Koblenz -a ‘Boy’s Own’ City
Koblenz is a great city for some old fashioned lads and dads bonding. It has battles and boats, castles and cable cars. And its most famous son is a naughty boy. As part of my accessible Germany season I took a testosterone filled tour…
Let’s start with the spitting boy
I knew the ‘Schangelbrunnen’ mannequin was a master at gobbing on tourists because I’ve been to Koblenz before. On that occasion, I was standing under the fountain with Hannah in my arms, and she freaked when he let rip with his spit. But today he looks so sweet and unthreatening, and it is a cold day and I figure maybe someone might have turned him off. So here I am, standing underneath him, camera lense poised, when he suddenly does his stuff and I am soaked.
Water is in the DNA of this city. At the Deutsches Eck, the land is shaped like the bow of a ship, constructed to host a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. There are loads of water play areas and fountains for families to cool off in on a summer’s day. And of course, there’s the Rhine; the ultimate water park, with its cruise ships, riverside restaurants and leafy promenades.
An eternal meeting that christened Koblenz
If you jump in a cable car and travel for four and a half minutes, or commit to stretching your legs on a walk climbing 108 metres to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, you can rise high above this watery ribbon and watch the Rhine and Mosel jostle for supremacy; an activity that gave the city its name. Koblenz = confluentes.
Koblenz likes a bit of a conflict. Its biggest attraction is a fortress high above the city that’s seen off a fair few invaders since Roman times. But the only invaders these days are tourists armed with Euros, who come in peace and aerial cable cars. One of the joys of a break in Koblenz is taking a leisurely afternoon to wander the walls of the fortress with a guide, hearing stories that roll back through the centuries; from Germanic tribes invading with sling bullets and spearheads to fifteenth century attacks with canons, and endless 19th century fortifications. You can even book a tour from a costumed Prussian soldier, although you’ll only understand him if you’re a German speaker.
The walls provide one of the best views of the city and they’re accessible for everyone. The fortress may once have specialised in keeping people out; but these days it concentrates on inviting them in. Koblenz has made a public commitment to barrier free travel and the fortress is fully accessible to wheelchairs and prams. There’s a great cafe where you can have plum cake in the open air. I have a lot of plum cake in the open air. The only worry I have about access is that my waistline may have expanded too much to fit through the doors after our rest stop.
It’s easy to get around on foot in the city centre as a whole. We take a walking tour, and find the autumn weather has turned the trees five shades of gold. In 2011 Koblenz hosted the Federal Horticulatural Show; a festival that gives Holland’s Floriade a run for its money, and its legacy is still there in many places including the river front and the Electoral Palace gardens. Here, traditional floral displays mix with more modern pleasures; a skate park, a playground with a crown shaped climbing frame, and a long line of picnic tables and chairs. I try to imagine them lasting more than five minutes in a public space in England. Wouldn’t happen. They’d be transported to a local car boot sale by the end of the first week. My own kids would love this long thin table as well. They’d play musical chairs until the last seat was gone, and without a doubt they’d stage a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I suddenly want a Mad Hatter’s tea party. But I have no kids. And no tea pot. And no food. So I have a sit down instead.
As we pass through the city, we are treated to random injections of history, art and architecture. We stop to look at the Jesuit College with 24 doors in the roof that also double up as cardboard cut outs on advent calenders at Christmas time. We pause beside three huge standing stones that came from the Berlin Wall and we hear about the troubled history of the History Column that tells stories of the city’s exploits over the last 2000 years. It took eight years longer than expected to complete, but not as long as the oldest bridge in the city which took 85 years to finish. (They’re clearly very relaxed about deadlines here!)
A mix of ancient and modern
Koblenz is a modern, compact river city in ancient battledress. And while you can have some old fashioned family fun, there are some contemporary treasures here too. Like the Ludwig gallery with its stunning collection of French art. Like the Art Nouveaux facade of the former city pharmacy. Like the cable cars flying high above the cargo ships. Like the restaurant Mein Koblenz, where you eat in total darkness.
And as for the boy who gives other children permission to spit in the street? Well he’s a young head on very old shoulders. And he’s a good aim. The second time I meet him on the walking tour, he soaks me once again. “He is a typical German boy doing nasty things to girls,” chuckles Joachim our guide. No kidding!
This post is part of a short season of posts about accessible travel and tourism in Germany. Follow the link to find other posts on this theme.
There’s lots more information on accessible travel in Germany available from the German National Tourist Board website.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to the German National Tourist Office for their support in helping us to bring you this story.