A cruise through history

A cruise through history

Lucy Daltroff sets sail along the Rhine on the Uniworld heritage cruise and discovers more about Germany’s rich Jewish past

Heinrich Heine wrote a poem about it, Turner painted it and here I was looking at it – the steep slate rock, Lorelei, a famous and romantic landmark on the Rhine River.  

I saw it from the sun deck of my Uniworld river trip, accompanied by a great commentary by our tour director, Anthony Banks, who read the verse as we sailed by in luxurious comfort.

It’s easy to get into the rhythm of a river cruise with its small but elegant cabins, first class service and the enjoyment of watching the changing scenery from town to verdant countryside, while enjoying first-class breakfasts, lunches and suppers with
new friends.

I was on an all-inclusive, eight-day journey, ending with two extra nights in a Munich Hotel. Different trips were on offer every day, including the opportunity to take Jewish heritage tours.

These were interesting and informative, but sometimes painful to witness, as the itineraries included the famous court room in Nuremberg, Dachau concentration camp and the site where members of the Israeli team were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympic games.

We boarded River Ambassador in the striking and historic city of Cologne, with its awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral, built in the medieval era.

It was there that our helpful Israeli tour guide, Talia, pointed out an undisguised testimony of medieval anti-Semitism.

Visible on the underside of a wooden choir-stall seat dating back to 1310, the Judensau depicts Jewish figures performing with pigs – including one drinking from its teats.

The Jewish population suffered persecutions and expulsions in the city throughout its history until finally being banned completely in 1424. They would only return after the French Revolution. Yet all this is in contrast to the modern and bright synagogue we later visited, which is the centre of what is now a 4,500 strong community, mainly of Russian origin.

Of course, a trip to Cologne would be incomplete without seeing the oldest perfume factory in the world, the precursor to “4711”, the house number of a later fragrance maker.

It is now a sweet smelling museum, and from the window it is possible to see frantic building work.

Lucy Daltroff embarked on a Uniworld Heritage cruise along the Rhine

This will be a new archaeological zone and Jewish centre, displaying items from what was once Europe’s most important medieval Jewish quarter, from its ancient mikvah to the minutiae of medieval Jewish life.

We were lucky to have Mr Banks with us. South African-born, he used to be a tourist guide in Israel and his enthusiasm for the Jewish heritage aspect of the trip is unbounded.

Uniworld’s parent company, The Travel Corporation, is owned by a South African Jewish family.  Stanley Tollman set it up in 1952 and it remains a family business, operating in 60 countries and employing over 10,000 people.

Over the next few days, we visited Frankfurt, where the large Jewish Museum is housed in a former palace of the Rothschild family.

In the Franconia region of eastern Germany, more than 300 towns and villages were home to Jewish families.

The area is filled with charm, combined with historical reminders of our culture. One such place is Rothenburg, a well-preserved, attractive medieval settlement whose Jewish story mirrors so many other places in the area, although here, in the middle of the 13th century, the famous Talmud scholar Rabbi Meir ben Baruch lived and taught.

“Jews Alley” is a row of 12 houses, all built before 1500.  One – probably the baker’s house  – still has its small basement mikvah, while two doors away is the butcher’s shop.  Another building doubled up as the school house.  This is now thought to be the only existing Jewish street from the late Middle Ages intact in Europe.

The museum, a few streets away from the main square, has a Jewish section full of artefacts from that period.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Sieberstor(links) und Koboltor (rechts)
The well-preserved, attractive medieval settlement of Rothenburg

The community’s fortunes were mixed, until all were finally expelled in 1520. They did not return until 1870.   Then, between 1937 and 1938, the expulsion of Jews was undertaken systemically once again.

At the end of each day’s sightseeing, it was a relaxing feeling knowing we could return “home” to the River Ambassador.  Designed like a chic hotel – for 160 people – healthy options are always available, from the bikes on board, hikes and morning yoga sessions to the gym.

Evenings were relaxed with no formal dress code, although most people spruced up for dinner and to enjoy live music in the evenings.

A home from home, there was no better way to travel and discover more about Germany’s rich Jewish history, from tragedy to revival.

Lucy travelled with Uniworld’s 10-day Jewish Heritage cruise, Rhine-Main Discovery & Munich. Prices start from £2,899pp and includes two nights’ accommodation in a Munich hotel with breakfast, seven nights onboard accommodation, food and drinks onboard, onshore excursions and onboard entertainment, gratuities, port taxes and transfers on arrival and departure days. Visit uniworld.com/uk or call 0808 168 9110.

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