by Irene Hyland Sullivan (J64)
Imagine walking in the footsteps of Beethoven, touring castles and music halls, enjoying local and gourmet meals, and sipping wine on deck while cruising between Germany and France on the Rhine River. If this sounds like your cup of tea, or stein of beer, you would have enjoyed the cruise down the Rhine River aboard the MS Switzerland II. Thirty or so Northwestern alumni, spouses, relatives and friends joined alumni from other universities aboard this delightful river ship on a cruise from Bonn to Breisach, Germany. While the ship, which has a capacity of 110 passengers, resembles a barge, the food and service were first class, and our Alumni Holidays International guide gave fascinating history lectures onboard.
We quickly learned that the advantage of a river cruise is the proximity to scenery on both sides of the river and the chance to go back to a time when river traffic was the main approach to small villages and towns. No Autobahn for this group!
Oliver Ionita, director of development for the School of Music, and his wife, Farren, were our Northwestern hosts. Their hospitality and knowledge of music helped us all, as we enjoyed a beautiful piano concert by Beethoven specialist Peter Köcsky in Bonn and an organ concert near Breisach after leaving the Black Forest.
The cruise began in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany. The bustling city has fresh markets and music aplenty, with a modern concert hall and lots of Beethoven history, including his house. The ship docked close to town, and the walks through the University of Bonn and town center were splendid, thanks to colorful fall leaves and crisp autumn weather.
Nancy Jacobs (Mu52) and her group of five friends were often seen multitasking, playing bridge on deck while enjoying our travel director's descriptions of sites along the riverbanks. We saw old castles, forts, toll bridges and some of the important landmarks of battles from World War II, including the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. The Allies' capture of the bridge in March 1945 helped shorten the war. Today the bridge towers remain as a museum and tribute.
Travelers had plenty of fun onboard between landings. The Ionitas hosted a Northwestern cocktail party, in addition to the captain's welcome party, and the last evening featured a talent show with many of the Northwestern alumni women performing in a skit called "Waa-Mu Rejects."
Among our many stops, Heidelberg was a highlight. The climb up to Heidelberg Castle, which overlooks the town and the river, was definitely worthwhile. Our guides were superb and taught us about life in the medieval castles, the importance of the prince "electors," who chose the emperor, and the lavish gifts made to the princes' women. We climbed over the castle's Heidelberg Tun, the largest wooden wine cask in Germany, approximately 220,000 liters in capacity. We lunched at the Red Lion, an old German beer hall, and we shopped and sampled Zwiebelkuchen, or onion pie.
Leaving Speyer, we crossed over to the French side of the river and docked in Strasbourg, a lovely, quaint, yet partly modern city in Alsace that houses the Council of Europe. We had an informative lecture from Kjell Torbiörn, head of the office of the secretary-general of the council's Parliamentary Assembly, who thoughtfully answered our questions about oil, the Middle East and the weak U.S. dollar.
In Worms we stood in the spot where Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and king of Germany, gave Martin Luther "safe passage," declaring him an outlaw instead of handing down a death sentence. Luther's friend, Prince Frederick, then gave him housing in Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, where Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German.
What history, what music, what art we were part of for those six days on the river. Then it was time to say goodbye to the Rhine, having made new friends and having learned to appreciate the sense of history, community and commerce that a river provides.
Irene Hyland Sullivan (J64), a juvenile judge in Pinellas County, Fla., presides over child abuse and delinquency cases.
Visit the NAA's travel page or call 1-800-NU-ALUMS for information on upcoming trips.