Our hearts will guard thy stream divine:
The Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine!
Dear Fatherland, no danger thine;
Firm stand thy sons to watch the Rhine!
The Watch on The Rhine,
Max Schneckenburger, 1870
Rhein, The Rhine, is the most German river one can think of. Starting in the Alps, it flows northward through the green valleys and plains of western Germany. For long stretches it borders France and Switzerland, which is also a typical German thing to do. During its course it accepts several tributaries and flows through a great number of German cities, Mainz, Cologne, and Düsseldorf being the most important. The Rhine leaves Germany for the Netherlands and enters the North Sea from there, having completed about 1,300 km or 800 miles. It is narrowly beaten by the Volga and Danube as the longest river of Europe.
Romanticism itself started along the Rhine, with Goethe's journey in 1774. Painters and authors followed him up with works inspired by or set near the Rhine. Poe knew what he was doing when, sixty years later, he placed his Ligeia of the strong love in an unnamed city along the river. The legend associated with Lorelei in the middle of the river gave Wagner the source for a larger-than-life opera.
In the 19th century, the Rhine Valley became one of the first major tourist attractions of Europe, for its quaint old towns and villages as well as its imposing castles. The name of the Rhine still holds a magical attraction to many people.
The river also serves as a mode of transportation for German industry. It is the busiest waterway in the world, linking major industrial cities with eachother and, by canals, giving access to other major rivers of the area, and even the Black Sea.
A river of names
It's in the names that the Rhine is truly German. It passes through cities, towns and hamlets of exquisitely Deutsch appellations, a list which becomes like a poem to the open-minded ear (imagine that picture, if you can!). Listen:
The Rhine starts high in the Alps from two natural springs in the Grisons region of Switzerland, in the same valley as the Rhone. It flows as two rivers, the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein. At the village of Reichenau the two merge into the Alpine Rhine. During this first course, the Rhine also touches upon Austria and Liechtenstein. Then the river winds its way before it enters a lake called Bodensee.
After Bodensee, called Lake Constance in English, the river starts its course as a Swiss-German frontier, now and then taking detours into Switzerland. The first town it meets is Stein am Rhein, then Schaffhausen.
The Rhine Falls
The travelling water spectacularly throws itself 23 metres down in Rheinfall, the largest falls in Europe. In addition to the flowing cascades of water, there is also an impressive medieval castle on a rock in the middle of the cataracts, called Schloss Laufen.
The Rhine grows quieter and visits Bad Säckingen ("Bad" in this context means bath, by the way.) Immediately after Basel, the left side of the Rhine becomes Frankreich as opposed to Schweiz. The right side remains the German province of Baden-Württemberg. It passes Breisach and Burkheim where the mountain called the Emperor's throne - Kaiserstuhl - can be admired. In Strasbourg it meets its first tributary, the Kinzig.
Next it runs past Karlsruhe and leaves both France and its first German province.
The river now becomes a border between the provinces of Hessen and Rheinland-Pfalz - or Rhineland-Palatinate if you wish. After passing Gemersheim, it flows between the cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen, where it also feeds on the river Neckar. The Rhine now passes Lampertheim and Worms - not the earthly ones, but the place of the heavenly debates of clerics. In Mainz it meets the river Main. Eltville, Geisenheim and Rüdesheim pass in quick succession - "heim" meaning the home or seat of someone, probably a nobleman, in case you wondered.
Still with us?
The Rhine penetrates the Rhineland-Palatinate, and, passing the interestingly named towns of Bingen and Bacharach at a distance, flows past Kaub and Oberwesel to meet Loreley. This is the land of castles and wines. Katz Castle in St. Goarshausen forever hunts Castle Mause in Wellmich, and the Rhine runs on. It wriggles a little to meet Boppard, Braubach, Rhens (with a Königsstuhl or King's chair to boast of) and Lahnstein, and in Koblenz the important tributary of Mosel. The river blesses the natural park of Rhein-Westerwald as well as Neuwied, Andernach, Bad Breisig and Bad Honningen. It accepts the tribute of the river Ahr (not Arrr!) before it slips through Remagen and into a new province.
The last province of Germany the Rhine visits is the industrial and densely populated Nordrhein-Westfalen, also called North Rhine-Westphalia. After the prelude of Königswinter it slices through the old capital of Bonn and then Köln (Cologne). In Bonn it aborbs the river Sieg, in Düsseldorf Erft. Swallowing the Ruhr river, it intercepts that area's megalopolis through Duisburg and Moers. Now the Rhine goes back to the countryside, to Wesel, and onwards to leave the country. In the Netherlands, the Rhine flows past Arnhem, then eventually dissolves into several rivers that eventually reach the North Sea by Rotterdam.