The Road Less Taken: Germany by Motorhome
by Lazelle Jones
The man grinned as we pointed to his hand-held placard and simultaneously blurted out "Ralf, Ralf Moses?" "Ja, ja," he rejoined. This friendly welcome marked the start of our 10-day exploration of Germany's scenic byways, traveling by motorhome.
Like the rest of our trip up to this moment--travel vouchers, reservations--this personal greeting at the Frankfurt Airport by Ralf had been arranged by Global Motorhome Travel (GMT). Thanks to their organization, our odyssey up until this point had been a "no-brainer." Now, with Ralf's mentoring, my wife, daughter and I would soon heading down the autobahn in our very own Heimer Mobil (motor-home), knowing how to use all the equipment on board. We were off to discover the back roads and villages of Germany.
Maneuvering the motorhome through these nooks and crannies turned out to be easier than I expected. German motorhomes are considerably smaller than those found in the States, ranging in size from 16 feet for a camper up to 24 feet for a motorhome. (In contrast, American motorhomes start at 24 feet.) These compact proportions allow the RVs to navigate Europe's two-lane country roads and medieval alleys. Although most are stick-shift (manual transmission) vehicles, they are easy to drive once the driver gets used to changing gears.
Other than size, European motorhomes differ from American RVs in certain ways. Unlike the large American RV outfitted with many amenities, European motorhomes don't usually feature air-conditioning or microwaves. But GMT's fleet are all comfortably equipped with refrigerators and hot-water showers, as well as cooking utensils, sheets and towels, and more.
Traveling by motorhome in Germany can save many Deutsche marks, too. Depending on the vehicle size and the time of year, rates run from $109 to $209 per day. Though too small to be used for more than basic activities such as cooking and sleeping, the RV's eliminate the cost of staying in expensive hotels and dining out at restaurants. Also, motorhomes run on diesel fuel, which is cheaper than regular gas in Germany.
Campgrounds are abundant, well-marked, and usually cost about $20 a night, the same price as campgrounds in the States. In addition, local laws allow you to park anywhere you like for 24 hours, such as a supermarket lot or even a downtown street.
Our first destination was the Black Forest, a must-see for first-timers like ourselves. The roadways seemed so pristine and manicured, we could almost imagine troops of gardening gnomes mowing and trimming the meadows, as everyone else enjoyed schnitzel and tall glasses of Pilsner. Abutting these verdant fields, trees loomed so thick their branches blocked out the daylight; hence, the name "Black Forest."
We also visited Bavaria, or "Castle Country." Germany's 19th-century King Ludwig II (known as "mad Ludwig") loved to build castles, eventually bankrupting the state of Bavaria and most likely causing his untimely (or maybe timely) demise. Near the village of Fussen on the German-Austrian border, we visited Hohenschwangau, Ludwig's father's castle; and more extensive Neuschwanstein, constructed by Ludwig. Built by Ludwig, Neuschwanstein was used by Walt Disney as the model for the castle in Fantasyland.
Many of Ludwig's personal belongings are displayed at Hohenschwangau, including the piano used by Wagner while composing several of his operas. Somewhat of a Wagner "groupie," Ludwig paid the musician to stay and compose at Hohenschwangau, so he could have Wagner and Wagner's music to himself. My wife said that she could almost feel the composer's presence, and we imagined him at the keyboard while Ludwig looked on in adoration, considering the composer yet another of his possessions.
Winding through wooded countryside, we practiced our recently acquired, rudimentary German, easily deciphering signs such as "parking platz" (parking place) and "camping platz" (camping place). North of Fussen, we enjoyed the charming Romantische Strasse ("Romantic Road") and the walled, medieval city of Rothenburg, built on a bend in the Tauber River in A.D. 970. We fell in love with the city and its wonderful shops, eateries, and cobblestoned streets.
After our great circle back to Frankfurt, we wanted one last adventure before returning home. Just a few minutes northwest of Frankfurt, we stopped in Rudesheim, where acres of vineyards sweep from the mountain-tops down to the Rhine River.
Packing some munchies, a bottle of Riesling and our cameras, we climbed aboard an aerial tram that departs from the middle of town, affording breathtaking views of the valley. From the summit, we meandered down well-marked paths through the vineyards and back to town. The trek down was ethereal, the yellows and reds of the early morning sun playing off the green vineyards and blue sky.
Another way to experience the area is by boat. Cruise vessels from companies like KD Cruise Lines make daily stops in Rudesheim and up and down the Rhine, passing several castles where lords once extracted tariffs from traders along the river. We took full (and filling) advantage of the ship's dining room, which featured fine beers and Rieslings to accompany selections such as bratwurst and venison, with Bavarian cremes for dessert.
We're already thinking about our next trip to Germany, and have heard good things about the Mosel River Valley and the 2,000-year-old city of Trier. I'm looking forward to walking through the Porta Nigra, a granite entrance to this once-walled city, blackened by campfires of those who have come to visit over the millenniums. It will be fun getting there, driving my motorhome.
For more information, contact Global Motorhome Travel (GMT); 1142 Manhattan Avenue #300, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266; Tel: 800-468-3876; Fax: (310) 546-9292; Website: http://www.gmteuro.com. ::::