Martin had quite an interesting week while I was in the UK attending my aunty’s funeral and comforting my mum and cousins. He enjoyed some really hot weather for a few days (yes the Rain Queen was out of town) with temperatures up to 37C, he did lots of jobs on the boat and made some new friends. He did a lot of stuff with the boat systems (engine, cooling and heating and cleaning out the bilge) as well as building a new divider wall for the ‘V’ berth. Now we have an almost room at the bow of the boat. Martin was also befriended by a steam train/boat/engine enthusiast called Helmut.
Helmut was a 76year old former English and Latin teacher who was married to a sweet American woman called Blair. He was impressed by Martin’s engineering knowledge, and also happy to have someone to take out in his little steam boat and show off the surrounding anchorages. Helmut’s love affair with trains was evident when invited us to his home to see his collection of model steam trains and traction engines – he literally had rooms full of them. He was also a musician and played the double base in the local orchestra and with a jazz band. When I was away Martin spent one very enjoyable evening at a gig with a group of jazz musicians. Blair played the French Horn but in a local ‘umpah pah’ band that we went to see on our last evening in Rudesheim.
Helmut and Blair also took us out to see some of the local sights including the Johannsberg Schloss ( think Johannesberg Riesling), the Niederwald Denkmal ‘Germania’ Monument on the side of the Rhine, and the Abbey of St Hildegard of Bingen. All three were very impressive and we were very grateful for the tour because these places are only accessible by car (except the monument which is also accessible by aerial tram).
We also had a BBQ with Piet and Andrea the friends we met in Hassmersheim (on the Neckar) and another night we were treated to a meal of local mushrooms Andrea had picked in the local woodland area. Other local treats included a visit to the tourist streets of Rüdesheim for a ‘Rüdesheimer Kaffee:” Asbach brandy, coffee and whipped cream all served in a special cup.
Helmut suggested that we take a commercial cruise down the Rhine before attempting it in our boat. This turned out to be a great idea as we could get a sense of the river as it flowed through the Rhine gorge and enjoy (and photograph) the many castles and towers along our route before we had to navigate these difficult waters.
One of the first places we saw was the Mausetur at Bingen. This story is that of the wicked Bishop Hatto of Mainz: an evil greedy man who charged heavy tolls and taxes on the people who lived and worked along the Rhine. Hatto built the Mausetur over a thousand years ago in order to collect taxes from sailors using the river. One year there was a great rain that took the crops, followed by a terrible winter (sounds like 2012/13) which left people starving and so they turned to fat Bishop Hatto for help. He treated the peasants with such contempt and ire that he opened the gates to his granary let in the people and promptly locked the gates and burned them alive. However his evil was short lived as the fire made all the mice in the granary homeless, they promptly moved into his residence in Bingen and voraciously ate everything in sight. Bishop Hatto fled for his life to the toll tower in the middle of the river. The mice followed him through the fast flowing Rhine to the tower, where they ate everything in sight including Bishop Hatto. ‘The biter will be bitten” – sounds very karmic to me.
The mighty Rhine flows north from Mainz through some spectacular countryside, the valley is covered in vineyards that stretch almost vertically up the hillsides, atop each hillside there is a castle or two each with its own history and legends. There are 43 castles, palaces and ruins between Rüdesheim and Cologne (about 110 kms). Many of these have been restored to their former glory but many castles (Burgs) are ruins – created mainly by the French who were intent on controlling the river during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially during the 30 Years War (1618 – 1648).
Pfalzgrafenstein is an amazing boat-shaped castle in the middle of the Rhine beside the town of Kaub. ThePfalz was one of those “lock up your daughters until they obey’ castles, where the intention of the old king (and father) to marry his daughter to the highest bidder was thwarted. It seems that a river is less of a barrier to love than a mountain.
German mythology is dominated by Rhine legends. These include the story of the siren Loreley who lured unsuspecting sailors to the shore of a rocky outcrop in the middle of the gorge. The swirling waters, where the Rhine is squeezed down to a third of its normal width, would often drag boats onto the rocks and drown the hapless bewitched sailors. The Loreley is still a dangerous place as we found out when we navigated the narrow channel and the river bends that restrict both vision and steering.
Another famous German myth is that of Siegfried (think Richard Wagner born 200 years ago this year), the blond youth who had courage and strength enough to slay dragons, which gave him great powers and strength, but whose innocence and passionate love for Kriemhild, Genevieve of Mayen (and a few other fair maidens in distress) got him murdered by jealous and unscrupulous power-mongers.
We have also had the pleasure of sampling some of the wonderful wines in the world. A reasonable white or pink wine around here costs about €6 – €7, these are so smooth, no edge at all, relatively low alcohol content (10 – 12%) and not pop-like – just perfect for sipping at anytime. Our evenings usually begin with a glass or two of this elixir and some reflections on the day (especially if we have been motoring down the river) followed by dinner and a little more wine. This golden liquid has been the lifeblood of this region for two millennia, brought by the Romans who settled along the western bank (of the river) from Basel to the capital of Germania – Colonia Agripinensis (Cologne) ) in 50AD.
We followed the wine route from Rudesheim to St Goar our first stop on the gorge. We inspected the damage as the waters had flooded the streets (up to a metre deep) of this famous tourist town. The weather that day was, of course, dreadful (the Rain Queen was back) – cold and rainy, but we had to drive outside in order to get a good view of the juggernauts going up and down the river. Luckily the barges and cruise boats were not allowed to blue flag through the Loreley. So we drove the 50kms on high alert.
Martin said it felt like shooting Samson Narrows (between Vancouver island and Saltspring Island BC) for two hours with massive traffic, swirling waters, high winds and cool temperatures. Yes it felt we were surfing the Rhine on a 41ft (12.5M) surfboard – not my idea of fun. I was really glad we had taken the tourist boat the day before and enjoyed the leisurely experience of a Rhine cruise.
That was our hardest day yet.
The next day we moved on to the city of Koblenz. We had already toured Koblenz the day we took the commercial cruiser but could not resist another half day in this lovely old Roman city. The massive monument to Kaiser Wilhem is on the German Corner (Der deutsche Eck)in Koblenz, this is the confluence of the Rhein and the Mosel rivers.
Koblenz was a decision point on our trip – should we turn south-west down the Mosel back to Luxemburg and France or keep going north turning east at Duisberg toward Berlin. My preference was the Sauerkraut route, back down the Mosel as the Rhine and the weather have been such hard work. Martin – ever the adventurer – still wanted to go to Berlin and we both agreed it was now or never. So we sailed passed the Mosel turn off and Goethe came to mind – remember ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it – Boldness has genius power and magic in it’. So we made a right turn to Berlin.
After a night in a large harbour at a sweet little town called Oberwinter we sailed passed famous places like Remagen and Bonn and into the city of Cologne (Köln).
I was last in Cologne in 1989 at which time there was a great fear that pollution would toppled the great cathedral which was started in 1248 but not finished until 1880. I am happy to report that this beautiful Gothic style cathedral is still standing (albeit under repair) as it has stood through wars, the Reformation and RAF bombing in WWII.
Now it is the centre of a lively area full of museums, entertainers, cafes hotels and tourist shops. Cologne has been the most important city on the Rhine for many years as a militarily strategic, trading, ecclesiastical centre, university town and commercial centre. My most significant memory of Cologne, something I tried on my first visit to Germany in 1966, was the perfume ‘4711 (Four Seven Eleven) – Kölnishwasser’ or Eau de Cologne . This distinctive refreshing light perfume is still a favourite especially in the summer, and always reminds me of my youth whenever I smell it.
We spent Canada Day (July 1) in Cologne and despite our best efforts to fly the flag (in the form of wearing Canada T shirts), I am sorry to say we met no other Canucks that day. Pity really cos it would have been nice to say ‘eh’ to someone who understood. We had no problem entertaining ourselves and took our bikes ‘out and about’ in Cologne. This is a very bike friendly city was we toured around the old town, some very nice low rise city with some interesting architecture along the water front, old treed residential/commercial mixed neighbourhoods and an old rail-based transportation system.
We found the local (large) chandlery where we bought a tender-boat (a zodiac-style dingy) for Skookum. Now we have a tender hanging off the davits on the back of the boat we feel like real European boating ‘pros’ and can anchor out when we get to the lakes. Our costs in the harbour vary from €1 per meter plus electricity to €1.50 per meter all inclusive. We figure our accommodation costs (in marinas) are about €450 – 600 per month (about CND $700 – 950) including power and WIFI, so a few nights on the Mecklenburg Lakes may save us a few dollars.
On July 2nd we went to a Mark Knofpler concert at the local hockey rink. The acoustics were terrible in the rafters where we were seated with our last minute tickets. Mark Knofpler is a great – no – a brilliant guitarist, lyricist, and balladeer but he has no stage presence and is unable to connect with his audience. I left feeling we could have better spent our money buying his music on the internet/CD/LP because he is a bit of dead loss on the concert circuit. (I feel the same way about Eric Clapton). I would have thought that after being an entertainer for 35 years, he would have been better at it. Sorry to say the concert got a C grade from me.
The Rhine valley is flattening out as we go north from Cologne on our sojourn. Our next stop is Dusseldorf where the architect Frank Ghery built a number of splendid buildings right next to the Marina.