I'll confess it was a big surprise: We were on a Rhine cruise and I'd expected to be visiting a middle Rhine town just like the others, but that was not to be.
OK, we still were visiting Koblenz but the city was partying: It was in the middle of a six-month-long festival of flowers and plants.
But this wasn't just any flower show. Oh, no: This was the biannual Federal Horticultural Show (German: Bundesgartenschau), the national flower show for the entire country of Germany. This, my friends, was a Very. Big. Deal.
As luck would have it, our cruise director was able to get show tickets for all the passengers. Free tickets to a national flower show? Heck yeah, we're going! We were among the first groups off the boat.
Three parts of the Koblenz flower show
The flower show was actually held in three different areas around the city, on both sides of the Rhine. The best and largest area was on the opposite side from the city itself, on a huge plateau adjoining a big fortress. The planners came up with an ingenious solution: Install a cable car system that would carry visitors back and forth across the river.
The views from the gondolas, both up and down the river, were spectacular. We could even see our cruise ship below as we passed overhead. Photo op!
Area 1: The flower show on the plateau
Across the Rhine from Koblenz is the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, one of the largest fortresses in Europe, and an enormous plateau of 27 hectares. This was the largest of the show's areas and with all the displays, gardens and paths, was nearly overwhelming.
Flower-laden walkways led everywhere, past abandoned vineyards, enormous sculptures, old orchards and gardens. They had buildings housing high-tech hydroponic displays, a forest of orchids, a collection of various mushrooms, an arid biotope full of creative displays of cacti, water features, and places to sit and take a breather.
Area 2: The Deutsches Eck
We really liked all the plants and flowers but we wanted to see Koblenz itself. We crossed back across the river and soon found pretty St. Kastor's church. It, too, was surrounded by flowering gardens.
Of course, since the doors were open we took a peek inside.
Behind the church was an area known as Deutsches Eck, where the Moselle River meets the Rhine. It, too, was transformed. Artistic sculptures and flower beds dominated this area
as well as a fabulous area to play.
An interesting fact is that while they were preparing this site for the flower show, they discovered the first archaeological evidence for a Roman settlement at Koblenz. This was nearly a miracle since they'd been fruitlessly searching for it for 150 years.
Area 3: The square in front of the Electoral Palace
The third area, the grounds around the Electoral Palace, had water features, fountains, radial steps and walls for sitting on. but thanks to spending so much time on the plateau and at Deutsches Eck we ran out of time and couldn't see it. That was a huge disappointment, not only because I'm such a plant- and garden-lover but because we missed an opportunity to sample wines from an inner-city Koblenz winery, which produces small batches of relatively unknown Rhine wines.
Although the National Garden Show in Koblenz is long over, its presence has changed the face of the city. It left its mark with the Koblenz Cable Car and Fortress attraction. Visitors to Koblenz can now take the cable car up to an overlook on the plateau and get a panoramic view of the city, the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, and the surrounding countryside. Tickets include admission to the fortress and its museums. No worries about going hungry from a long stay, either: Snacks are available and it's also possible to relax at the biergarten, wine bar, or the full-service restaurant.
Koblenz is beautiful and still worth a visit, even though the flower show is long gone.