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Oberwesel: Old town hugs hills along Rhine

By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 18, 2008

The Rhine River makes a long journey as it flows through Germany on its way to the sea. But it is the stretch between Bingen and Koblenz where the river is its most scenic.

Old towns hug the hillsides. Castles tower over the river. And places like Oberwesel are perfect spots to take a break from a drive along its banks or a cruise through its water.

People have been living in or around Oberwesel for a long time. It has a Celtic and Roman past, called Vosavia by the latter.

In the early Middle Ages, it swapped hands between the church and royalty many times, and was once a free imperial city, minting its own money.

Oberwesel’s castle dates to at least the 12th century and the town’s defensive wall to the 13th. And for eons, grapes to make wine have been grown here.

Today, Oberwesel’s attractions are still wine, walls, churches and the castle.

At the town’s center is the Marktplatz, or market place. Nothing spectacular as squares go, but there are a pair of restaurants here, and across the street is the tourist office. On the opposite end, stairs lead to the top of the wall. A long stretch parallel to the river can still be walked.

Unfortunately, train tracks and the highway separate the wall from the Rhine. If you like trains and boats, there is a good view of both from here.

It is still worth the walk, and eventually you will come to the Wernerkapelle, a chapel sitting on the wall. It was once the choir of a larger church destroyed by war in the 17th century and rebuilt as a chapel in 1700. Check out the star-decorated ceiling and the altar inside.

Oberwesel is book-ended by a pair of churches, St. Martin’s, in the north, and Liebfrauenkirche in the south.

St. Martin’s, built in the 14th century, has interesting wall paintings inside, but its most striking feature is its tower. Missing a pointed steeple, it was fortified and incorporated in the town wall in the Middle Ages.

Sixteen of 21 defensive towers still guard Oberwesel, and you can get a good look at them, the wall, the town and the Rhine with a stroll along Am Schützengraben. A footpath runs along the wall outside of town, just past St. Martin’s, and leads back into town, near the Protestant church.

In town, the Kulturhaus museum traces the history of Oberwesel, and the remains of a Minorite cloister chapel can also be seen.

Construction began on the Liebfrauenkirche in 1308. Also known as the Red Church because of the colors of its bricks, it is one of the finest Gothic churches in the Rhineland. Its choir screen and high altar date to the mid-14th century, and it has a fine Baroque organ.

Footpaths from town lead through the vineyards and up to Schönburg castle, which keeps watch over the Rhine. The Schönburger clan lived here and collected tolls on the river. The castle was destroyed by the French in 1689.

An American of German descent had the castle reconstructed at the end of the 19th century. Today it is a hotel and a restaurant offering fine dining.


On the QT

Directions: Oberwesel is on the left bank of the Rhine River. Exit Autobahn 61 at Laudert/Oberwesel, and follow signs to Oberwesel. Or if you have time, continue on for a drive along the Rhine.Times: The Kulturhaus museum is open April 1 to Oct. 31, from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and German holidays. Churches are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, although sightseeing is not permitted during Mass.Costs: Admission to the Kulturhaus museum is 2.50 euros for adults and 1 euro for children 6 to 14. Admission to the churches is free.Food: There are many restaurants in town offering German and international fare, with fine dining at Schönburg.Info: The town’s Web site with limited English information is www.oberwesel.de ; the museum’s is www.kulturhaus-oberwesel.de ; and the castle’s is www.hotel-schoenburg.com . Oberwesel’s wine festival in 2008 is from Sept. 12-15 and Sept. 19-20. The biennial medieval festival Spectaculum is set for May 10-12, 2008 ( www.spectaculum-oberwesel.de )

Like many towns along the Rhine River, Oberwesel is known for it wine. Here a sign announces a place where wine direct from the winery is served.
MICHAEL ABRAMS / S&S

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