National Geographic : 1945 Jul
War's Wake in the Rhineland together with himself and all his troops. Thus Bad Godesberg and the near-by watering place of Bad Neuenahr escaped the tornado of war. But Colonel Gunn felt considerable per sonal satisfaction in taking over Bad Godes berg. It was here, at the luxurious Rhein Hotel Dreesen, that Chamberlain and Hitler met in September, 1938, to discuss Czecho slovakia. This was prior to the Munich conference, from which the English Premier returned convinced that he had established "peace in our time." The city was particularly favored by the Fiihrer. He came there often. He liked the great watering place as much as he disliked Bonn, citizens of the latter city say. Bad Godesberg had extended him hospitality in the days before his position was secure, when the university town had thrown him out. The proprietor of the Dreesen proudly showed a group of correspondents around the, hotel, and we sat in the chairs of Hitler and Chamberlain. But it was risky, for snipers were shooting through the hotel windows from across the Rhine. A bullet pinged through the room. This was "peace in our time." The Watch on the Rhine Fell Asleep A certain little Rhineland city has emerged from this campaign one of the historic places of the earth-Remagen (page 19). Every American schoolboy will be memorizing this name a century hence. But the town has paid dearly for its im mortality. Today it is nearly a total wreck, mostly because of German shellfire from the black volcanic hills across the Rhine and jet plane bombings. It was at this 2,000-year-old city that the watch on the Rhine fell asleep for a few mo ments, with the result that the broad, swift river which is Germany's last great natural bulwark against invasion from the west be came valueless (page 18). It is pure speculation, of course, but mili tary experts of the First Army have estimated that at least 15,000 American lives were saved by the miracle of Remagen. The shabby little city of 5,000 leather tan ners and wine makers, watched over by the locally famous church and monastery of St. Apollinaris on the gradually rising Viktoria berg mountain, became the gateway to inner Germany, the country across the river which always has been Germany. Remagen owed its first place in the sun to a miracle nearly eight centuries ago. Even then it was ancient, for originally it was a Celtic town. Later it was fortified by the Romans. The Roman period still shows in several ruined walls, a Roman gate, and a Roman road built A. D. 162. But it was known chiefly as the shrine of St. Apollinaris. He was, according to the legend, one of the pupils of the Apostle Paul and was beheaded at Ravenna in Italy. The martyr's followers obtained possession of his head and preserved it in a silver casket. In 1164 Frederick Bar barossa sent this sacred relic to his personal friend, the Archbishop of Cologne, for the Cologne Cathedral. The wanderings of the head between Rome and Remagen were com plicated, but the final stage of the journey was by boat down the Mosel to Koblenz and then down the Rhine. At Remagen, as the legend is recounted by the Franciscan monks on the mountaintop, the boat stopped dead against the current and its prow turned toward the shore, despite the utmost efforts of the helmsman. This was considered a miracle. It was the Divine Will that the head remain here. In 1246 a great church was erected as its shrine, and there the silver casket remains to this day. The monks showed it to many American soldiers during the first few days of the town's occupation. The relic long was reputed to have miracle working powers of healing. There was a con siderable Apollinaris cult throughout the Rhineland for centuries, which brought to Remagen thousands of pilgrims each year. But for the past century the cult has been on the decline, the monks say, and they them selves now attach no special virtues to the relic. A new church was erected on the site of the pilgrim church, which itself had been built on the site of a Roman edifice. The Miracle at Remagen Bridge Remagen owes its second place in the sun to another miracle, concerning which there is no element of legend, although the exact cir cumstances are still somewhat confused be cause everything happened so quickly and without previous planning. But the basic facts are undisputed. On March 7, 1945, a combat command of the Ninth Armored Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. William M. Hoge, builder of the Alaska Highway,* had been ordered to seize the city, the natural gateway of the Ahr River valley, and secure a bridgehead over this small stream near the point where it empties into the Rhine. It was a rather routine military operation to which no particular importance was attached. * See "Alaskan Highway an Engineering Epic," by Froelich Rainey, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1943.