After discovering that Germany was much cooler than I anticipated, we spent our next day cruising along the Rhine from the comfort of our heated ship. It was cozy inside the main room as the passengers gathered around windows, cameras and iPads at the ready, to snap photos of the gorgeous winter landscape that felt like the inside of a snow globe. Around every bend in the river, there were vineyards, churches, and castles. Yes, castles.
Though not exactly like the palaces of kings and queens that little girls dream of being swept away to, the castles were amazing. Clearly strategically built structures, they were scattered along the banks and positioned up on the hills, the high ground a clear advantage for seeing an enemy approaching. Now, I know there are castles out there that more closely resemble the ones in those princess stories I loved, but I really enjoyed seeing these militaristic fortresses and hearing the history behind them.
Since we were on our way to Rüdesheim, the crew served each of us a delicious Rüdesheim coffee. A spiked coffee with Asbach Uralt, a German brandy, was just the thing to keep us warm for the remainder of the journey.
When we arrived in Rüdesheim, we followed our cruise director Nick (the spitting image of Where’s Waldo?) through the Christmas markets and biergartens as a light snow dusted our heads. The small roads were full of pedestrians, but I didn’t feel claustrophobic or overwhelmed as I so often do in large groups. There was a comfort in the sea of friendly and welcoming faces of those sipping glühwein or purchasing handcrafted ornaments from the stalls along the way.
Nick soon deposited us at one of Rüdesheim’s quirkier places: Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett, or Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet.
Now, I was expecting dozens of stuffed monkeys banging cymbals together incessantly and I was amazed to learn that not only was I completely wrong, but that the exhibits were much grander than I had imagined. The museum was full of wardrobe-sized, self-playing instruments that were once owned by the richest of citizens to entertain their guests during social engagements. Siegfried Wendel, the genius behind the museum, began collecting and repairing the large-scale cabinets eventually amassing a collection to fill a house.
These cabinets really were quite impressive. Some played with reams of punch-cut paper while others used large metal discs, each housing one song. They were all unique with detailed ornaments or figures that moved along with the music. It was similar to a miniature version of “It’s a Small World” with very loud tunes coming from the room-sized cupboards. Though not all of the over 300 cabinets were turned on for us, the guide turned on enough of them to really give us a great illustration of the variety of the sounds that could come from these interesting machines.
Here’s a video that showcases the different cabinets. You can skip the last 30 seconds of the video unless you’re really interested in watching thunderstorm footage. This was not a part of my experience, but I can appreciate the drama it brings to the video.
I actually got to see every single instrument that is featured in the video, but sadly I did not create this. Credit goes to the Otto Family that did a great job showcasing the museum.
We had plenty of time after our musical tour to explore Rüdesheim a little more and partake in a wine tasting in a cellar. By far, one of the best tasting I have ever done with a hilarious sommelier who interjected witticisms during each step of the way. The Riesling and other white wines we sampled were light and not too sweet or too dry. Just right.
Even Goldilocks would have approved.