River Rhine fireworks – an event with a long history
The first known firework displays took place in China and Japan as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries. In fact, it was the Chinese who invented gunpowder. In the past, the main purpose of firework displays was to entertain the monarchy as they were seen as a sign of respect. Similar signs of respect are displayed in the present day with the burning of incense in Hindu temples.
Firework displays became popular in Germany during the Baroque period when events were organised in the Royal Courts. This trend was influenced by similar events in France during the reign of Louis XIV.
The Rhine in Flames tradition takes place in the Middle Rhine region and dates back to 1756 to honour the newly elected Elector, Johann Philipp von Walderdorff when he stayed at Ehrenbreitstein Castle in Koblenz. A document, written in Latin, explains how Koblenz would be the city where Neptune united two rivers. In fact, the name Koblenz comes from the Latin, confluentes, meaning merging of rivers. The document also shows how the fireworks would be displayed to honour the Elector’s visit.
Historical documents show that the Elector used to enjoy watching the firework display from his yacht positioned on the Ehrenbreitstein Embankment. Rockets were fired from the muskets onboard three boats positioned in the middle of the river – opposite the current ‘German Corner’ (Deutsches Eck). There was also a large wooden framework set up for setting off the fireworks in the Baroque Gardens, on the Neuendorf Embankment.
In 1845, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Koblenz for their honeymoon. They travelled from Cologne to Bonn where they were treated to an impressive firework display. They continued their journey on a steamboat to Stolzenfels Castle. The Queen was said to have really enjoyed the beautiful Rhine landscape and had insisted on staying on the boat for the whole day. She was welcomed to Koblenz in the afternoon with gunfire from Ehrenbreitstein Castle. After disembarking at the foot of Stolzenfels Castle, where the couple were due to stay, they were honoured with a spectacular firework display. British correspondents had been so impressed with the event that they reported it as being the best fireworks they’d ever seen!
For decades after the Queen’s visit, there hasn’t been any documentation available on the Middle Rhine fireworks. It wasn’t until the 1930s that documents started to appear again in the Koblenz city archives. From approximately 1931, twenty separate firework displays were organised with a boat parade becoming part of these events at some point during the decade. The original event was organised by the military but later it developed into a public firework display to entertain the locals as well as tourists.
After the WWII communities re-established the Rhine in flames event in Lorely (1948), in Linz/Siebengebirge (from 1954) and Koblenz (1956).
Since those early days, millions of visitors have come to the beautiful Rhine region to enjoy the Rhine in Flames events as well as the stunning landscape. Nowadays, the boat parade is around 5.5km long – requiring expert organisation from all the villages involved. Each year, the event attracts between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors. Like the very first event in 1756, the fireworks still follow a detailed plan.