In the morning, when we left the medieval town and ascended the mountain, the sky was clear.
The snow dazzled brilliantly on the church spires and the sloping roofs of the houses; it blanketed the vineyards.
Days before, Alsace had basked in the promise of spring.
The storks tended their nests, the air echoed to the sounds of streams and rivers.
Then the cold descended.
‘Siberian air stream’, the weather report said.
A different kind of magic appeared, as sudden as a conjurer’s trick.
The magic of silence.
At the top of the mountain, surrounded by leafless trees, alone with the silence, we checked our map, searched for markers, and continued our journey.
As we descended into a deep valley, the sun vanished. Dark clouds filled the sky and the flakes of snow filled the air.
Lower in the valley, back tracking through the trees, we looked at the other side of the valley – and looked again.
There, on the other side of the valley, high up, were the ruins of a castle.
Late in the afternoon, we entered the outskirts of Ribbeauville, where we had booked a small room on the second floor of a traditional house for two nights. An elderly lady, a real character, greeted us; she was one of the old guard, spoke German as well as French.
Like so many of the towns in Alsace, Ribbeauville was a fine example of medieval era houses and churches, built by the Germans who originally dominated in this area of France.
On the following day we walked out of town and upwards towards the castle.
It was built in the 11th century at the orders of a certain Lord Rappolstein – based in today’s southern Germany.
How many of feudalism’s peons died building this structure in service of the Church and it’s ‘Defenders of the Faith’ , such as Rappolstein?
When this castle was built, those Defenders were advancing on Jerusalem in what later became known as the First Crusade.
The castle was destroyed during the 17th century, when Europe was devasted by the ’30 years’ war’, initially a war between the Catholics and the Protestants, but which later became a war between nations. An estimated 8 million people died, millions more left homeless. Germany and much of Eastern Europe was laid to waste.
Only one nation did well out of the conflict: in The Netherlands, the Protestants drove out the Spanish occupiers and declared itself to be an independent nation. Its most famous philospher, Baruch Spinoza, declared that there was no God and that religious war was hence madness.
In the ruins of the castle, the echoes of the past…..