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Earth Sense: This is the best time to plan a European vacation

POSTED: April 12, 2014 11:30 p.m.

Late spring and early summer are some of the best times to visit Europe, especially the Upper Rhine Valley. 

It’s produced by a set of parallel geologic faults that extend from Basel, Switzerland northward to Mainz, Germany, for a distance of about 200 miles. 

This tri-country area shared by France, Germany and Switzerland offers a mild climate, beautiful landscapes and unique glimpses into history, and everything is connected by short train rides. One can board an “ICE” high-speed train at Frankfurt airport and ride to Mainz (pronounced “mines”). 

The Gutenberg Museum commemorates the history of books, and has two originals of the famous Gutenberg Bible, made by the ancient master in the 1400s. 

Another ICE ride takes you to Karlsruhe at airplane speed. The town is named after a vision that came to Duke Karl Wilhelm in his sleep around 1700. 

Wanting to be compared to the Sun King of France, he built a city with a street pattern symbolizing the rising sun. The downtown streets converge at the castle and then spread out again like the sun’s rays. 

Karlsruhe’s municipal zoo is ringed by street car stops, which makes it easy to take one eastward, past the university where Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves. 

Not far from there, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz invented gasoline powered motor vehicles. At the terminus of Line 1 in Durlach (pronounced “duur-laak”), a mountain tram takes you to the top of the Turmberg, which offers a view all the way across the Rhine Valley. 

On a clear day you see the cathedral of Speyer, another destination and burial place of emperors. 

In a sharp, straight line, the Rhine fault borders the Black Forest to the south. Because the flat valley floor is sinking at a rate of an inch per year, the gothic cathedral of Strasbourg, France, an hour’s train ride from Karlsruhe, has only one tower. Putting up a second one was deemed to risky during the 16th and 17th century. 

A trip to Strasbourg also lets you enjoy unique French food, Alsatian style, at lower prices than you’d get in Paris. 

Back on the German side, trains go up into the Black Forest with its architectural treasures and beautiful landscapes. 

The spectacular Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen, Switzerland again are just a short distance from there, another of many enjoyable places to spend your Euros and Swiss Francs.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at


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