Travels & Traditions: Cochem to Luxembourg - #1204

BURT WOLF: Having turned onto the Moselle River, we headed down to Cochem.


BURT WOLF: Cochem started out as a Celtic settlement.

Then the Romans came along and finally the local German dynasties.

During the 11th century construction began on Cochem's Reichsburg castle. It was built at a key point on the River.

At a point where the owner of the castle could block the traffic on the Mosel by hanging a chain across the river from one side to the other. They also had a few nice cannons so they could blast you into pieces. If you wanted to continue your trip you paid a toll. If you didn't pay the toll the soldiers would throw you in the river and take your ship. Seemed like a pretty straightforward offer.

The rulers got rich and the castle got better furnishings.

CLAUDIA SCHIFFER (ON CAMERA): Our castle was built the first time around the year one thousand. And the builders of this castle were Frank Comes Palatine Counts. They were from Aachen and they were the owners here until 1151. But in 1689 the castle was destroyed. It was blown up, burned down. The destroyers were French troops. It was the Sun King Louis XIV. And he destroyed all the castles between Heidelberg and Cochem to make inheritance claims.

All the walls are painted. This is not wall paper. And you have to imagine that you are in the past. All the walls were covered in gold leaf. The style of the furniture we call Renaissance. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): A basic part of Renaissance design is balance. So if there’s a door on one side of the room there has to be a door on the other. But this door leads to a rather interesting room. Nothing.

CLAUDIA SCHIFFER: On the walls can you see the four symbols? These are the Cardinal Virtues. These are wisdom, bravery, prudence and justice. But for the fifth one, the chastity, we had no space in the room. These are lions. The lions they have a knights helmet on the head. The wiser is pulled down and definitely looks like a frog. Maybe you’ve seen the same thing outside, the bigger one by the cannon. It’s not a frog, a lion.

RUDI SCHREINER (ON CAMERA): Well the Mosel is my favorite river valley in the world. I think it’s about the most beautiful part of Germany. It has the most beautiful most charming towns.

BURT WOLF: For thousands of years, people have been using rivers as a primary means of transportation. It was usually easier and safer to move things on a river than on a road. But many rivers were too shallow or too narrow for anything but a small boat.

One way of solving that problem was to build a series of dams. The rivers got deeper and wider but then you had the problem of a river with different levels -- similar to a set of steps.

The invention that dealt with the steps is called a lock. A lock is a mechanical system for raising or lowering a boat as it passes from one level of a river to another. Like an elevator it can take you up or down. It has a chamber with gates at both ends. A boat or boats go in the gates are closed and water is either pumped into the chamber to raise the boat or pumped out to lower the boat. When the water has reached the proper level one of the gates is opened and the boat sales on.

The first gates used in Europe worked like a guillotine. The gate was held in a frame and raised and lowered -- like a guillotine.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): One day Leonardo da Vinci took a break from painting the Mona Lisa and invented a new and improved form of lock. The doors were in a V shape so the down stream pressure actually kept them closed. In 1478 he oversaw the construction of six of these new locks and they were fabulously successful. 


BURT WOLF: Our next stop was the town of Bernkastel.

And we were able to dock at the edge of the old town and just walk in.

The entry point to Bernkastel is the road that passes along side the tower of the St. Michaels Church. The tower was built in the 1300s and was originally part of the town’s defenses. Nice touch. There you were in the church tower praying for victory while you were throwing hot stones at your enemy. Convenient.

RUDI SCHREINER (ON CAMERA): I think Bernkastel is my favorite. From the architecture, from the structure, from the way the town is set-up. It is absolutely gorgeous.

BURT WOLF: The town is famous for its half-timbered houses.

Half-timbered houses are made by building a frame of wood and then filling in the open space between the wooden beams with clay, brickwork, or just plain rubble. The exterior and interior surfaces were often covered with plaster.

It is one of the world’s most environmentally responsible, ecologically friendly and aesthetically pleasing architectural styles and it was developed about a thousand years ago in northern Europe.

England, Denmark, Germany, and parts of France and Switzerland had lots of forests. Timber was in good supply but there was a shortage of stone and the skilled workmen needed to cut the stone.

If you were a skilled stonecutter you had all the work you needed building a cathedral. A farmer’s house was not something you wanted to work on, unless it belonged to the king or your father-in-law.

The half-timbered houses had many advantages. At the time the basic building material was a tree or a tree stump. All the work was done by hand. The tools were axes and knives and hand powered drills.

A farmer could gradually put the frame together, fill in the walls and end up with a structure capable of handling a great deal of weight with very little of the internal space squandered on supports. And if he wanted to move the house, he could knock out the filling between the wood frame, move the beams to a new location and fill in the spaces with new clay. A relatively easy process.

Bernkastle is also well known for its wine. Accordingly, AMA took us to a private wine tasting.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Above the town is a hill that has a famous story. During the 1300’s the Bishop was quite ill and about to die. He said that anybody who could save him would get a great reward. A kid shows up with a big barrel of wine. Starts giving it to the Bishop. A little more every day. The Bishop recovers. The reward, all the wine from that hill will be labeled “doctor.” Today there are four families who share that hill and all of their wines are marked “doctor.” Unfortunately most of our medical insurance policies do not cover the good doctor’s wines; however, it’s probably worth the investment.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): This is a great telephone. It says “if you want any wine opened, if you have any questions about wine, if you want to buy some wine, just call number 10.” Hi this is Burt Wolf. Is their a doctor in the house? Not funny.

BURT WOLF: When we returned to the ship the captain was having a final night party. Quite frankly, it looked like the party we were having every night. Except on this night we were formally introduced to the members of the staff, each of whom appeared to have their individual fans.


BURT WOLF: The next day we headed to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg --one of the smallest countries in the world.

It’s wedged in between Belgium, France and Germany and has been a heavily fortified military site for thousands of years. It was often referred to as the Gibraltar of the north.

JEAN-CLAUDE CONTER (ON CAMERA): This is the very place where we come from. In fact right behind me you have this promontory, the Bock Promontory. Where the first counsel of Luxemburg was built in the 10th century. We were a county, then we became a Duchy in the 14th century. And then Burgundians started a period of 400 years of foreign domination. After Burgundy it was Spain, France, Austria, Prussia and Holland who decided what happened with Luxembourg. They all left traces behind. 

KATHY GIORGETTI (ON CAMERA): Luxembourg always has been a very interesting place of strategic importance in the middle of Europe. And you were always very close to your next friend or to your worst enemy, right in the middle of Europe. Right now we are standing on the ramparts of our fortress walls. It was the perfect place to build a fortress. All you had to do was build ramparts and walls on the existing rocks you see right in front of you.

KATHY GIORGETTI: These are the rocks the typical sandstone that you will find every where in Luxembourg. And since it’s a very soft stone it was very easy to build ramparts. And to dig what we call today the famous Labyrinth of the Casemates. The Casemates is actually a labyrinth of underground tunnels. So you have to imagine Luxembourg like a Swiss cheese. It’s under our feet you have 17 kilometers of tunnels and galleries carved into the rock. This city has been built on two levels. We’re standing on the upper level of the city. But then you have the lower part of the city and it goes down 50 meters. It was the perfect the perfect setting for a fortress city.

JEAN-CLAUDE CONTER: This was for centuries a battlefield of the Europeans. And it has become a working place of the European Union. So symbolic.

BURT WOLF: Luxembourg is a linguistic meeting point where the Germanic languages of northern Europe encounter the Romantic languages of the south.

Most of the Luxembourgers speak three languages. Luxembourgish, German and French. It has become a center for banking and commercial services. These days, Luxembourgers have the world’s second highest standard of living and per capita income. The Swiss are the first.

Walk through the streets of the city and you get a clear indication of the wealth of the community. And the city administration is always trying to improve the quality of life for its citizens.

Luxembourg was one of the first cities in the world to be totally covered by Wi-Fi. No matter where you are in town, you can make a free connection.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Worked in the kitchen.

BURT WOLF: Luxembourg is a constitutional monarchy with hereditary succession. The executive power rests with the Grand Duke, who appoints the prime minister. The Duke does all the meet’em and greet’em stuff and the Prime Minister and his cabinet run the place.

JEAN-CLAUDE CONTER (ON CAMERA): We are right in front of the most prestigious building in town. It is the Grand Ducal Palace. In other words the residence in town of His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henry, the head of state of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

JEAN-CLAUDE CONTER: The architecture is quite extraordinary for a northern country. Because it shows us Spanish Renaissance. It is the palace in town of the monarch where he receives the official States Guests. The balcony has also quite a symbolic meaning to the Luxembourgers because if there is a Royal wedding or special event then the Royal family shows up on the balcony and the crowd of people greet them in the streets. On this balcony for instance a generation of migrant parents saw Grand Duchess Charlotte come back from her exile in America in April 1945. Napoleon was also received in this building as Luxembourg was French. It is a relatively small but a very elegant palace which was restored in 1995.

BURT WOLF: Since 1919, voting by adult citizens has been compulsory -- vote or else.

JEAN-CLAUDE CONTER (ON CAMERA): So here we have the ministry of foreign affairs, the Prime Minster’s office, the ministry of commerce, of finance, of agriculture, and at the end a Michelin star restaurant. One out of 13 in the country. We have the highest concentration of stared restaurants in the world. And in the center of the square we have the monument of her Royal Highness Grand Duchess Charlotte. Who was on the throne from 1919 to 1964. A long period of 45 years, cut by the second World War when she was in exile in the United States. She became close to President Roosevelt who promised her, “my child I’ll bring you back home.” And that happened in April 1945.

BURT WOLF: There is a considerable amount cultural activity in Luxembourg. Of particular interest is the Mudam Museum. The architect was I.M. Pei and the building reflects his modern approach to architecture, which is in keeping with the museums objectives.

STINA FISCH (ON CAMERA): He chose this particular place in Luxembourg City. And he chose it because on this spot here we have remains of the fortress of the city of Luxembourg. And he built onto the fortress, but which much respect to the fortress. So he kind of echoes the original design of the fortress walls that are by Vauban who built many forts in Europe. So it is kind of a beautiful marriage of old and new, what’s happened here.

BURT WOLF: The exhibitions are designed to introduce visitors to contemporary art. Artists are given a specific space in the museum and invited to do whatever they want within that space.

VIDEO BAND: One, two, three, four. (screaming)

BURT WOLF: More or less.

STINA FISCH: This is a piece by Luxembourg’s most famous artist. Her name is Su-Mei Tse. That doesn’t sound very Luxembourgish. And this is so because she is her father is Chinese. And what is quite interesting too is that she trained as a cellist so every one of her pieces involves sound. 

Marie Lund the artist she took a piece of stone. In this case it was marble and knocked on it in one strong gesture. And that’s how it broke and the break kind of creates a horizon if you want to look at the marble like a landscape.

BURT WOLF: And how would I know this wonderful story if you weren’t here to tell me.

STINA FISCH (ON CAMERA): Well that’s why I’m here. That’s what I do in the museum. I am the mediator. So basically I am, I replace all the text on the walls and all the reading people have to do and the audio guide and whatever.

STINA FISCH: We try to have real people to talk to the visitors about the art. I tell them that incase of doubt, it is always art. Because you are inside a museum. And a piece of stone dropped somewhere next to the wall is probably art because you are in a museum. Outside the museum you can’t be certain. And then I can start to explain how it got there and what it’s doing.

BURT WOLF: The town also has an excellent open market.

I went shopping with Kathy Giorgetti who is with the Luxembourg Tourist Association.

KATHY GIORGETTI (ON CAMERA): This is William II Square. And it’s market day, so Saturday and Wednesday twice a week you see plenty of people coming to town for shopping and most of the people are looking for fresh organic foods. You have all these stalls with vegetables, flowers, fruits and homemade products that they sell.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Oh look at these Savoy cabbages. Makes me what to make soup. Actually everything I want for soup is right on these tables.

KATHY GIORGETTI (ON CAMERA): Yes. Whenever I come to this market I really feel like cooking or you know. On your left side you have Luxembourgish home make products. These are real products, its apples they are organic they are nuts there are no chemicals. And William II statue actually. He is just in front of us.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): What’s he got in his hand. Oh, cabbage. Looks like a cabbage. He came here to shop. Ah, I like a king who does his own shopping.

KATHY GIORGETTI (ON CAMERA): Burt you have to taste this, because this is typical Luxembourgish foot. It’s pastry with meat and inside it has some white wine Riesling. And we call it Riesling pate.


KATHY GIORGETTI (ON CAMERA): What do you think?

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It’s pate au cul with a jelly. I got it. I got it.


The nice thing is that you always see people that you know. Luxembourg is small. Everyone knows everyone. It’s more fun because, you will meet your neighbors or some people you haven’t seen and then you go for coffee. It’s about socializing.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): That’s what markets were meant to be.


BURT WOLF: And around the market are some outstanding shops.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Right at the edge of the market is a little shop where they have all of the great wines made by the Luxembourg vintners and you can come in and get a free sample of each. I’m going to be here for quite a while. I offer you a brief musical interlude.

YODELERS: (yodeling)

BURT WOLF: That was interesting.

Luxembourg also has some of the best restaurants in Europe. My favorite is the one owned and run by Lea Linster. She was the first female chef to win the Bocuse d'Or award. In 1987, the Michelin Guide awarded her restaurant its first star.

Lea was busy studding law at the university when her father's sudden passing required her to return home and take over the family business, which consisted of a combination cafe, restaurant and gas station.

LEA LINSTER (ON CAMERA): I always cooked. I loved to see all this tourists and to see everybody and then I cooked for them. I remember when I was around ten years old I loved to cook soup for the Dutch guests because they were not so spoiled.

BURT WOLF: She makes the best Madeleines I have ever tasted. And the recipe is quite simple.

A batter is made from butter, sugar, egg whites, ground almonds, and flour. It rests in the refrigerator overnight. Then it’s piped into the Madeleine form. And into the oven for 5 minutes. Because she feels they are at their best the day they are baked, so I ate 15, just to help her out. It's important to be there for your friends.

LEA LINSTER (ON CAMERA): My food is of course it’s classical French food, from the real fine French cuisine. But I always put my way because I’m what you would say a very foodie person. And things have to have the right taste that’s very important for me. So I care a lot for the taste.

BURT WOLF: She also prepared a saddle of lamb wrapped in a potato crust. This was the recipe that won her the Bocuse D' Or.

I put the full recipes for the Madelienes and the Saddle of Lamb on our website

Well, that sailing from Cochem to Luxembourg. For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.



Ingredients for 40 to 50 madeleines

 Madeleines: (to be prepared one day in advance)

  • ½ pound plus 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 ½ cups sifted confectioners’/icing sugar
  • 8-9 egg whites
  • 3 ¼ ounces finely ground almonds
  • 6-8 tablespoons sifted flour


  • Baking molds for madeleines (available at high-end kitchen supply stores)
  • Softened butter and flour to prepare the molds


  • Brown the butter in a small pan on medium heat until it has a light hazelnut odor, then remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the butter through a fine sieve into a bowl.
  • Beat the confectioners’ sugar lightly with the egg whites until smooth. Mix the almond powder and the flour, and add them to the sugar and egg white mixture. Pour in the warm browned butter and mix well. Let the batter rest overnight in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap.


  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • Butter the madeleine molds with a pastry brush and flour lightly. Fill to 2/3 with the batter. Bake the madeleines 3 minutes at 400 F, then lower the temperature to 350 F and continue to bake for approximately 4 to 5 minutes more. Take the madeleines out when they have a beautiful golden color. Let them cool fro a moment and unmold while still hot, Let them cool on a rack and serve with coffee or tea.


Only bake as many madeleines as you will need for one day. They are much better eaten the day they are made. The batter will keep very well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for one week.


By Lea Linster

Ingredients for 4 people


  • 1 ¾ pounds russet potatoes (4 large)
  • ¼ cup neutral vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
  • 12-16 ounces saddle of lamb, boned 
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup bread crumbs


  • 2 cups lamb stock
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter
  • fine sea salt

Potatoes & Lamb:
Pre-heat oven to 375 F.  

Peel the potatoes, julienne them with a mandolin (Benrinder) and press them well between your hands to rid them of excess moisture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Spread out half of the potatoes in a thin layer to make a large wafer-thin pancake (galette) of 10 inches in diameter. Brown on medium heat on one side and slip it onto a cloth without turning it over. Strew on half of the chopped parsley. Repeat the operation for the second galette. 

Place one piece of lamb onto lower third of one of the potato cakes, using kitchen towel, roll it up. The potato should stick to the meat and to itself at the lateral ends. Place pieces of lamb next to each other, but a little distance apart on a griddle with tinfoil underneath.  Roast in the pre-heated for approximately 15 minutes, until pink.

To Prepare the Sauce:
While the lamb is roasting, reduce the lamb stock with sprig of rosemary in it, until the stock is reduced to half. Remove rosemary. Shortly before serving, cut butter into small pieces and add to sauce. Stir until melts. Season with salt.

To serve – remove lamb and cut each piece immediately into 4 pieces. Serve 2 pieces per person on pre-heated plates. Pour sauce around the lamb. Enjoy!