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Germany II 15-18 May: Trier, Koblenz, Mainz, Speyer

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Fortunately, while domestic (Luxembourg) rail was transferred to bus services, to cross the border into Germany involved an actual train. Arriving early, I spoke with folks from Florida (near Cape Coral) before boarding a milk run. At our second stop, we were held, resulting in arriving in Trier 6 minutes behind schedule. There was no wifi on the train, but I had checked ahead and knew how to proceed from the bahnhof to the hotel. (A non-functioning mobile meant no Maps or internet.)

Just after 11, the room wasn’t ready so I pulled my camera out and headed through the Porta Negra to the nearby Tourist Office. Along with arming me with a map, they gave me suggestions for mobile service and directions, which only confused me. At Vodafone I asked after T-mobile, and determined a shop was around two corners. Once I bought a prepaid 10 euro SIM, which set me up for 4-weeks of service and installed the chip, I tested by texting Florida, so I felt better (and connected!)

Front facade, High Cathedral of Saint Peter, Trier
High Cathedral of Saint Peter, Trier

Roaming a bit, I walked past the abbey to the High Cathedral of Saint Peter where I got head-on shots. Entering, I learned it was Germany’s oldest cathedral. (I had thought Aachen was). I took my shots, and located a guide who confirmed that I‘d actually located the cathedra.

Upstairs behind the altar is a chapel with an unseamed garment venerated as Christ’s. Back into the nave, I appreciated the beauty of the organ, and descending, found the crypt cool in both senses of the word.

The Liebenfrauenkirke Basilika, while not a cathedral, is stunning. New glass is presented in round windows. I marveled at the stations, taking a picture of the 13th as is my wont, but also the 11th, as I thought the guy doing the nailing looked brutal. While I was inside, it rained briefly, probably while I was purchasing two angels and a carabiner which got sent home. The carabiner was to replace the one I had on my water bottle, which joined the list of lost and forgotten items this trip.

Out to wander, stopping at a market to get salad, cheese, bread, bananas, juice and a couple of chocolate bars. After eating on a bench, I walked into a clothings shop (I really have too much clothing and don’t need any more, really,) deciding not to get two polo shirts at 35 euros the pair. Passing the post office, I collected a box, which I took back to the hotel and filled to near overflow, sending some clothing, paper collected on board the ship, those numerous chocolate bars. Taking it back to the post office, I had nearly 10-pounds of stuff to send off.

Having achieved a reduction in my gear, I rewarded myself with a Froh Kolsch and then a Froh Radler (beer and lemonade) which came with a plate of bread and cheese.

Dinner was at Papa Lu’s, a burger place. My meal was a spicy crispy chicken wrap (with pickles, salad, gouda) and mango ice tea, with sweet potato fries.

May 16 saw me moving on, where the walk to the station took 10-15 minutes, less than expected. The train to Koblenz from Trier arrived 10 minutes early, but left 4 minutes late. A virtually empty train that followed the Moselle, crossing it several times, I observed lots of land planted to grapes, a most scenic train ride. My walk from the train station took a half hour, a bit longer than Maps indicated, but I once again managed to start off in the wrong direction. At the hotel I left my gear as the room wouldn’t be ready until 2pm.

Because I was based in the city center, when I walked outside, the big department stores Saturn and Decathlon, as well as the Tourist Office were nearby. At the TO I found the staff unfriendly and unhelpful, avoiding making eye contact staring at computer screens. Their coldness was a surprise, particularly after the warmth of their counterparts in Trier.

Koblenz isn’t a cathedral city, although there is an important basilica there. The four German cities on this leg had been planned when I booked and then canceled a Viking river cruise. Besides the church, my itinerary included crossing the river to the top of the hill and see its fortress. On my way to the basilica I passed and visited two other churches, the Catholic Liebfrauenkirche and the Evangelical Florienskirche.

At the Basilika St. Kastor or Kastorkirche, I found a smaller building with pews just in the central nave, and some interesting glass. The lattice of the ribbing in the vault is notable. Art from various periods was placed throughout the interior, some of which I found intriguing.

Back outside, I wandered over towards the confluence of the two rivers which define the city of Koblenz: the mighty Rhine and the milder Moselle. A brilliant riverwalk borders the junction, with a tree-filled park and several memorials, while the funicular cars ride from the base city to the heights across the Rhine. I booked a combo ticket, which would allow me to take the flight across to the heights for a look at the fortress and park, and then return to board a riverboat for a cruise on both rivers. Cloud cover was about 65%, and it was cool, but the spritzing rain of Trier hadn’t followed. My flight jacker was just right for keeping me comfortable.

The boat trip goes up the Rhine for about 7-8 minutes, turns around and rounds the point to spend about 15 minutes on the Moselle. Back to the point, we traveled downriver on the joined Rhine. A broadcasted recorded travelogue, lengthy in German and brief in English, revealed landmarks and history as we never went under a bridge. There were nice views of the extended city and the citadel, including an island downriver that seemed to be just a bridge support. It was cool and windy, however, I spent the entire trip up top in the bow of the ship.

I returned to the hotel to get settled. Email revealed that my replacement phone would greet me in Strasbourg, so I called Schwab Germany to get access to my account so I could send Sue Ann a check to cover her expenses sending the mobile on. Room 203 was a single twin, with not a lot of room. As I planned on wearing everything again, I didn’t need my larger bag. After booking the included breakfast for 7:45 and requesting a second pillow, I headed out to get a banana, juice and chocolate.

 Insalata asparagi at L'Osteria
Insalata asparagi at L'Osteria

Spaghetti Chitarra Ragu alla Bolognese
Spaghetti Chitarra Ragu alla Bolognese

Dinner at L’Osteria, I started with a half liter of Primitivo to accompany the Insalata asparagi (green asparagus and cherry tomatoes with honey and rhubarb juice on mixed baby leaf salad with house dressing and Italian hard cheese) and Spaghetti Chitarra Ragu alla Bolognese. And a bottle of still water. I enjoyed the salad, wishing for a bit of balsamic vinegar to enhance the hot pieces of asparagus and tomatoes. The pasta was cool, probably sitting waiting a bit longer than it should, without much flavor. The bread crust was yummy, and I noted that I enjoyed the flavor profile of the wine.

Up Wednesday morning, I was unimpressed by the hotel’s buffet breakfast. I limited myself to a portion of scrambled eggs and a buttered piece of bread, leaving the fruit and yogurt. To get to the station I opted for a taxi at 10€, not wanting to haul the bags around Koblenz. Arriving at 8:30, I was faced with a choice: the local train was running 10 minutes late, while the express in 20 minutes was behind 5. Using the “bird in the hand” decision-making solution, I boarded the milk-run which arrived first, taking an 80-minute ride with 20 stops. I noted that 3 LDS elders on their mission were waiting on the express train, which passed my train about 25 minutes later.

An uneventful and quiet ride, I exited the train and the Mainz Hauptbahnhof using an elevator to get to the opposite side of the station, went through an underpass and across a complex intersection to the hotel. My room wouldn’t be ready until 3, so I pushed the bags into the storage room and returned to the lobby, camera in hand.

While researching any trip, I try to find walking tours in my “ports of call”, whether land or sea. Mainz has a unique (at least for me) service called Greeters, where a local will meet and guide visitors on a walk through the city. Heide and I had been emailing back and forth, so when she arrived at the hotel lobby just before 11, we greeted as friends. An older woman, she had modified her usual tour plan to complement my desire to see the cathedral, and with our shared interest in churches.

Heide led me to the old Roman archeological finds. Mainz had been founded at the junction of the Rhine and Main Rivers in the last pre-Christian century, so old fortress walls and stone roadways have been found. A brilliant multi-use complex had been built incorporating the finds, up on a hill with an overlook of the new and old cities stretching out on the plain below. With the telephoto, I grabbed shots of the dome and towers at either end of the cathedral, near the Rhine River.

Descending, our next stop was St Stephan’s Church. Heide wanted to show off the windows created for the church by Marc Chagall. There are 9 windows by Chagall, three in the apse behind the main altar, the remaining 6 in the presbytery and transept, with additional windows by his atelier added in the nave. There is a mystical blue glow that fills the entire church space, complementing the white and brick-red colors of the structure. From the serenity of the church, walking into the attached cloister only increased the sensation of holiness and peace.

As we continued our walk, we strolled through courtyards, alongside buildings, across stone-paved passages. World War II was hard on this industrial city, so the buildings we passed were sometimes original and other times reconstructions. Public art abounds. One piece, the Carnival Fountain or Fastnachtsbrunnen, is in Schiller Place; nine-feet tall and cast in bronze, jets spray water from small figures that surround this tower. My “little kid” took such delight in walking around it and examining the over 200 characters. The state theater, red stone façade, is topped with a circular glass addition. Gutenberg is honored with a series of monuments


As we circled the Cathedral, we approached from northwest with the entrance facing east, and among the surprises I encountered in Mainz was an ex-cathedral. Behind plywood-covered photographs was the old cathedral of St John. Not on my radar, this was a bonus, albeit we were unable to get inside.

Side facade, Old Cathedral of St John, Mainz
Old Cathedral of St John, Mainz

Without notes, I’m not sure why, but we didn’t enter the cathedral then, perhaps because Mass was underway. From my photos, we passed by a number of older dwellings, looking at pubic fountains, statues, and plaques on walls.

Arriving at the Augustinerkirche, with a Baroque façade of deep rose-colored stone, the interior single-aisle nave was rococo to-the-max. Pastels filled the murals on the vault, and a golden open baldachin-like structure stood against the apse wall, crowning over the high altar and tabernacle.

Another block away, around a corner was a three-story stone building – the oldest extant German residential building, dating to the late Middle Ages. Another block towards the river, and the Holzturm stood isolated by pavement: 6-stories tall, it had been part of the city’s defenses in Medieval times.

As we kept zigging-and-zagging south, the Church of St Ignatius came into view. A baroque red-stoned façade, its interior was crisp and bright, most white walls with gold and gray stone altar shrines in the transept and presbytery. Huge gilt-framed murals filled the vaults and dome.

Facade of St. Martin's Cathedral, Mainz
St. Martin's Cathedral, Mainz

Heading back, we again approached the Mainzer Dom / St Martin’s Cathedral from the west end, which held the apse and presbytery. Circling to the north, we walked past the Gutenberg Museum, surrounded by huge displays of printing plates and stones carved with written-word history, and the Nagelsäule, an oak-wood column decorated with nails to raise funds during WWI. A model for the cathedral in bronze stood outside, showing its two larger towers at the east-west ends, smaller spires at the east transept, and a cloister to the south.

We entered the grounds through the cloister, the external walls are all colored red sandstone, while the interior sandstone is a light tan. With a high vault in the nave, curved arches fit between square-based columns rising to a clerestory with windows over murals depicting elements of Christ’s life. Two chancels, with the east rising up two dozen steps beyond a cord barrier over the crypt, the west broader and a dozen steps also had a cord. The cathedral is dark inside, due to the choice of replacement glass of a translucent smoky color, which Heide didn’t like. We visited the crypt, but I was not permitted to mount the stairs to the apse, although I found the cathedra to the rear of the main altar. Burial memorials abound, but no sacrament was kept in the prayer chapel.

Carvings of white stone graced the altars, memorials and shrines that spread throughout the nave and transepts. There is an interesting blend of old with new in the art and ornamentation, a sign of a living church.

After three-quarters of an hour, we escaped into the cool sunshine. I began noticing that public utility boxes had been regularly decorated, some with photographs, others with physical creative paintings. Suspecting Heide might be hungry, I suggested lunch, and we stopped about 3:30 to share a glass of white wine; she had a sandwich while I had a salad. Onward, we passed the stone shell of a church which had been converted into an open-air café and theater before we entered the Carmelite Church. A tall, narrow building, white walls with what I’d come to think of as Mainz-red accents, much of the ground-level was modern, although there is a triptych as the altarpiece. Most of my interest was on the stained-glass windows, with late twentieth-century cartoons depicting Bible scenes.

Walking to the riverfront near the Theodor-Heuss-Brücke which crosses the Rhine into the neighboring state of Hesse, we strolled past the Kurfürstliches Schloss, the Elector’s Palace rebuilt after WWII and now used for conferences, meetings, celebrations. We were out of the old city, in a more residential neighborhood, so wall art (aka graffiti) sprung up on empty walls.

One last church on Heide’s plan, the twin-spired Church of St Peter. Glitzy baroque on the inside, the intricate gilt ornamentation handing on the columns looked like filagree work. The vaults were filled with murals, darker to contrast with the white-and-light-pink walls and columns. The main altar, at the front of the presbytery, is a marble table, with a sculpture of a fisherman’s net beneath. (Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen before being called.)

I am unsure of how many churches we actually visited in addition to St. Martin's Cathedral, but when we finally parted (I had insisted on walking her to her bus stop) it was nearly 6pm! Mainz is a fairly quiet old city - much of which is solely restricted to pedestrians. With no through traffic, ambient noise is mainly simple street sounds of feet and conversation, the occasional luggage rolling over the stones. In fact, I didn’t hear an ambulance all day! The day was warm, almost too much for the bomber jacket, and it only began cooling down in the evening.

After getting assigned room 503, I unpacked a bit and then headed out to dinner. Thai Country was my choice, with tom yam gai (chicken soup) and pad Thai, accompanied by a Konig Ludwig Hefeweisen Hell vom fass (draft ale). No wine as an option, and the restaurant was packed.

Reflecting over dinner, I realized that I like Mainz, and would return to spend a few more days to explore it if given the opportunity. I’d have an hour extra in the morning, as my train was later, and only an hour-long ride

My destination on May 18 was Speyer. Leaving Mainz, the escalators in the station worked, but the platform was full of travelers. It was Ascension Thursday, and I’d guess many were making it a 4-day holiday weekend. The train filled, but I was able to get a seat in the bicycle area with both bags, and the elevators were working in Speyer. The walk into town ran along a tree lined street for a good half kilometer, but it was balmy and sunny. So a comfortable walk.

Once in town it got a bit confusing. The reservation was with Maxmillian, which is basically a restaurant business that manages rooms-to-let in four (or more) locations. It was 11:30 when I arrived, and my keycard and room wouldn’t be available until 3. Pulling my camera out, I hefted the bags down a flight of stairs to store, and headed to the end of the main thoroughfare to the cathedral.

Front facade, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St Stephen, Speyer
Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St Stephen, Speyer

The Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St Stephen is a large and imposing building with four towers at its corners and a central octagonal dome tower over the crossing. Exterior stones varied markedly in color, with horizontal stripes. The entry door is very heavy, a challenge for anyone to open. Royal statues adorn the porch, leading to expectations of splendor, however, once in the nave, the interior is “naked”. The only ornamentation were the Stations in the aisles. The striping from the outside seemed more random, as the Doric-style columns varied with red, gray, beige stones. The vault arches were Romanesque, smoothed curved ribs with a white ceiling. Fresco paintings lined the central nave walls above the arches to the aisles and the clear clerestory windows. Behind the main altar (at the crossing,) 9 steps lead into the apse, with a hanging (or rood) cross above. Wanting to see more, I opted for a ticket giving me access to the crypt, tower and royal salon.

The crypt held royal tombs. The space was similarly unadorned, with low curved arches. It is a vast space, with 6 simple stone altars in the chapels under the aisles, each with a unique sculpted cross, and a central altar below the high altar. Fragments of memorials hang on the walls.Up a short stone spiral staircase, first I encountered the salon, where brilliant large oil painting adorn the walls. A note indicated that Vuillard’s widow paid for the gallery’s extension to the cathedral. It allowed an awesome view of the nave floor.