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    Victor Hugo
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    Two centuries later: The Rabbi of Bacharach

    by Nemorino Updated Sep 7, 2013

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    Upstream from Bacharach against the current

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    Heine says that for the next two centuries after the pogrom following the murder of "Saint" Werner in 1287, the Jews in Bacharach were "spared any further attacks of popular rage, though they were continually subject to enmity and threats."

    Actually there were also pogroms in Bacharach in 1365 and 1349, but Heine seems not to have known about these. The one in 1349 came at the height of the Black Death, a pandemic which killed a third to a half or more of the European population in just a few years and also led to widespread persecution of the Jews and other minorities.

    Starting in 1365 a number foreign Jews were allowed to settle in Bacharach, under the protection of the ruling counts palatine.

    The story of Heine's "Rabbi of Bacharach" takes place in 1489, when Rabbi Abraham is celebrating the rites of Passover in Bacharach with his lovely wife Sara and their relatives and neighbors. Two unknown men come in, claiming to be fellow Jews who would like to celebrate Passover with them. The Rabbi welcomes them and goes on reading but Sara notices a brief look of horror on her husband's face. After an instant he regains his composure and goes on with the ritual, but at the first opportunity he takes his wife's hand and flees with her through the dark streets of Bacharach. The two unknown men had brought a dead baby into the Rabbi's house, so they could again accuse the Jews of murder and start another massacre.

    The Rabbi knows a boatman who can take them upstream to the safety of the Jewish quarter in Frankfurt am Main. The boatman and the rabbi row all night against the current while Sara sleeps.

    In his narrative Heine pulls all the stops of German Romanticism, but also describes the Passover rites in loving detail from an insider-outsider perspective. At one point he hints at his own standpoint by saying that "even those Jews who have long since turned away from the faith of their fathers" cannot help being "shaken to the depths of their hearts when the old familiar Passover sounds happen to reach their ears."

    It happens that Heine was born on the Rhine River in the city of Düsseldorf, which is exactly 200 km downstream from Bacharach. (Bacharach is at km 543 and Düsseldorf is at km 743.) So I have put some more information about Heine on my Düsseldorf page and in my tip on the Heine House in Düsseldorf.

    While I certainly cannot claim to have read all of Heine's books -- he was a very prolific writer and today would probably be one of those guys who talk all night on the radio -- my impression is that "The Rabbi of Bacharach" is one of his outstanding works, serious, exciting, detailed, horrifying, vivid, but without any of the flippant sarcasm that mars some of his earlier writings.

    www.alemannia-judaica.de

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    Victor Hugo on the Rhine

    by Nemorino Updated Oct 28, 2012

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    Victor Hugo

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    "I have spent three days in Bacharach, a sort of Beggars' Headquarters forgotten on the bank of the Rhine by the good taste of Voltaire, by the French Revolution, by the battles of Louis XIV, by the artillery shellings of 1797 and 1805 and by the elegant and wise architects who construct houses in the form of desks and chests of drawers. Bacharach is surely the oldest heap of human habitations that I have seen in my life."

    Victor Hugo (1802-1885) wrote this in the "18th letter" of his book Le Rhin (The Rhine), first published in 1842. He was fascinated by Bacharach's medieval houses, which he described as "gothic constructions, hanging, leaning, groaning and holding themselves obstinately upright against all the laws of geometry and equilibrium."

    He calls Bacharach "this fairytale town, swarming with stories and legends" and says it is "occupied by a population of picturesque inhabitants, all of whom, the old and the young, the tots and the grandfathers, the goitrous and the pretty girls, have an unknown something in their looks and profile and comportment that seems like a whiff of the thirteenth century.

    This does not prevent the pretty girls from being very pretty, on the contrary."

    http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Le_Rhin/XVIII (My translations.)

    Update: I have also translated some of Victor Hugo’s observations from the same book, Le Rhin, for my Liège intro page and my tips on the Théâtre Royal de Liège, the Palace of the Prince Bishops and the Liège Museum of Public Transport, telling of Hugo’s travels by stagecoach.

    My photo on this tip shows a bust of Victor Hugo on the banks of the Rhine River at Bingen, which is fourteen and a half kilometers upstream from Bacharach, a distance of just over nine miles or -- as Hugo himself would have said -- just over three and a half lieues (in English: leagues).

    Victor Hugo was fiercely opposed to the metric system of measurement. He wrote in his Rhine book that kilomètres were part of "the disgusting language that the law wants to force on us, as though it were the prerogative of the law to make the language. On the contrary, my friend, in a huge number of cases it is the language that should make the law."

    Forty-one years after his death, through no fault of his own, Victor Hugo was declared a saint -- not by the Roman Catholic Church, of course, but by the newly founded Cao Dai religion in Vietnam. In 1964/65 I had the privilege of living for several months with an elderly Cao Dai couple in Tân Ba, Vietnam, as I have described on my Biên Hòa page.

    (See also my tip on Victor Hugo at Fürstenberg and Falkenburg for more on this important French author. And the travelogue Place des Vosges on my Paris page.)

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    The Sorceress of Bacharach

    by Nemorino Updated Aug 12, 2012

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    Photo: The Loreley, 10 km downstream from Bacharach

    Around 1800 the German Romantic author Clemens von Brentano (1778-1842) wrote his ballad "Lore Lay", which begins:

    Zu Bacharach am Rheine
    Wohnt' eine Zauberin
    Sie war so schön und feine
    Und riß viel Herzen hin.

    Which means more or less:

    At Bacharach on the Rhine
    there lived a sorceress.
    She was so beautiful and fine,
    and seduced many hearts.

    This was the original Loreley poem, about a lovely young woman from Bacharach who was too beautiful for her own good and a menace to the local men who kept falling hopelessly in love with her. While she was being taken to a nunnery (on orders from the bishop) she fell or leapt to her death from the top of the cliff which is now called the Loreley, some ten kilometers downstream from Bacharach.

    Brentano's ballad was very popular in its day, but twenty-two years later Heinrich Heine wrote a poem on the same topic, which soon eclipsed Brentano's in popularity.

    In Heine's version, which resembles the story of the Sirens in ancient Greek mythology, a lovely maiden sits on the rock combing her lovely golden hair and singing so beautifully that the captains of the river boats forget to concentrate on their steering and crash their boats against the rock.

    To this day if you take a boat trip along the Rhine you can hear Japanese tourists singing in German on deck as they pass the Loreley, and even if you can't quite understand the words you can be sure they are singing Heine's ballad, not Brentano's.

    www.recmusic.org

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    The murder of "Saint" Werner in 1287

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 19, 2010

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    Ruins of the chapel of

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    The first documentary evidence of Jews living in Bacharach is from the year 1019. At times the Jewish residents seem to have been quite secure in Bacharach, but there is evidence of persecution and pogroms in the years 1146, 1283 and 1287.

    Heine mentions the pogrom of 1287, because in that year a sixteen year old boy named Werner, later known locally as "Saint" Werner, was murdered and the crime was blamed on the Jews, who supposedly wanted to use his blood for their Passover rituals. Twenty-six Jews were lynched in Bacharach alone, accused of murdering Werner.

    These legends of Jewish blood crimes circulated in various forms throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, along with a related legend which claimed the Jews stole consecrated wafers from Christian churches and stabbed them with knives until the blood came out. Blood? In wafers? Yes, the faithful believed that the consecrated wafers contained the blood of Christ, which they thought the Jews wanted for their gruesome rituals.

    Around 1300 these two legends were combined. The story went that young Werner was about to swallow a consecrated wafer when some Jews grabbed him, hung him by his feet, took the wafer for its blood and then killed the boy for his blood. People believed this for centuries, not only in Germany.

    Werner was never officially canonized as a saint, but he was regarded as a sort of regional saint in the diocese of Trier, where his Saint's Day was celebrated each year on April 19th. This went on until 1963, when his name was finally removed from the diocese calendar (perhaps under pressure from the Vatican).

    Modern research suggests that Werner's murder was probably a sex-crime, but for centuries the legend of his murder by the Jews was reenacted every year at the "Werner Chapel" in Bacharach, to keep anti-Jewish sentiment alive in the Christian population.

    Now the Chapel is maintained as an appeal for tolerance among religions. In 1996 a plaque was attached to the chapel with the text of a prayer by Pope John XXIII (who was Pope from 1958 to 1963) praying for forgiveness for centuries of persecution of the Jews.

    www.heiligenlexikon.de

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    The rather free community of Bacharach

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 19, 2010

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    Bacharach on the Rhine

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    Bacharch, according to Heinrich Heine, was originally one of the municipalities that were founded by the Romans during their rule on the Rhine.

    "Although the times that came after were very stormy, and although they had to submit first to the Hohenstaufen and then to the Wittelsbach dynasties, the inhabitants nonetheless managed, following the example of other cities on the Rhine, to maintain a rather free community."

    This rather free community consisted of an alliance of different social elements, particularly the patricians and the various guilds of skilled artisans. These groups were unified when to came to warding off the raids of the robber-knights from nearby castles, but were constantly feuding internally, with each group trying to get the upper hand.

    www.alemannia-judaica.de

    GPS 50° 3'35.61" North; 7°46'4.92" East

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    Bacharach in the Middle Ages

    by Nemorino Updated Jul 19, 2010

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    Stahleck Castle above Bacharach

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    High above Bacharach in Stahleck castle lived a feudal official known as the reeve (German: Vogt) who was the local representative of the ruling nobleman, whoever that happened to be at the time.

    In "The Rabbi of Bacharach" Heinrich Heine remarked that the Lord Reeve sat in the high tower of the castle and swooped down like his falcon when he was called, and often also when he was not called.

    Then comes a sentence that is really elegant in German but hard to translate into English: Die Geistlichkeit herrschte im Dunkeln durch die Verdunkelung des Geistes.

    This means something like: The clergy ruled in darkness by darkening the spirit (of the people).

    www.alemannia-judaica.de

    GPS 50° 3'27.62" North; 7°45'52.68" East (Stahleck Castle)

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    Castle Stahleck

    by Nathalie_B Written Dec 29, 2006

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    Favorite thing: On the hill, high above Bacharach you will spot an impressive castle that is almost 800 years old. There are many castles can be found along the Rhine and Mosel rivers. It’s because they served two purposes. First they were built for defense from invaders, that were pretty frequent it those times. Second, many barons would simply build a castle to “mark” their territory and then to charge toll levy for those who crossed the land or even the river. Stahleck was built as a defensive structure and later it became a real castle with more than dozen of owners one after another. When it wasn’t bought, sold, rebuilt, or renovated it was invaded and destroyed, first by Swedish army in 1632 and then by the French in 1689 guess everybody got tired of its history and put it on hold till 1926, when it was partly restored and turned into a youth hostel that operates till this day and is favored by students and backpackers from all over the world.
    More restorations were done since then until it became what we see today. Please don’t make the same mistake and do what I did: don’t even try to get to this castle in the dark. A steep, narrow, muddy path leads to the Stahleck and you wouldn’t want to go there in the dark, at least not from the Wener Chapel’s side, because there are no lights and you won’t see anything. I never made it to the top ‘cause I didn’t want to break a leg or both of them :)
    There’s one problem, surely it is well preserved by the current owners, but why to put modern bars on the ancient windows?

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    Alterhaus

    by Nathalie_B Written Dec 29, 2006

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    Favorite thing: The “movie star” of Bacharch – Alterhaus (German for Old House) is the oldest and most photographed building in town. This half-timbered house was built in 1368 and is known as one of the most famous ones in the Loreley Valley. It was praised by German poets, composers, and moviemakers. Today it serves as a “Weinstube” – a kind of a wine bar where you can enjoy the local wine and have something small to eat like cheese etc.

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    Werner Kapelle - A chilling murder story

    by Nathalie_B Written Dec 29, 2006

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    Favorite thing: On a hill above the only church of Bacharach you will spot a gothic skeleton construction. This is the Werner Chapel. First it was built as a St. Cunbert church, but then a boy named Werner was murdered. The boys body was found near Bacharch and of course, like in every perfect fairytale, there was a miracle: Werner corpse wasn’t rotten, it was surrounded by bright light and smelled of violets. At these times only two assumptions could be maid: witches are guilty or Jews killed him for blood rituals. They choose the latter. Later it was called “racial delusion” by the Catholic Church and this is why Werner had never became a saint. However, the chapel was renamed and rebuilt, which took nearly 150 years. “Thanks” to the 17th century French invaders, only ruins remained from what once was a huge pilgrimage site. Today it is a protected monument surrounded by a fence and lit up in the dark, which makes it possible to be seen from almost everywhere in the village.

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    From top of the castle Stahleck

    by MATIM Updated Sep 19, 2004

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    river Rhine

    Favorite thing: From top of the castle Stahleck you have a beautiful view at the Rhine river.

    At the inner court of the castle are some banks and tables where you can sit down and relax, enjoy the view of the boats that sail on the river, and believe me there are many :-0
    You can order your drinks at the reception situated at the castle.

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    Burg Stahleck

    by MATIM Written Sep 19, 2004

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    Burg Stahleck

    Favorite thing: Walking through the streets of Bacharach we saw the Burg (Castle) on the top of the hill,
    A lot of stairs lead us through the woods to the Castle.
    To our surprise we noticed that it is a hostel.
    We ordered some drinks inside at the reception so that we had a good look at the interior.
    We saw a nice playroom for children, so our kids would love to stay there for a while.

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    in 2004 we where again in Bacharach

    by MATIM Written Sep 19, 2004

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    Favorite thing: Last year we stayed two days at Rudesheim.
    One day we rented bikes and decide to ride along the Rhine to Bacharach, we discovered a nice small camping spot directly along the river, so we said to each other maybe this is a good place to stay when we are at the way back from Italy.
    So we did this year. We got a nice spot along the river.
    In the evening we sat with a glass of wine along the river Rhine looking at the boats

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    USEFUL LINKS

    by pieter_jan_v Written Jun 26, 2008
    Bacharach city map

    Favorite thing: ...
    Bacharach.de website
    City Map

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