Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Rhine Aflame, Germany's Independence Day

By Kathy Kovach

Celebrations with fireworks have long been an American tradition to commemorate our independence from British rule. Germany has a similar custom with festivities that last throughout the summer. These events are known as Rhein en Flammen, translated Rhine in Flames or Rhine Aflame.

Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Five dates from May to September mark that country’s independence from oppressive tolls. In medieval times, corrupt landowners collected outrageous levies along the Rhine River and its tributaries. The residents celebrate their freedom at various places along the banks throughout the summer. It stretches forty miles from Koblenz to Rüdesheim and includes some forty castles, both fully functional and in ruins. My family enjoyed one in particular that took place along the Upper Middle Rhine, aka the Rhine River Valley.

Marksburg Castle
Take note that these castles along the Rhine aren’t of the opulent palace variety, as were Mad King Ludwig’s lavish and gaudy residences. These were fortified to withstand enemy attacks—fortresses. In German, a schloss is a palace, but a burg is a fortress. The most formidable, in my opinion, was the Marksburg. It wasn’t hard to imagine virile, gallant men strategizing around a rough-hewn table, making plans to lay siege and conquer.

Pfaltzgrafenstein Castle
For a millennium, from 800 to 1800, the castles along the Rhine were used as a form of revenue for the Holy Roman Empire. Chains were stretched from shore to shore to effectively stop shipping merchants traveling along the major commercial thoroughfare. One small fortress was the Pfaltz, a toll booth as it were, built in the middle of the river for the purpose of taking silver coins or an “in kind” toll of cargo from the ships. This practice continued throughout the Roman Empire’s reign.

In the mid-13th Century, when Frederick II died, there was no emperor—and therefore, no accountability. This kicked off a twenty-three-year period called the Great Interregnum. During this time, unscrupulous landowners, or robber barons, took advantage by exacting exorbitant tolls from the merchants. However, they wouldn’t stop there. Cargo would often be pillaged and entire ships stolen. One baron even kidnapped the Queen of Holland. The Rhine League, a coalition formed in 1254, excised swift judgement, capturing the Reitberg Castle and rescuing the queen.

This league, in German called the Rheinischer Bund, was made up of three different factions: 1) cities protecting their own merchants, 2) princely members (upper nobility), 3) knightly members (lower nobility). The nobility owned their own castles and had a legal right to collect tolls. The cities totaled a hundred in all, and there were thirty nobles who participated.
🙶The League sought, through a general peace along the Rhine, for the security of trade routes and suppression of unjust new tolls. The League further sought to reduce the onslaughts of the feudal lords through economic sanctions and the destruction of robber castles.🙷 (Mueller-Mertens, Paterna, and Steinmetz, p. 769; a translation)
Rudolf I
The league policed the area until the first king of Germany, Rudolf of Habsburg, took power in 1273. Using the integrity and methods of the Rhine League, the new king besieged and destroyed the offending fortresses.

The Rheinlanders were so ecstatic that in 1274 they celebrated with fireworks all up and down the Rhine. A celebration that has continued to this day. With several stations along the river, people can either take a party cruise to witness the festivity from the water, or they can post themselves strategically to see several castles as a plethora of fireworks burst forth in grand finale fashion that seemed to last forever at each castle in turn. Flares are also positioned in the windows to symbolize the burning of the robber castles.

It's quite a sight!

We Americans commemorate our independence with bursts of color that represent the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air. In like fashion, so do the Germans who escaped an unjust toll system and corrupt landowners who took extreme advantage.


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Follow two intertwining stories a century apart. 1912 - Matriarch Olive Stanford protects a secret after boarding the Titanic that must go to her grave. 2012 - Portland real estate agent Ember Keaton-Jones receives the key that will unlock the mystery of her past... and her distrusting heart.
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Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother and a great-grandmother, though much too young for either. Kathleen has been a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I can imagine that those celebrations are spectacular!