Most probably the major reason for a visit to Bingen is to take a boat and see the magic Rhine Gorge with its countless castles and fortresses on the way to Koblenz (or Boppard, depending on how far you will travel). But there is actually more to see, as I found out when I recently came here to .. take a boat and see the magic Rhine Gorge. However, since my time was limited before and after getting on the boat, exploring Bingen will have to wait until my next visit.
Anyhow, Bingen is a perfect base to explore the many castles in the surroundings by boat, bike and hiking (and of course with the car). I can highly recommend to take a boat: it is the much more relaxing option to see the castles, since there are no traffic jams and photo “stops” all the time (as opposed to the roads, which have hardly any parking possibilities except in the villages) and it won’t result in stiff necks, because, on the boat you can see the castles on both river banks.
From Bingen, boat trips along Rhine Gorge are offered by 3 companies:
Köln-Düsseldorfer (KD) Line
I think they are all similar in what they offer. You can choose between round trips, called Burgenrundfahrt (castle tour round trip) or “public service” boats, which drive one way only but you can buy a ticket to take a return boat back to Bingen.
We took a KD line public service trip, got off the boat at Boppard, spent some time for sightseeing and lunch and went back to Bingen on another KD Line boat. This took us from 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. and did cost 20 € per person (10 € one way) in July 2008. As I don’t do boat trips like this regularly, I cannot compare, but I liked KD Line’s service. (see transport section for more about this boat company).
Bingen also has ferry service to Rüdesheim, which leaves every 10-15 minutes (approx. 6 a.m. to midnight) and costs 3 € for car + driver, plus 1 € each additional person in the car, 1,30 € for pedestrians and 1,80 € for person plus bicycle. (Prices as of summer 2009).
© Ingrid D., July 2008, update Nov. 2011: link exchange.
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The legends which interweave with the most beautiful Rheinstein Castle are a bit confusing – similar to the famous saying “ask 5 people and you get 7 opinions”. But on the other hand, legends have literally been “handed” over from generation to generation and it is most logical that small deviations happen. However, the storyline is similar in this case. But let’s start with the historically proven background:
Originally it was built as a watch castle to control the neighbouring robber knights at Reichenstein Castle in 13th century. These days it was called Bonifatiusberg (St. Bonifaz was the patron saint of neighbouring Mainz Archbishopric) and it changed names quite often. End of 13th century, King Rudolf von Habsburg came to Rheinstein Castle to plan his action against the neighbouring gang of robber knights on Sooneck and Reichenstein Castle (see Reichenstein Castle, later on this page). Over the following years and centuries, the castle fell into disrepair but was bought and restored by Friedrich Ludwig of Hohenzollern early 19th century as a summer residence. It was only then when it was renamed Rheinstein, following the “Rhein romaticism” trend of these days (Clemens von Brentano, Achim von Arnim, Lord Byron, etc). The neogothic chapel outside of the castle walls is burying ground for Friedrich Ludwig and his family. The castle remained in the hands of Hohenzollern family until 1975, when it was bought by opera singer Hermann Hecher. He and his family, with the help of state Rheinland-Palatinate and countless friends, have managed to repair and renovate the castle to his todays’ beauty.
There is of course a beautiful legend woven into the castle: Diethelm, once a knight who lived at Rheinstein Castle, had a beautiful daughter, Gerda, who eventually fell in love with Kuno of Reichenstein, nephew of the neighbour’s Reichenstein Castle knight. These days it was not appropriate to visit the future father-in-law and tell him that he will marry his daugther, but a higher ranked and older relative had to do this. So it was Guenzelin of Reichenstein, whom Kuno asked to perform this task. Old Guenzelin agreed but had another agenda in his mind, which was to tout for him. And as he had enough money (while Kuno didn’t), Diethelm was more than happy to give his daughter to the old man. Of course, both Gerda and Kuno were desperate but nothing helped to convince Diethelm to rethink his decision. But at the day when Guenzelin came to pick up Gerda for the ceremony down in the little church at the river, suddenly a swarm of bees were surrounding Gerda’s horse which started to run off. Guenzelin raced after her…. but his horse stumbled, he fell and broke his neck. And it was Kuno who rescued her and of course was allowed to finally marry her.
It has never been solved why or where the bees came from but the legends say that the water fairies often appear as bees and so Father Rhein and his folk did manage some justice in this family betrayal.
Burg Rheinstein can be visited of course. From March 15 to November 15 it is open daily (9:30 – 18:30) and during November 16 to March 14 only on weekends. Entrance fee is 4 € (and lower fees for kids and groups). It is included in the 10 castle ticket (10 castles along the Rhein for 19 €, which would cost 30 € in total if visited without this pass).
The castle offers many special attractions for visitors, such as a night tour or special tours for kids. And it has a nice garden and café for relaxation.
I like this castle very much. For me it is one of the most beautiful ones along the Rhein and the owners do take care of it with love and affection.
Oh and on the recent trip with my colleague from Brazil I have learnt that this castle and neighbour Reichenstein Castle can easily be confused due to the similarity of names:
Rheinstein = Rhein (river) and -stein = rock
Reichenstein = Reich/en (rich) and -stein = rock.
Update, December 2010:
Since May 2010, Marco Hecher, son of the owners, has reopened the little restaurant on the castle ground. I saw a TV documentation and yes, it seems to be better than ever. The restaurant is called Kleiner Weinprinz and has its own website.
Summer: Wednesdays to Sundays, 12:00 – 18:00,
Winter: Fridays to Sundays, 12:00 – 17:00.
Burg Rheinstein on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., July 2008, update May 2011: website exchange.
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Bingen is quite a good place to choose as a base, when you intend to explore the river Rhine. Just 14 km downstream from Bingen you will see one of the highlights of the Rhine-valley : Burg Stahleck in Bacharach
This lovely castle dates back to the year 1135 but it was destroyed by french troops in 1689. In 1828 it was sold to crown-prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, who wanted to restore it as a residence for his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria. But soon he found out, it was impossible to completely restore it, so it was sold again and became a Youth-hostel already in 1926. Today it might be the most beautiful hostel in Germany and built at one of the very best places above the Rhine-valley.
Stahleck castle may be visited freely and without restrictions by everyone, only a small part of the building is reserved for the hostel-guests - all the pics of Burg Stahleck, that you may see on this page are taken from the part that is open for visitors !
Dont miss to go there, also for the excellent view on the valley. Step up from the village within 20 minutes or drive up and park close to the castle !
Ruedesheim is just opposite of Bingen and you simply have to take a ferry-boat in order to get to the most famous village in the Rhine-valley: Ruesedheim am Rhein !Drosselgasse is certainly the most famous street in Ruedesheim am Rhein, and of course it is at the same time a terrible tourist-trap with extremely high prices...
BUT it is also a nice place to walk through and take a look at the special and fancy wooden facades of the buildings there. In order to drink a glass of wine you may still go to another part of town, that is a lot less crowded by busloads of tourists singing "Warum ist es am Rhein so schön..." ( Tell me, why is it sooo beautiful along the river Rhine..??)
Ruedesheim is in the federal district of Hessen, that reaches for just a few km also to the Rhine-valley at Ruedesheim.
Many of the hotels in Ruedesheim are pretty close to the train-line and sleeping might be impossible most of the night, so it might make sense to sleep in Bingen and enjoy the wine in Ruedesheim ;-)) !
BUT make sure you catch the last ferry !!
Maeuseturm / mouse-tower - is to be found on a small island in the river Rhine / Rhein, about 3 km downstream of Bingen and Ruedesheim. In the medieval times there was a rope or a chain going accross the river Rhine,fixed at Maeuseturm, and all of the merchant-ships passing by had to pay high customs-tolls in order to be allowed to go on with their merchandises. Nowadays you may not go there, but at least you may see it on a small and rocky island from from both sides of the river, when you pass by in the train or in your car.
Niederwalddenkmal, at the opposite bank of the river Rhine will be one of the first sights that you will see , when walking along the river Rhine in Bingen. This monument was built high above the town of Ruedesheim in order to commemorate the end of the war of 1870/71 between Germany and France. The architects Johannes Schilling and Karl Weisbach needed 6 years for the construction of the giant monument, and even Kaiser Wilhelm I. came for the inauguration . The basement of the monument is 25 meters high and the goddess Germania 12,5 meters high, her sword is 7 meters... around the monument you will see all coats of arms of the german empire.
Below the monument you may walk down the hill again, walking through great garden-terraces and ejoy the view of the Rhine-valley !
This is maybe the most prominent and well known “building” amongst the Rhein Valley gems and it is accompanied by a very spine-chilling but somehow satisfying legend. Sources say that already the Romans have built a tower on this little island in the Rhein next to Bingen. In fact it is a whole collection of little islands here, most of them covered by the water. Only the big one (with Mäuseturm on top) is permanently seen. The boring proved facts are that it was built as a watchtower by Mainz Archbishops in 10th century. Whenever a ship approached, the towers’ guards sent signals to the opposite Ehrenfels Castle, the ship had to land and pay the toll. Paying toll was quite promient these days and often the major income for the governors and bishops. And since Ehrenfels Castle, due to its location, did not have the possibility to watch the ship movement upstream, it was the guards on the watchtower who had to help out. The tower was destroyed during the War of the Grand Alliance in 1689 and rebuilt only 1855 by the Prussians.
The more gruesome legend says that Bishop Hatto of Mainz was very hard-hearted, mean and noisome to his folk and kept their tributes (both money and grain) for himself rather than distribute some to the poor. Now at a point in time famine impended and thus the folk was raging. Hatto showed them an empty granary with the words “look, nothing there, the mice have eaten all”, locked them in the granary and burned it down. Now the mice did hear this and were furious about Hatto’s lie, but as he didn’t made any attempt to rectify his statements, they chased him through town, across the river and back again to the tower on the island. There were mice all over and the more Hatto’s servants killed, the more appeared – hungry for revenge. Hatto, shaken in his shoes, requested that his bed should be fixed at the ceiling with chains. But this didn’t prevent the mice from even nibbling at the wooden beams and using the chains as stairs to arrive at their target. It is said that in the moment when the bishop made his last breath, all mice were suddenly vanished.
The moral to this story:
never let your folk starve because you are too greedy. Horrid revenge will haunt you.
That’s why the tower is called Mäuseturm – Mice Tower. But the more down-to-earth, albeit a bit boring, explanation for the name is that it derives from the old Germanic word “mauth”, which means toll.
It is said that it is impossible to visit. However, in a book I have read that it is possible and part of a guided tour upon request with Bingen’s tourist office.
One curious detail: part of the tower’s base, the red painted one on the eastern side (left side in my photos) was meant to be built as ice breaker. Yes, Rhein River did freeze up at times in the past.
Mäuseturm on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., July 2008.
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When you are on vacation in Bingen you really should get across the river Rhine and see the gems of Ruedesheim, that are just a few minutes away from Bingen:
Broemserhof is the lovely old castle that houses Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett in Ruedesheim and it is one of the biggest collections of automatic music-instruments and musicboxes in Europe. Go inside, even when you will have not enough time to see the museum, all of the exhibits that are shown on my page are displayed in the entrance hall, BEFORE you get to the cashier, so this is what you may see, even when you have just a few minutes to spare.
Broemserhof is a lovely castle with a half-timbered facade, not far away from Drosselgasse.
I did not dare to put in some coins, but I may imagine that most of the machines are still working fine that way, and performances of these musicboxes are also part of every guided tour through the museum.
The entrance-fee is 5,50 Euros and 3 Euros for students and children.
Trechtlinghausen & Burg Reichenstein are in a distance of just 5km downstream from Bingen. This giant castle dates back to the 11th century. Plenty of times this castle was destroyed, but always it was restored again. In the 13th century the castle belonged to one of the most dangerous robber-barons, and as the castle had such an important position in the Rhine-valley, the emperor decided to destruct the castle and set the robber-baron into prison.
Nowadays Burg Reichenstein in Trechtlinghausen is partly a luxury castle-hotel and partly a museum.
This is one of my most favourite castles, maybe because it looks so picturesque while it sits there surrounded by vineyards. Oh and because of ivy and shrubs found their way to grow on the walls. As it is not inhabited but a ruin, no one would possible care and remove the vegetation. The castle was build early 13th century by Philip von Bolanden (a noble family which was/were of service to the Archbishopric of Mainz) and thus had toll rights given by the Archbishop of Mainz. But when Philip died, his widow lost these rights to the Archbishopric. Remember that the archbishops often had a status similar to a governor during Medieval days, and Mainz was amongst the most prominent ones. The castle was used as a northern bastion to defend the archbishopric to the north and also often used as hideaway for the churches treasures during war times. Given the resources, it must have been huge these days, the ground and buildings extended down to the river. As it was impossible to see enemies approaching from the northwestern course of Rhein river, a toll tower was built on an island opposite of the castle – the famous Mäuseturm (Mouse Tower).
As so many villages, castles and churches, Ehrenfels Castle was destroyed during the War of the Grand Alliance in 1689.
Today it is possible to visit, but only from the ouside as it is a bit unsound (maybe yet a good idea to remove the ivy and renovate a tiny bit. It is easy to reach via a footpath from Rüdesheim (30 minutes). The path winds uphill through the vineyards and gives fantastic views over Bingen and its surroundings.
Update, December 2010:
The ivy has been removed in the meantime, but there are no signs that the castle ruin will be opened to the public. Nevertheless, I found a website with more photos from the outside and also photos of the inside, during Heritage Day.
Burg Ehrenfels on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., December 2010 (some additions in December 2010).
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Burg Ehrenfels is opposite of Bingen and just about 3km downstream from Ruedesheim and the Maeuseturm. The ruins of Ehrenfels castle are about 80 meters above the Rhine, and you may not go up there. The castle was first mentioned in a document in 1573 , but it is certainly much older than that. The river Rhine was a perfect place to build a castle and live on the toll, the merchants had to pay, when sailing on the Rhine.
This castle was built by the family von Bolanden, who owned several big castles along the river Rhine.
Just about 14 km downstream from Bingen you may see one of the typical old villages in the Rhine-valley :
First of all you will see that a wall of houses is facing the river : it was the former medieval townwall and serves still today as a certain wall against the noises of the trains passing by there all day and night !!
Leave your car at one of the many car-parks and get behind the train-track, where you may see all of the lovely half-timbered houses of Bacharach and the great church.
There are several medieval watch-towers in Bacharach and at many places you may even see the remains of the town-wall and you will be able to step up there at several places free of charge and without any restrictions.
The best excample of such a watch-tower is next to Malerwinkel, where the huge gate of this tower is still the only chance to leave or enter the village of Bacharach
Right at the riverbank near Rheinstein Castle is a little chapel, lovely set among trees. This is Klemens Chapel and of course there are several legends as of why it stands here. Remember that nearby Reichenstein Castle was inhabited by robber knights’ who devastated the country until eventually King Rudolf of Habsburg came to intervene. One of the more innocent legens is that this little chapel was built by relatives of the executed robber knights to give them a chance to do penance.
The more romantic legend is of a beautiful duke’s daughter who was kidnapped by robber knights on a boat to take off on the Rhein. She prayed to (current pope) St. Klemens and promised to build a chapel in his honour if she would be rescued. Of course St. Klemens answered her prayers, came down to earth and helped her with his crozier to get off the boat. Then he sent a storm and the boat with the robbers drowned. She fulfilled her promise and had the little chapel built.
Klemens Kapelle on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., December 2010.
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Almost above Klemens Chapel sits Reichenstein Castle, once home to the most furious robber knights in Rhein Valley. As already described, these robber knights have been murdered by King Rudolf of Habsburg and the chapel was erected near the burial ground. After the knights have been extinguished, the castle went into the hands of Mainz’ archbishops and more and more felt into decay. In 19th century, when the romantic epoch started and Rhein Valley became famous for poets and painters, a rich family bought it and started restauration. But it was sold several times after this and finally bought by another rich family (Kirsch-Pucelli) who finished restauration and filled the castle with artwork and furnishings. It was sold to a caterer and transformed into a hotel and museum end of last century. Although I have read that the hotel is now no longer active (October 2010). Maybe this has to do with a former lousy service, as I could read in several reviews on the German version of Tripadvisor. The museum is open though. But it is difficult to find opening hours on their website. It only mentions that single and group tours are possible and it mentions a price of 4 Euro. But the price list is of 2007. Strange.....
Burg Reichenstein on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., December 2010.
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The Mäuseturm (Mouse Tower) is Bingen's most famous sight, and the source of some grisly tales. This tower in the middle of the Rhein was used as a customs post, but according to legend it was where Archbishop Hatto of Mainz was eaten alive by thousands of mice after he burned to death all the local beggars during a famine. A number of towers have existed on the little island, probably from as far back as Roman times, but the most recent tower was built by the Prussians as a signal tower in the Rhein in 1855. The previous one had been destroyed by French troops in 1689.