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Tuesday, September 9th, 2003


The Dom, from the banks of the Rhine RiverThe weather in Germany is frequently rainy. Citizens seem to embrace this, as dismal as it is. Perhaps they’ve all chosen to remain here because the grey skies give them something to be displeased about. (Complaining is a national pasttime.) (Hmm, come to think of it, I’d fit right in.)

Yet for six weeks over the summer, there was no rain. The dry spell did not affect the vegetation, so far as I can see — the countryside is as lush and green as pond water downstream from the phosphate factory — but the rivers have shrunk appreciably.

Now the Rhine has an extra 20 feet of shore on each side, revealing about a zillion clamshells and a few discarded tires. Not far from the eastern bank stands the Dom, the Köln Cathedral, imposing like a nun at the back of a grade-school classroom, ruler in hand, veil not quite hiding the dark scowl. The huge church is oppressive in spite of its coating of thousand-year-old grime.

Rhine Stones
Stone sculpture along the RhineI never pass an opportunity to stack river stones into sculpture — order from chaos, balance in defiance of gravity, art using raw materials from nature. (Yes, I’m a fan of Andy Goldsworthy.) Faintly visible in the background are two gondola cars from the Kölner Seilbahn.

Urban Recycling
The night lights of the Landschaftspark Duisburg-NordThe modernization of the German steel industry has orphaned a number of steelworks. We visited one that has been uniquely repurposed as a tourist attraction, Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. An artist (Jonathan Park) was commissioned to create a permananent installation of primary-colored lights, which at night transform this enormous, hundred-year-old industrial blight into surreal beauty.

This is an exhibition that would last about 24 hrs in America, because that’s how long it would take a visitor to fall down one of the poorly-lit metal staircases and sue the park owners into bankruptcy. The passages and stairs have to be dark, or else the effect of the colored lights would be lost. The Germans pick their way through carefully in spite of the danger, and the exhibit is much better for it.

Not pictured, but equally impressive as an example of urban recycling is the ~80 foot tall Gasometer (storage tank) on the premises. It was scrubbed clean, filled with water, and is now the classroom for a scuba diving school.

Grape vines on the steep hillsides of the Ahr ValleyThe Ahr Valley is home to a number of small picturesque villages and a greater number of wineries. The towns, and the train connecting them, fill the valley. Climbing the steep hillsides are row after row of grape vines.

The “red wine hiking trail” runs along the ridgetop. Every few kilometers, a side trail descends to a town, which offers regional fried specialties in any number of charming restaurants.

The trail is not a loop, but the train in the valley makes one-way hikes easy. We hiked up the valley for two or three hours, stopped for lunch, hiked on to the next town, and then rode the train back to our car.

In the town of Altenahr we passed the local Metzgerei. The logo leaves little question about what happens inside.

posted to channel: Travel
updated: 2004-07-17 16:52:28

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