shooting off their fireworks. That’s when I got most of the photos.

The Königswinter fireworks began, but on the other side of the visitor center from where we were. But we found a spot where we could see most of them. At the same time, the Drachenfels ruins were lit up a bright red.

Then, the Bonn fireworks were to begin. There was no spot we could find where we would have a good view, so we decided to just get on the funicular and beat the crowds. We sat on the train for a good long time, waiting for the fireworks to end. We could see the sky lighting up, but that was about it. Finally, the hordes were coming, and we were grateful that we had seats.

So we came down, found the car, and then headed home. I got in at around 1:15, exhausted and with a splitting headache, but very very happy. It was a fun day, despite the car mishap, and we all had a wonderful time.