For centuries the territory along the River Lahn is border country. The river separates the archbishoprics of Mainz and Trier. Here on the Lahn the Elector of Trier collects tolls from all those travelling between the Rhine Valley and the town of Nassau, seat of the counts of the same name. In the year 1348 he erects a land fortification on the banks of the Lahn to protect this lucrative source of revenue. It consists of a strong tower which permits surveillance of the river and the road along the river bank. From now on the tower is manned by soldiers from the nearby fortress of Ehrenbreitstein. A small landing stage is constructed on the river bank in front of the tower and soon this also serves as a harbour.
In the year 1697, not far from the medieval toll tower, alderman Balthasar Kalkofen builds a handsome house on the road beside the Lahn to provide refreshment and lodgings for the boatsmen and waggoners. The ground floor of solid quarrystone walls is crowned by two upper storeys of elaborate halftimber work. The ensemble of buildings acquires its present form in 1741: the octagonal half-timbered tower with its concave roof and striking cupola is erected on the remains of the ruined toll fortification. A two-storied transverse building now links the tower - known henceforth as the “round tower” – and the house on the river bank.
The tavern becomes well-known through a popular folk song “The Lahn innkeeper’s wife” which begins: “There is a tavern on the Lahn where all the waggoners rest”. Written in the style of a limerick and continually added to, the song now has over 900 verses and probably goes back to Katharina, the wife of the first innkeeper.
From now on the buildings are collectively known as the “Tavern on the Lahn”. This achieves lasting fame after the visit of a particularly illustrious guest: on July 18th 1774 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dines here with his companions, the clergyman Johann Caspar Lavater and the scholar Johann Bernhard Basedow. Inspired by the sight of Lahneck Castle, Goethe writes his poem “Geistesgruss”.
Today the ensemble still looks much the way it did when Goethe paid his visit. The house on the banks of the Lahn is still a place of exceptional hospitality.