The last thing we did before leaving Remagan was to visit the museum of the bombing of the bridge in WW2. I’m a late arrival at the appreciation of museums – probably due to an overdose in my childhood. For years I was a reluctant visitor to them and only relatively recently have I discovered how inspiring and enlightening they can be. Having said that, I did almost lose the will to live in the Guggenheim in New York after I’d looked at the several hundredth tiny piece of artefact from a dig in Mexico. You really can have too much of a good thing, especially if it’s small and brown and looks very much like all the other small brown bits – fortunately for me the Guggenheim has a lot of other stuff to look at, so I left the Aztec oglers and went in search of the pictures and felt a whole lot better.
Anyway, back to the Remagan Bridge museum – I was not for one moment expecting the power of emotion I would feel there. The personal, simple human stories were so moving that we went round with huge lumps in our throats. I loved the way that the Germans have managed to remember the war in a way that denies nothing from the past yet emphasises the need for future peace. The bridge at Remagan was blown up by German troops to try to keep the American Allies from crossing the Rhine. This seems to be a common story along the Rhine but the difference in Remagan was that the first several attempts to blow up the bridge failed and Hitler had a number of his own soldiers killed because he believed they were traitors. Actually they were simply inept and the bridge was very strong. When it did finally collapse 28 American solders were on their way over and plunged to their deaths in the river. The museum has made displays of personal artefacts and uniforms from the lost troops on both sides, mingling them together to show that they were mostly just men doing what they were told. In another display we saw photos, enlarged to full human size, of the women and children of Remagan who spent their days in the woods, often in the snow, trying to keep safe from the barrage of allied bombs that hammered the Rhine region. Their pinched frightened faces peered right at us from more than 70 years ago and no words were necessary to remind us of the tragedy of war. The Stars and Stripes flies here right alongside the German flag and a genuine friendship has formed between the veterans of both countries.
Returning to the van in a sad and thoughtful mood we manoeuvred our way onto the service point, emptied and refilled our various tanks and set off south. The plan was to move only a short distance so we decided upon Andernach just 13 miles south. Here we found the most enormous Stellplatz, heaving with motorhomes of all shapes and sizes, right on the banks of the river. We also found fellow Funsters (members of Motorhome Fun) – Cath and John aka Champers who welcomed us and encouraged us to stay. The size of the place was a bit daunting so we were glad to hear that the town is well worth a visit. They were so right! This is a beautiful town, full of quirky shops, numerous ice cream bars and beer gardens. Turn almost any corner in the centre of town and you find a square all set out with tables and chairs and merry groups of people eating, drinking and chatting. The temptation to try everything is difficult to resist but we manage, most of the time. We don’t want to outgrow the limited wardrobe we’ve brought with us.
One of the real characters of the Andernach Stellplatz is the young woman who comes round to collect the nightly fee for staying here. It costs 7€ a night and, despite the big notice that says a maximum of three nights, she will let you stay as long as you like. Somehow she manages to know who has paid and who hasn’t, which is an incredible feat given that there are as many as 60 motorhomes on here at any time and sometimes they move to a different spot during the day. She is a larger than life character who seems to speak every language and also appears to be able to memorise registration numbers. She is friendly and helpful and always exchanges a few words when you pay your fee. On the first day we thought one night would be enough, the feeling of being in a huge car park and the heat made us certain that we would be desperate to move to some cool grassy spot with more space by the next morning. That was before we’d discovered the fact that this town is close to the largest cold water geyser in the world. A trip to visit it includes entrance to a multi media presentation explaining how geysers work, a ride on a boat up the Rhine and a walk to the geyser that erupts every two hours in a truly spectacular fashion. Once again we were hampered by our lack of German but a kind lady on the tour, who spoke good English, translated the Guide’s explanation including the fact that we should beware of a sudden urge to pee when the geyser goes off. He must have been right because on our return to the boat the queue for the ladies was enormous.
We ended up deciding to stay in Andernach for three nights. It is friendly, cheerful and fun and ideal for people watchers. Yes you are staying in a big car park but it is only a few steps to the river bank where you can take your chairs and relax, watching the river traffic go by. For the first time on this trip we have shared our riverside spot with the big Rhine cruisers that tie up close to the Stellplatz. Some of them are fantastic looking ships with balcony cabins all along the lower deck and flashy looking restaurants and bars on the higher decks. We were amused to note that at least one passenger on a ship seemed to believe she was invisible to the ordinary mortals on the river bank and came out to sit on her balcony in her voluminous nightie. We can’t have been more than ten feet away from her when we took the dogs for their evening stroll.
We’ve found a source of free internet! The Tourist Information office for the Geyser has a nice coffee shop and one hour a day of free wifi. If this has appeared online it means it worked and I am happy. In the meantime if anyone at home in the UK can find out when Three is turning on its ‘Feel at Home’ service in Germany we would really like to know. They promised that it would be September so I changed phone and data providers ready for this trip – so far there is no sign of it. I feel the rumblings of a complaint coming on but as they don’t publish an email address to customer service I’ll have to keep it. I think that making it impossible to contact them when abroad to complain about their service is either a stroke of genius or total numptiness. I’m inclined to think it’s the former. There will be a lot of unhappy British Three customers in Germany at the moment – I’m guessing that Three is deftly avoiding the full force of their frustration.