The Rhein valley in much of southern Germany is wide open and flat, with towns lining its banks from a distance to avoid floods. But as the Rhein moves northward, the terrain shifts as the waters of three major tributaries dump in -- the Main at Mainz, the Mosel at Koblenz, and in between is the Nahe at Bingen.
Of the three, Bingen is a mere small town, sitting in the shadow of the major tourist destination of Ruedesheim across the river. But its location at the south entrance to Germany's premium wine country and the river's prominent castle route makes it just as attractive for visitors -- especially those not anxious to go elbow-to-elbow with Ruedesheim's crowds. Also, because Bingen and Ruedesheim run a regular ferry between them, it would be just as easy to visit both on a single day.
If there is one thing where Bingen has the advantage, it is the view of the Rhein itself. Perched on the south bank at the bend, Bingen's view (first photo) takes you around the corner and looking up the valley -- glimpsing the hills in the distance and the vineyards and castles to come. The first photo doesn't show it perfectly well, but the structure sitting in the middle of the vineyard is the Castle Assmanshausen, a beautiful castle ruin. Also visible in the distance on the river is the Mäuseturm (the small white tower on the island in the river). This tower marks the island like a buoy, directing barge traffic around it. More to the foreground is Bingen's main church, the fabulous Basilika St. Martin.
That photo was taken from the grounds of the Burg Klopp, shown in the second photo, that sits on the highest ground. The Burg is a classic old-style castle that looked like it was rebuilt fairly recently. I climbed up from the downtown, but had to go a ways to locate the accessway (the Burg is not visible from the city center). A walking path surrounds the castle, allowing one beautiful views of the Rhein and Nahe valleys, fronted by a small vineyard, visible in the second photo. The castle now hosts a restaurant with a pleasant outdoor terrace, and a kiddie playground occupies much of its lawn. The best shot I took of the Burg was on the opposite side where I got the main tower alone with the flag flying on top -- very nice.
The city center followed a single main road with several small marketplaces along the way. The third photo shows an example of such a marketplace -- with a signature fountain and a mix of decorative old style buildings and modern (read: blander) structures (like the one on the right). It was a beautiful, warm day when I went, and the outdoor cafés were beginning to fill as noon approached.
The more interesting structures were at the west end of the main street, closer to the Nahe River. It was there that one found the city church (prominently seen in the first photo), and a square that contains several guesthouses surrounding the city park. My companions and I had lunch in one of those guesthouses, and it had to be some of the best food I've had -- much more authentic for the region. (Since I was driving, however, I was not able to try the wine.)
The Nahe River divided the city. The west bank, on the opposite side of the city center, seemed mostly residential, with houses and apartment complexes scattered about the countryside, and following the rolling hills upstream, eventually giving way to green farmland. A couple chapels were mixed in for good measure. Bingen's largest old stone bridge crosses over the Nahe and connects the city together.
Bingen's waterfront was not as touristy as Ruedesheim's, but it certainly had its charming points. The fourth photograph shows the most decorated building we encountered in Bingen, a traditional winehouse with painting of 17th and 18th century people in traditional dress. There's also Der Alte Kran, a massive old-style crane. Absent from the waterfront were all those souvenir stands, a welcome relief.
Most people arriving at Bingen will probably reach the harbor before getting to the downtown parking lots, and might be tempted to just board the ferry and head across. However, I believe it is worth just going two blocks past the harbor and checking out Bingen first, especially if you can grab a spot of lunch at the square near the Nahe River. Who knows? You might not want to leave.
Trip taken 5 April 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin