Koblenz is a town in the Rhineland-Palatinate area of western Germany, perhaps an hour’s drive west from Frankfurt and about 60kms south of Bonn. It’s a charming city of some 110,000 inhabitants and prides itself on being one of the oldest German cities, having been settled by the Romans under Julius Caesar over two thousand years ago.
Notwithstanding its previous resilience and longevity, it was extensively flattened in the Second World War but has been rebuilt in a sensitive manner since. There are a cluster of enclosed squares around churches in the Altstadt area of the town. The town has a laid-back feel, bolstered by the café life fostered by the many restaurants ringing the squares.
The town lies at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers in what is most definitely wine country. The precise meeting point is known as the Deutsches Eck or German Corner, a triangular piece of ground where sits a large monument to Kaiser Wilhelm the First.
Following the Kaiser’s death in 1888, it was proposed to erect a monument to him to commemorate his role in German unification. A 23 meter tall boxy square monumental building is set on a raised ceremonial plain up which classes of schoolchildren are trooped on day trips. This monument is in turn topped by a statue of horse and rider a further 14 meters tall. Nothing is done by half measures – the rider (Kaiser Wilhelm 1.) has his horse led by the muse Genius, carrying an imperial crown on a cushion in the other hand. The emporer’s greatcoat tumbles down the flank of his muscular steed and he carries in his free hand plans for a greater Germany. The French poet Apollonaire described it as a “monument affreux gigantesque” – you can decide for yourself whether he was being polite or not.
The statute was damaged in the Second World War and extensive scavenging of copper from it reduced the statue to a shadow of its former glory. It was removed from the plinth and the remainder was melted down to make telephone cables. As the area fell under French jurisdiction post-war they intended to replace the statue with a 'monument to peace and understanding between peoples'. This may just have been something the French spread about to annoy the vanquished Germans. Following German reunification, ownership of the monument passed to the local authorities. A generous grant by a local couple who made their fortunes in publishing enabled the statue to be recast and in September 1993 the Kaiser rode high once more.
There is a considerable amount of pomp and splendour involved. The monument on the plinth is labelled ‘Wilhelm dem Grosser’ lest anybody be in any doubt as to the significance of the individual involved. Which is why I find it all the more surprising that the monument is decorated with what appears to be serpent and demon motifs that look like refugees from a bad Heavy Metal album and the titling appears to have been scratched on by a bored teenager.
Even the Gargoyles dotted around the place bear an unusual resemblance to Iron Maiden’s Eddie mascot. Sometimes I just don’t understand the Germans….