Our first car trip: The Rheingau: Assmannshausen-Rüdesheim (September 2012)

| January 13, 2013

While leafing through Earl Steinbicker’s “Daytrips Germany”, a gift we received upon our arrival, I came across Rüdesheim.  One of its biggest draws was that it wasn’t terribly far from our hotel in Wiesbaden; another was that it had a chair lift for Sequoia to enjoy.  So I underlined some key phrases, circled some numbers on the map provided, and Sequoia and I were off on our first little road trip in Germany.

After a brief bit of highway driving, we found ourselves heading toward hills and a more scenic route.  Eventually we were along the Rhein, with castle ruins and vineyards treating us to our first road trip sights.  Not bad.  Assmannshausen was easy to find, what with the Rhein keeping you from wandering left, rolling hills keeping you in check on the right, and the only towns to wander into popping up as you actually came upon them.  I could recall reading that the starting point for a good Assmannshausen-Rüdesheim trip is the Assmannshausen train station, so we parked at some train tracks and headed into the tiny town, predictably leaving the guide book in the car.  We paused to admire doors, big and small, painted in colors from a palette I love.  We looped around a shrine, and we made our way up to the chair lift.


It was there that I realized I’d come to the Rheingau on our first road trip, with just a few Euro coins in my pocket.  I had intended to purchase two combination tickets, as I’d read that there was a second cable car leading from the top to Rüdesheim.  This vendor, like many places, does not accept cards.  The sympathetic man let Sequoia ride free.

The trip on Assmannshausen’s Sesselbahn was lovely:  vineyards beside us, Assmannshausenbelow us, the Rhein behind us.

Assmanshausen Seilbahn

We hopped off at top and started walking down the path, with no plan and no idea what was at the end of the road.  Certainly we did not expect that the first thing we would come upon would be a yard of goats.  Sequoia wanted so badly to feed one friendly goat, but I had no coins.

Assmanshausen jagdschloss goats“On the way back,” I told her.  Unintentional falsehood #1 of the trip.

We continued down the fence line and ended up at the Jagdschloss, a former hunting lodge of the dukes of Nassau.  The castle-hotel and restaurant property reminds you of a trendy photo shoot site; I spared facebook at the time, but am adding two shots here so you can see where you could stage a shoot if you don’t want to spring for a trendy photographer (and if you paid attention to lighting).  Quite frankly, you could have a nice shoot down in Assmannshausen as well.  Great colors like in the first photo of this blog entry.

jagdschloss leaves jagdschloss

Tantalizing aromas wafted from the restaurant, but it was too early for lunch and I did not know what forms of payment they accepted, so I decided to press on.  Unintentional Regret #1.

We entered a forest.  This being only a couple weeks into our arrival in Germany, I understood about 3 words of German and could read cognates.  Only a small portion of the multiple signs we came upon contained any of those words.  The first sign or two were easy enough.  They were leading us to the Niederwald Denkmal, which was a statue I was planning on checking out.  Now, the book claims that this requires but a “leisurely stroll of about one-half mile or so along a forest road”.  And I suppose if you remain on the right path, it might be a half a mile, it might be leisurely, and I’ll bet it’s even fairly level.  But somehow I began to come upon signs from which my destination had dropped, and at forks in the road I began guessing.  I thought, You know, I seem to be heading in the general direction of the town we’re hoping to hit (in my defense, we were indeed heading in that direction), so it must be this way (well, kinda).  Perhaps if I’d instead stopped and thought, “The statue is at the top of a hill, we started at the top of a hill, and we’ve been on a steady decline,” I would have come to the conclusion that we were off track.  But I did not.

I should note that I had not brought water.  Why?  Because I had not thought this through.  No water, no map, no German.  Just my purse and Sequoia’s Mary Poppins pocketbook.
rheingau forest

I think I began making wrong turns inside the forest, before we hit its edge.  After a little bit of walking inside the woods (Sequoia collecting sticks, pinecones, and rocks), we rounded a bend and saw the light. As we approached it, the woods opened up forest view rheingau to a growing view of the Rhein, framed at the bottom with vineyards.

It was pretty awesome.

rhine view

We had begun sliding on the rocky path, which should have provided confirmation that we were no longer on the proper leisurely stroll, but who knew what a German leisurely stroll was… I do know we hadn’t packed proper hiking footwear for our brief hotel stay, so going on a hike was my bad.  Sequoia skinned a knee, but sprung back up.  She was not yet aware that I was coming upon signs that were no longer for nature trails but seemed to point toward, well, perhaps the tractor or grape vine 1 km from where I stood.  One problem I had with the wooden signs at the forks in the dirt path was that they were in kilometers, which in my mind equate to degrees Fahrenheit.  It was therefore difficult to tell if things like the town of Rüdesheim (which eventually became our destination on foot) seemed near or far.  Where was Grover when you needed him?

Let me be clear: I enjoy hiking.  I’ve done a week-long Appalachian trail hike, I used to do weekends in Yosemite, King’s Canyon, etc., I’ve survived bear and wolf encounters, carried big ole backpacks, sweat off some pounds, and followed switchbacks up, up, up.  But I was mentally prepared to hike, I was wearing hiking shoes, I was carrying water, and I wasn’t being followed by a 5-year-old who was told we were taking a walk and riding some chair lifts.  So there was that.

Not that Sequoia didn’t enjoy herself.  She loves nature.  The view was expansive.  Castles we had seen from the road, the river, towns, vineyards.  It was a private view (what with being from private property and all) from between grape vines.  We started out among deep purple grapes, IMG_0128 (1)then moved on to white.IMG_0125

A clue that tipped me off much too late that we were on the wrong path: the lack of people, with the exception of a man on a tractor on a parallel dirt road below.  We could not, after all, be the only people taking a leisurely stroll toward a giant monument in the Rheingau.

Finally, she was onto me.  “Mommy, do you know where we’re going?”

And just as I was about to come clean, I looked up.  The statue that we were looking for was in sight.  “Yes!”  An hour plus and a few falls, but there was our first view of the statue.

The only problem was, the statue was at the top of the hill, and we were down about 2/3 toward the bottom of the hill.  And there were vineyards in the way, no path from us to the statue’s base.  Plus, the people around the base of it looked just small enough to tell me that I didn’t really want to hike up there.  So I told Sequoia we’d seen the statue, now we were moving on.  Except, I wasn’t sure exactly how we were going to get to Rüdesheim.  I figured one of the vineyard roads would lead us there, though, right?  Onward it was.

We eventually sampled a white grape each. I planned to use my child’s survival as an excuse if we were caught, although really it was curiosity.  The Rheingau is known for its Reislings.


I am in shock that Sequoia did not let out a curse word.  She spit out the seedy grape with disdain and pressed on.

Soon, I could see the other cable car wires in the air from where we stood—I just couldn’t see their point of origin.  We continued straight ahead, with the sun beating down on us on what had turned out to be a lovely, sunny day.  I had inappropriately dressed Sequoia in jeans and long sleeves, which would not have been a problem if we had stayed in the forest for our leisurely stroll.  We grew hungrier and thirstier.  Sequoia was dragging and I found myself stopping every couple hundred yards, waiting for her to catch up.

rheingau catching up

We came upon a bench and—encouraging development!–a few people.  Sequoia plopped down on the bench.  She wasn’t the slightest bit interested in a pendulum in the sand.  It appeared that we had come to a vineyard that people visited at the bottom of a path from a rotunda that was down a path from the statue.  It looked like the chair lift was also coming from that direction.  I broke the news to Sequoia: we’d be going up.  “Not all the way,” I assured her.  After Sequoia informed me that the stones were cooling her off, we lingered a bit, then continue walking.  As soon as we came upon the ruins of a previous rotunda, she plopped down.  I assured her that there were not a gazillion more stairs on this well-maintained path.

rotunda ruins
We reached the top of that leg.  A large rotunda (a/k/new bench) greeted Sequoia.  I looked around, found the chair lift.  The guy gave us a skeptical look about Sequoia riding free (I guess she was a little tall), but I collapsed into the lift with Sequoia, her purse, and her nature collection.

IMG_0155 IMG_0178I don’t know why a kid who can barely drag herself up a hill wants to add half the forest floor to the weight, but 5-year-olds defy logic.

Now that I have consulted a map and done some online conversion, it appears that we walked-hiked-dragged our sorry asses approximately 3.1 miles through beautiful forest and vineyard.

The Seilbahn Rüdesheim- the Kabinenbahn – is even more beautiful than Assmannshausen’s Seilbahn.  The vineyards sit below, left, and right, and the Rhein lies ahead.

I assured Sequoia, who along with me was starving, that as soon as we reached Rüdesheim–that town up ahead, where we could see castles and narrow, busy streets—we two dirty, sweaty, hill-wandering peasants would find money, water, and food.  And that’s exactly what we did.  An ATM was stationed at the base of the Seilbahn, and restaurants were not scarce.

I began to feel normal again as I sat out front a café, eating and observing the bustling Drosselgasse directly in front of us.

Next we wandered down Oberstrasse toward an old residence called Bromserhof, which houses what I’d read was a collection of antique self-playing instruments (Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet).  When we came upon a musical apparatus at a gate, we figured we were at the right place.  Sequoia wanted to see more, so we walked up to the door.  I was told the price of admission and that the length of the tour, an English-speaking one, was approximately 45 minutes.  Sequoia insisted.  Okay, I thought, let’s do this.

The tour guide closed the doors of the first room and turned on a giant, wall length instrument that sounded like a live marching band was playing in the room.  The guy next to me turned off his hearing aid.  Sequoia, covering her ears, announced that she wanted to leave.

We stayed to check out the next instrument, then the one after that.  Only a few were so loud.  Sequoia enjoyed most of the tour as much as I did, although she was ready for it to end.  She was impressed by some of the amazing mechanisms, found some amusing, and was mesmerized by the teeny ones—she took home a tiny wind-up music box as a souvenir.  I recommend the tour for curious adults with the time to enjoy it.

Eventually, I realized we needed to be on our way.  The new challenge: I had no idea how we were getting back to the car.  I knew only that it would NOT be the way we came.  I figured if we walked a few blocks down to and then headed up along the Rhein, in the general direction of the next town, I’d see a bus stop or something.

Lo and behold, we came upon a station.

Now, the building was situated on tracks, so I thought, Sweet—a railroad station.  Then, as we approached the doors, we made our way through a crowd standing at a bus stop.  Okay, maybe this is a bus station.  I entered, not really caring how we got back to Assmannshausen, so long as we made it back to our car, which by now I’d realized was parked with no parking pass, on the side of a road where there were no markings indicating that it was even a parking space.  A fine time to think of this.

I approached the counter and asked, in my best German, “nach Assmannshausen?”

“Ja.  [presumably a time] [hurdledygurdledy] [presumably a price].”  I don’t know; it was the “Ja” that mattered.  I handed him what I knew would be more than enough money, and he passed me change and two tickets.  My newest problem: I had no idea if I was getting on a bus or a train, and he had moved on to the next person.  I sat down on a bench to read the tickets.  I saw the time of departure—less than 20 minutes.  I suppose this was good luck, seeing as we had wandered into the station just minutes before we needed to be there.  I wondered if there would be an announcement and there soon was.

IMG_0208People began moving toward the railroad track side of the station and the doors opened, so I figured that was a safe bet.  I grabbed Sequoia and we stepped onto the train, hoping that this train was going to stop at Assmannshausen.  I was relieved when it did.  Sequoia was tickled that our day had included car – open chair lift – hike – closed cable car – walk – and finally,

We disembarked and began  to walk the pavement along the tracks, until it let out at a small opening in a wall.


IMG_0213Sequoia was impressed: “How did you know where our car was?!!”  But then she detected my surprise…perhaps because I stopped dead in my tracks and began to guffaw at the dumb luck that now topped even my list.  And no parking ticket, to boot.

Unfortunately, we were facing the wrong way.  We were parallel the river, the road we needed, and the railroad tracks–with the one road leading across the tracks and out of town, just behind us.  My final, but by no means only the second, regret of the trip: not just backing up to that road.

I started up the typical German road I was parked on, which unfortunately narrowed as it climbed the slight incline.  By typical, I mean it was wide enough for 1 ½ lanes of traffic, it was designated for two lanes of traffic, it allowed parking, and it is not recommended for the claustrophobic.  In this particular case, I was at the bottom of a town built into a hillside and there were no driveways or alleys to try to turn around in (although my attempt at a turn-around is coming).  I continued up until the road met with gravel.  I thought perhaps we should stop.  However, due to the narrow width of the road, I determined that our only practical egress was the way we came, in reverse.  I crossed my fingers that no one tried to come up behind us and told Sequoia not to tell Daddy about this.  About halfway down, I noticed an old woman watching my progress from a window above.  She had enough time to sketch my face through my windshield as I slowly backed past her house.  I was too busy concentrating on not scraping the side of Paul’s car on my first day driving alone in Germany, to notice the tension likely mounting in her face.

I soon came to a house with a tiny garage.  Although its doors were closed, although there was a car parked directly across from it, and although there was a pole next to the garage, I thought, You know, I might be able to turn around here.  Thus began my 40-point-to-go-30-degrees –and-get-stuck turn.  It was then that the old lady, more nimble than one would have expected, zig-zagged down some hillside stairs at a full sprint, screaming in German.  I stopped.  I rolled down the window.  I shrugged helplessly and said, “I can’t go anywhere.  The road ends!”  She continued to scream in German.  “Ich spreche Englisch.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t understand!  The road ends!”  She eventually calmed down and pantomimed.  There seemed to be a turnaround on the gravel road.  At least, I sure hoped there was when I got back up there.

Turns out there was, not 20 yards from where I’d stopped, the trees having obscured my view.  I turned around.  And you can be sure that old bitty was still standing halfway down that road to make sure I was going to make it without getting stuck or bouncing off any cars.

Sequoia and I had and uneventful ride back to the hotel.  In fact, she fell asleep quickly.  I’m guessing the unexpected deprivation trek and mystery transportation medley wore her out.  She did have time, however, to remind me that she’d never gotten to feed the goat.

The only thing I’ll add here is that the next time we returned to the Rheingau, I didn’t realize that the GPS was leading us from the other side of the river until it dropped me at a ferry.  I might have a mental block against planning Rheingau trips—but they definitely turn out to be worth the adventure.


Tags: , ,

Category: Activities, Castles & Palaces, Ex-pat Parenting, FAMILY, Family Travel, Germany, Hiking in the Rheingau, In Germany A Broad blog, Museums, Restaurants, Shits & Giggles, Travel

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

Comments are closed.