Written by Rui Maio
This group worked on the restoration of dry shale masonry walls at the privileged location nearby the town of St. Goarshausen, famous as the "town of the Loreley". For those who are not familiar with it, Lorelei is the most famous place in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley and played an important role in the 19th century, during the time of Romanticism. Our work was carried out at the former path between the town and the Loreley next to the Rhine river. These slopes are characterized by dry shale masonry walls that enabled their use as vineyards over the past centuries, which embellish the surrounding landscape. However, in the beginning of the 20th century, a significant part of the vineyards was infected by a vermin and had been used since back then for the cultivation of fruit trees. The poor accessibility of this very steep area has contributed to the abandonment of those farming or cultivation activities during recent years, and therefore, the knowledge about traditional techniques of construction and reconstruction of dry shale masonry walls got lost gradually. Hence, our mission was restoring these walls from the very foundation up to their original level, always under the crucial guidance of experienced local masters in dry stone techniques Mr. Ehmann and Mr. Peter. It is also expected that this initiative will contribute for promoting a future mid-term volunteer project for the step-by-step reconstruction of the complete dry stone masonry walls alongside the path between the Rhine and the Loreley, in order to comply with all the security requirements for re-opening this famous path in a few years.
Personally, this workshop was very educational taking into consideration my professional area. I learned more about these ancient and traditional techniques, which recall me to the famous quote “the simpler, the better”, because that’s how I see myself as a young civil engineer. Moreover, it was really impressive how those three local masters are committed to volunteering, how they chose to spend their weekends up there in the hills preserving and taking care of our common heritage. Their sense of social responsibility was truly inspiring! We have experienced there the purest condition of living and respecting nature and our heritage, developing at the same time very important soft skills such as the sense of responsibility and cooperation, facilitating a good working environment and the communication between local non-English speakers, team spirit and the sharing of knowledge.
According to Mr. Ehmann’s words: “For us, you have been really an unforgettable group. We rarely had volunteers like you who formed a solid working team so quickly, assuming the responsibility for each other and the working team “stone by stone”. You have shown a great capacity and talent for building walls and, what might be equally important, the required patience. This and especially your personal approach I will treasure.”