Tuesday, 26 May 2015

innocents abroad oder entlang der neckartal

For the long-weekend, though a bit wary of weather that appeared a little dodgy, we decided to stay relatively close to home and visited a portion of the Neckar river valley, going along portions of the tour that Mark Twain helped to retain their character and inchoate charm in his travelogue of Europe on a steam-powered pilgrimage to the Holy Land called The Innocents Abroad —though I’d argue that the area does so despite this notoriety.
Although H and I quite fancy ourselves sophisticates, we saw and learned quite a lot that we thought—between the two of us, we were familiar with.
The spare pair of days really telescoped themselves well to feel like a fully-fledged vacation just after we left the Autobahn at a curious place called Bad Wimpfen, with its medieval watch tower dominating the one-time imperial city of half-timbered (Fachwerk) buildings.
The market and spa town that grew up on the edge of the Roman world, the Odenwald Limes, was swapped between Frankonia, Hessen, Greater Hesse, Baden, Würrtemberg-Baden and then finally the modern state of Baden-Würrtemberg after it lost its imperial immediacy that meant that Bad Wimpfen was a city-state.
Afterwards, we took a leisurely drive, hugging close to the Neckar, between high cliffs, alternately thickly forested or cultivated as vineyards. For all the scenic beauty of the valley, it was strange that one could only capture it from on high—in sweeping vistas. H and I climbed next to Burg Guttenberg in Haβmersheim (I remember this because quite soon, the names of places veered decidedly less creative—all called Neckar- this or that—and kind of ran together) with its imposing late Middle Ages fortifications. The peasants were preparing for a jousting display but when such festivities weren’t underway, the castle was known as a regional centre for falconry.
Burg Guttenberg was on the opposite bank of the Neckar, facing Burg Horneck, a castle of the Teutonic Knights and just a little further on we came to the impeccably preserved playground called Burg Hornburg above the village of Neckarzimmern. The park consisted of a wine-cellars, hotel (where Twain stayed) and restaurant, naturally—and the estate has been in the same noble family for many generations, the friendly attendant and sommelier addressing another gentleman who stopped by as “Herr Baron”—but also an impressive ruin to explore and climb higher and higher.
We found a campsite in a nearby village of Binau right on the banks of the river.
 It was a nice place to rest for the evening but—and I suppose no one wants this in their backyard, seeing the nuclear power plant (Atomkraftwerk, AKW) Obrigheim just in the distance was a little off-putting. The next day, we cruised further along the river, past Neckargerach and Zwingenburg, and on to the small town of Eberbach with its massive cathedral set against the highest summits of the Odenwald. Another place mentioned in the whistle-stop tour was Burg Hirschhorn, another well-preserved castle with a playground.  Next, H and I visited the village of Neckarsteinach.

This heavily fortified and guarded town on one of the most formerly strategic and contested bends of the river is the southern-most projection of Hessen, and today forms quite the picturesque spot.
Four castles (die Vierburgenstadt as its known) cling to the ridges above the river valley and on the promenade, we were able to frame three of them in one shot. We camped between Neckargemünd and the outskirts of Heidelberg—probably Twain’s most celebrated destination but one which we’d both knew quite well and worth a future trip of its own.
The next day we passed through the storied city and quit the path following the Neckar to tour the palatial grounds of the massive gardens of Schwetzingen, nestled between the branches of the river.
The summer residence of the court of the Palatinate Electors, the rococo architecture and landscape is the German kingdom’s version of Versailles.
Even if the weather had held, it was maybe a little too ambitious to hope to cover all of the garden, with its resplendent sculpture, hedge mazes, menageries and architectural follies—including this “mosque,” there was too much to see in one afternoon. We could see the rain clouds advancing and hurried back to Lady. We’ll come back to see more one day soon, and some day perhaps repeat Mark Twain’s whole grand tour, making it our own.