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“Goethe” meets “Turner”

Cruises on board the boats of Köln-Düsseldorfer Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt are often both guideposts and door openers to cultural discoveries. One wonderful example of the successful blend of river boat cruise and Rhine romanticism is the “William Turner Route”. On the 67-kilometre stretch between Koblenz and Bingen, 26 sites mark important points retracing the footsteps of the painter William Turner through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Fittingly, the KD Nostalgia Route takes you through the entire Upper Middle Rhine UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example on board the faithfully restored paddle steamer “Goethe”.

The name of the cultural tour could also be: “Goethe meets Turner.” When the paddle steamer “Goethe” was put into service in 1913, its namesake Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had long ago left the land of the living. The most eminent German-language poet died in Weimar in 1832. One of his contemporaries was the English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner, who lived from 1775 to 1851. The Brit took his first journey on the Rhine in 1817. Goethe, who was 26 years older, and Turner never met, but it would have been theoretically possible because the poet was also frequently drawn to the Rhine-Main region on his travels.

Interesting William Turner Route

A good 200 years after Turner’s first journey on the Rhine, the KD boat “Goethe” takes guests to the places of his work along the Middle Rhine. The “William Turner Route” is a project of the Zweckverband Welterbe Oberes Mittelrheintal (Association for the World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine Valley). William Turner is considered one of the fathers of Rhine romanticism. He was fascinated by the pristine nature, the impressive ruins and the sprawling vineyards. His watercolours reflect his impressions and view of the valley. His works are based on countless sketches with which he captured the moments and moods at that point in time and later transferred them onto canvas in his London studio. Turner was not only interested in reproducing reality – his focus was on the whole atmosphere, the representation of light and colour.

Walking in the painter’s footsteps

On the very well organised route, visitors are invited to stand where Turner did his painting. Literally – you can actually stand in the painter’s footsteps. In the towns, which include Bacharach, Oberwesel and St. Goarshausen, round bronze plates in the ground you can walk on mark where William Turner stood 200 years ago. So you can see the artist’s perspective and trace where and how he captured the details of the landscape in his sketches. You can call up further information on the works and the artist via QR codes on the plates.

Foto: M.Siech
Private Collection Photo ∏ Agnew's Bridgeman

To demonstrate how the principle is organised, let’s go to the crossing Rheinallee/Michael-Bach-Straße in Boppard. The Turner plate is located at the entrance to the Rheinanlagen park. The accompanying text reveals that while he was staying on the banks of the Rhine in Boppard, William Turner made quick sketches of the everyday working life of the people on the river. In the later watercolour, a massive town tower with adjacent city wall forms the backdrop for the bustling activity around an anchored ship. The twin towers of St. Severus church can be seen in the background. The work and the presentation on the William Turner Route are both magnificent.

“It might be a good idea to take a sketchpad and pencil with you to lay the foundation for your own series of pictures.”

Travel in summer, paint in winter

Not all of the points on the route have been marked yet, but a visit to one of William Turner’s numerous open-air studios is already well worth it. The Upper Middle Rhine Valley with its unique cultural and natural landscape has lost none of its importance as a source of inspiration for artists and nature lovers over the centuries. It might be a good idea to take a sketchpad and pencil with you to lay the foundation for your own series of pictures. It doesn’t have to be on the scale of William Turner’s life’s work, which comprised more than 19,000 sketches, watercolours and notes, as well as 100 paintings and almost 200 oil studies. Turner’s working philosophy, however, is worthy of imitation: travel in summer, paint in winter.

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