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Rudesheim (pronounced roo-des-hyme) is a town built for tourism. Its omnipresent oompah bands and sprawling hillside vineyards tickle all the right notes of "quaintness" for the river cruise traveler who's looking for a picturesque German village. But the town and its environs -- particularly through the craftsmanship evident in the region's food and wine -- offer more than just a simple stereotype for those who want to peer behind the old-fashioned facade.
It is easy (and worthwhile) to allow yourself to be swept along in the festive currents of music, tempting aromas of grilled meat, free-flowing Rheingau wines and crowds of travelers who seem to find their way to the town's narrow Drosselgasse ("choke alley") year-round. The nice thing about Rudesheim's size and setting is that you can also make a quick exit from the melee. Within minutes, you can find yourself wandering through row upon row of ripening grapes to an uncrowded vista over the Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- or relaxing in a beer garden (biergarten).
Rudesheim is little, but it has a little bit of everything in an easily accessible package. So, indulge yourself. Take a gondola ride, taste some Rhenish wine and enjoy the summer sunshine on the Rhine Valley. Or meander through a winter evening's Christmas market in the warmly lit confines of ancient cobbled streets ... and if you fancy a nightcap, top off your coffee with local brandy and set it alight.
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Rudesheim's most common tourist offering is probably Rudesheimer Kaffee, a flaming coffee drink whose signature fire is fueled by Asbach Uralt brandy, a locally crafted spirit. And the town capitalizes on the popularity of the drink, offering boxed sets that include all of the instruments -- special ceramic cups and saucers and extra-long spoons to stir the coffee after it's been lit without burning your fingers -- and ingredients you'll need.
Rudesheim is also a great place to buy Christmas ornaments and decorations -- even if you're not there during the traditional Christmas market season. Try Kathe Wohlfahrt on Oberstrasse. Also on Oberstrasse, a couple of wine shops feature the tasty, local wines of the Rheingau. You'll find Pinot Noir, Riesling and even sparkling wine from local vineyards.
German is the local language, but English is widely understood and spoken there and in much of Germany. A few handy phrases in German will always enamor you to the locals, though, so try these:
Hello / good afternoon: Guten Tag (GOO-ten tahg)
Please / Thank you: Bitte / Danke (BIT-tuh / DAHN-kuh)
Yes / No: Ja / Nein (yah / nine)
Excuse me: Entschuldigen Sie (ent-SHOOL-de-gen zee)
Beer: Bier (beer)
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Germany's currency is the euro. For currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are only a handful of ATM's in Rudesheim. The closest, within a few hundred yards of the river cruise mooring points, is the Nassauische Sparkasse (Nassau Savings Bank) at 34 Rheinstrasse. Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, bars and shops.
Where You're Docked
Rudesheim is quite a small town, and river cruise vessels dock very close to the town center.
The docking area is adjacent to a small public green space, just a few hundred yards from the main road fronting the river. Train tracks and the busy road separate you from the town, but there are a couple of well-marked subway footpaths to get you to the other side. The tourist information center, restaurants, ATM's and shops are all easily accessible.
On Foot: Given that Rudesheim is a hamlet of fewer than 10,000 residents, you really don't need any other form of transportation besides your own two feet. Although vehicles are allowed to drive through the town, there are various pedestrianized zones, and the narrow, cobbled alleyway of the Drosselgasse is best enjoyed on foot.
By Bike: If your cruise ship doesn't have bicycles available for use, your best bet for renting one in Rudesheim is the Hotel Zum Grunen Kranz (42-44 Oberstrasse), which houses Radkranz bike rental.
By Cable Car: A tram runs up the hillside from Rudesheim (Rudesheimer Seilbahn, Oberstrasse 37) to the Germania monument above. There are numerous ticket options, including combining the ride up with a chairlift ride down into the next village over.
Watch Out For
The cobbled streets can pose a trip hazard, and the size of the town necessitates a healthy amount of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and mind your step. One additional caveat is that many cafes, bars and taverns are smoker-friendly, which can be a shock to the system if you're coming from a region where smoking is not allowed indoors.
The biggest tourist draw in Rudesheim is the Drosselgasse ("choke alley"), a narrow, cobbled lane that runs through the heart of the town, connecting the main street -- Oberstrasse -- to Rheinstrasse, alongside the river. The pedestrian-friendly lane is crowded with restaurants, wine taverns and open-air biergartens that feature live music almost year-round -- from traditional German brass bands to DJs spinning chart-toppers. Dating to at least the 1400's, the Drosselgasse originally provided lodging for sailors and fishermen traveling the Rhine. Most of the original buildings along the Drosselgasse were destroyed by bombs in World War II, however, and rebuilt after 1945.
Bromserburg Castle, a more than 1,000-year-old structure that is the oldest castle in the Rhine Gorge World Heritage site, ranks as perhaps the most notable building in Rudesheim. The town bought the castle in 1941 and has turned it into the Rheingauer Wine Museum, which houses a collection of wine presses, glasses and other wine-themed pieces. (Rheinstrasse 2; open March 1 to November 1, daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; last admission 5:15 p.m.; English audio tour available)
The Niederwald, which means forest clearing or coppice, is a broad hill that rises to the east behind Rudesheim and is carpeted with vineyards producing some of the best wines in the Rhine Gorge region. Trails run through the vineyards and lead to a variety of sights within the Niederwald Landscape Park.
Atop the hill, above Rudesheim and the park, the Niederwaldenkmal (Germania monument) is an impressive monument constructed to commemorate the re-establishment of the German empire after the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. The central figure on the monument is a 34-foot-tall statue of Germania, the personification of the German nation. Angels of peace and war flank Germania, and a bronze relief runs between them, showing Wilhelm I, the king of Prussia and the first German emperor, who unified Germany and laid the first stone in the foundation of the monument. The park can be reached by cable car from Rudesheim, by chairlift from the neighboring town of Assmannshausen or by trail on foot. Keep in mind that the trails are not an easy climb; they're steep and can be narrow. If you have the time, you can buy the "Ring Ticket," which gets you a trip up to the monument by cable car, down the other side of the hill to Assmannshausen by chairlift and back to Rudesheim by boat.
In keeping with Rudesheim's musical nature, Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett (Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet) enjoys fairly heavy tourist traffic and is the best of the town's set of quirky museums. The museum is set inside the Bromserhof (a former residence of the aristocratic Bromser family) and houses three centuries' worth of paraphernalia related to automated musical instruments. The collection ranges from the tiniest music boxes to large orchestrated feats of musical engineering and is presented by knowledgeable guides. (Oberstrasse 29; open from March to December 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and, by reservation, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Been There, Done That
Eibingen Abbey is home to a community of Benedictine nuns who lead simple lives of work and prayer. The work they do is diverse, however, and the prayers they make are with a beautiful view over the Rhine Valley. Come here for quiet contemplation, to learn more about the church's patron saint -- Saint Hildegard von Bingen -- or to purchase some of the finely made crafts from the Abbey shop. (Klosterweg; +49/(0)6722/499-0)
Eibingen Abbey will help if your spirits are low, but if you're low on spirits, try the Asbach Distillery. The distillery in Rudesheim has been making premium German brandy or "Weinbrand" since the eponymous founder Hugo Asbach began the company in 1892. Perhaps the best-known use of the brandy comes in the form of Rudesheimer Kaffee -- a coffee drink made with fresh cream and Asbach Uralt. (Ingelheimer Strasse 4; +49 (0) 67 22/49 73 45)
The Mittelalterliches Foltermuseum (Medieval Torture Museum) is not for the faint of heart. The museum prides itself on being "educational and enlightening" and claims its mission is to remind visitors that, even today, torture is practiced with surprising regularity. After presenting published records of modern-day torture, the museum unveils its comprehensive collection of pain-inducing instruments -- among them thumb screws, a guillotine, chastity belts and something called a three-beamed harrow. (Oberstrasse 49-51; +49 (0) 67 22 / 4 75 10; open Monday-Friday from Easter through October 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays and the winter hours, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.)
If you need to find a safe, happy place to retreat after your visit to the torture museum, head straight over to the Rudesheim Toy Museum. The toy and railway museum displays children's toys from the past 100 years. It's the perfect antidote to terrifying and grisly tales of torture, and the centerpiece, a large-scale mid-20th century model railway presents a room-sized Rhine train route from Rudesheim to Koblenz. (Peterstrasse 20; +49 (0)6722 4024777; open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed on weekends from January to March)
Given its wineries' reputation for quality and the town's focus on tourism, Rudesheim provides visitors with an array of options for regional cuisine among its impressive number of eateries. Choose among cafes, restaurants and inns. In addition, seasonal vintners' taverns -- which are licensed to sell wine only at certain times of year (you'll be able to tell by the wreaths and brooms displayed outside) -- offer up dishes like Handkas mit Musik (mini cheeses marinated in a vinegar and onion sauce) and spundekas (seasoned cream cheese) alongside home-grown regional wines.
For heartier fare from the region, local favorite Restaurant Jakobusklause features Rhenish Goulash soup and cabbage dishes for less than 5 euros, as well as traditional German meat offerings like schnitzel and bratwurst for less than 15 euros. Jakobusklause has an extensive wine and beer list as well as a small outdoor biergarten, to boot. (Markt 23; +49 (0) 6722 48 313; open daily noon to 2 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner)
For mid-range prices on local fare in a weingasthaus (vineyard hotel), try Breuer's Rudesheimer Schloss. The house speciality is freshly prepared Hessian cuisine with a list of nearly 300 Rheingau wines -- including every vintage since 1929. The hotel is managed by the Breuer family, who own the hotel and the Georg Breuer wine-growing estate in Rudesheim. Starters include bone marrow dumplings in beef broth; mains could be fried local trout with almonds and potatoes or schnitzel in cream sauce with fresh mushrooms. (Steingasse 10; +49 (0) 6722 90 500)
For a gourmet meal, head further afield to the Michelin-starred Gourmet Restaurant Schwarzenstein, about three miles from Rudesheim in Johannisberg. The elegant restaurant is part of the Burg Schwarzenstein Hotel, and the resident chef serves modern European cuisine in a stunning setting with views over the Rhine Valley. The restaurant is enclosed by glass walls, which open on warm days to allow for al fresco dining. You'll need a reservation for this splurge. Adjacent to the restaurant, the Davidoff Smokers' Lounge offers cigars and spirits. (Rosengasse 32; +49 (0) 6722 99500; open Wednesday to Saturday for dinner, Sunday for lunch and dinner)
Staying in Touch
A handful of Rudesheim's cafes, bars and restaurants offer Wi-Fi if you've brought your own laptop or tablet computer. Internetcafe, located in a courtyard along the Marktstrasse, is the town's Internet cafe. (Markt 5; closed on Sundays and public holidays)
Because you're docked so near the town center and Rudesheim is a small and walkable city with much to see and do, walking tours dominate the shore excursion scene. Trips to Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet museum top the list, and optional dinner excursions are a favorite on the cruises that overnight in the town. Ship-sponsored day visits may also often include a ride on the very touristy Rudesheim Choo-Choo Train.
For More Information
On the Web: Rudesheim Tourist Office or German Government Tourist Office
Cruise Critic Message Boards: River Cruise Ports Europe
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide
--by Jamey Bergman, U.K. Production Editor