Moon over the Mosel – A Ferry Ride from Cochem to Beilstein

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As we reached the bottom of the mountain road and began our trip along the Mosel River, I could not help but think about the poor bastards who were responsible for picking all of those grapes. The valley walls were steep and I saw a few men, high above the road, shuffling between endless rows of grape plants, harvesting the fruit by hand.  Our road followed the trail of the river until we reached the town of Cochem; a tourist favorite in the region.

Many of the villages along the Mosel had experienced a period of strong investment and restoration in the late 1970’s; leaving a bizarre collection of medieval castles and Brady Bunch style condominiums throughout the region.  But we were not in Cochem to judge the architecture, we were interested in sampling the product that made the river famous – the wine.

Our first stop was a casual restaurant with a large outdoor patio on the northwest bank of the river. I quickly studied the menu and ordered two different rieslings for the two of us to enjoy.  My wife is a fan of white wine but I have always preferred a beer or a cocktail in the warm months.  German wine from this region also has the unfortunate reputation of being sickeningly sweet.

A burly frau brought us the wine and a couple of open face egg sandwiches on brown bread, commonly known as “strammer max”.  Proving that most German stereotypes are well deserved, strammer max loosely translates to “stiff dick”.  Why the Germans associate erect penises with ham and egg sandwiches is a mystery but completely unsurprising to be honest.  

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The wine was served in the traditional tacky goblet, filled nearly to the top of the glass.  In true German utilitarianist fashion, wine glasses are frequently overpoured to assure the perception of good value.

“If you aren’t going to fill the glass to the top perhaps you should get smaller glasses.”

I’ve never actually heard a German say this but I assure you it is consistent with the German philosophy of logic and reason.

The riesling was very cold and not too sweet as I had feared.  The sun was peaking over the walls of the valley and the breeze from the river died to a pathetic puff.  Another round of rieslings were ordered to combat the rising temperature.

Nearby, a group of tourists were patiently waiting for a river ferry to stop and take them to one of the nearby villages.  We continued to drink our wine as ferry after ferry stopped and traded old passengers for new.  Some of the ferries were austere shuttle boats with dilapidated plastic seating and torn canvas roofs.  Others were raucous party boats with schlager bands and beer maids.  I had no idea how the boats worked or where they went, but after my third glass of riesling I was ready to be a riverboat captain.

We found our way aboard one of the party boats and found a seat at one of the picnic tables on the top deck.  The top deck of the boat was essentially a beer garden with a live band and fastidious waitresses who plied the riders with as much beer and wine as possible during the hour long journey.  I was very keen on the idea of drinking on a boat while basking in the warm May sun that was now high in the sky above the river.

As the ferry floated along and we drank the wine from the surrounding hills, a small speed boat with half a dozen revelers pull up alongside the ferry.  The children on the ferry began to wave to the people on the boat and they quickly reciprocated.  Once the speed boat and its crew had the attention of everyone aboard the ferry, a bikini clad woman climbed atop the bow and promptly mooned her audience.  The boat sped away to the zealous cheers of all the Germans aboard the ferry.  As Germans tend to do when they get excited, many of them men began to sing and before long a song had broken out across the length of the ferry.  The woman’s bare ass had inspired a sing-along.  Not many people out there can make such a claim.

Before we reached our disembarkation point of Beilstein, a tiny village with a large castle high atop a hill, the ferry stopped at the village of Ernst to drop off a family of passengers.  The village could not have had more than 30 homes but the single church that was situated on the emerald bank of the Mosel was positioned prominently for everyone to admire.  

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As the ferry pulled away from Ernst’s dock, the family stood on the shoreline looking back at the passengers still aboard.  A little girl who could not have been more than four years old began to wave and shout “auf wiedersehen!” to all of the drunk Germans who were now headed south, down the river.  Many aboard waved back to the little girl and shouted “tschüss!” with delight.  

It took considerable strength, but I resisted the urge to stand up and moon the entire family.

 

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