We left Cologne for the last section of the Rhine to Dusseldorf and then on to Duisburg where we turned east onto the canals. The Rhine is a busy river that runs very fast, so we were on full alert as we travelled down this mighty river. We stayed in the Dusseldorf marine and took a little time to explore the city – which is a really happening place. The marina is located next to the massive Dusseldorf television tower and the concourse along the Rhine. An evening walk took us to the Party Mile in Dusseldorf, which was the centre of the restaurant, bars and clubs and lots of people for a Tuesday night. Martin, ever the architect, was taken by the new buildings around the marina – including the Ghery apartment buildings one of which had titanium walls.
We left the next morning turning off at Duisburg down the Rhein-Herne canal and made our way to Oberhausen. This town was completely unknown to us but it a city with a population of 220,000 and a part of the regenerated Ruhr district; the industrial heartland for pre and post war Germany. Oberhausen was not really on our list and we did not have time to explore what looked like a fascinating place. We did speak to a couple of boaters who knew the routes to Berlin very well and they suggested we take a route through Potsdam – which included a trip through the lake areas south of Berlin and spending a few days in Potsdam. Some described it as the Versailles of Prussia and the Emperors of Germany. More about Potsdam when we get there.
We continued our journey from the Rhein- Herne canal onto the Dortmund-Ems canal passing through a number of large locks: 6 – 12 meters in height and long enough to take two barges and a couple of recreation boats like ours. We realized at this point that we had been quite stressed on the Rhine stretch of our journey and felt decidedly less stressed on the canal – sometimes it was even a little boring. We ended up in a place with three marinas – Heinrichburg. There was a ‘lock’ theme park near this marina, as there were four different kinds of locks and boat lifts there. The most interesting was a beautifully restored (but not working) steam-punk style boat lift. Martin marvelled at the engineering (circa 1899) and the steam-power exhibits, which lifted some hefty ships 14 meters between the Rhein-Herne kanal and the Dortmund-Ems Kanal. I marvelled at the fact they could create a theme park around a set of locks with some ancient industrial workings and make it fun.
We spent a day or so at the lock theme park and had a day of entertainment watching the local historical boats go out and do a short tour around the locks – one was a steam boat (Helmut would be proud) going through its paces – pulling down the chimney to pass under the bridges and making lots of smoke. There were bands and entertainment in the park called the LWL Industriemuseum.
By the way at this point in time we were enjoying some lovely sunny weather and the relative calm of the canal. There were still big barges cruising with us but nothing like the traffic we had encountered on the Rhine. We sailed up to Munster rather quickly as we had been told that the lock keepers were on strike the next day (Monday). We found ourselves driving through crowds of people on the banks of the canal – jumping in and swimming, diving off bridges and floating around on some blow-up craft from a silly movie.
We stayed the night in a very nice marina called Alte-Fahrt Fuestrup. We met an interesting guy – Lother who had been a school psychologist in North Vancouver for a few years about 35 years ago. I was very impressed as he spoke English without an accent. The marina was very cute and had its own hand driven ferry from one side of the waterway to the other (Dover to Calais). This was also the first place we enjoyed one of the delights of German marinas – fresh bread rolls (brötchen) delivered every morning.
My observation of the German recreational boating is that boat owners belong to a club, which has it’s own marina. Apparently some of the dues collected by the club go to canal maintenance, and may be seen as the fee paid to use the canals. We can use these marinas and pay the charges (depending on the club) that seem to vary from €1 per meter plus power (either paid on a meter or as a per person charge). Other marinas may be privately owned (and tend to be more expensive) but provide the same services; showers toilets, power, water and garbage disposal.
After we turned down the Mittellandkanal we stayed in a few marinas along the way – enjoying some nicer weather and moving slowly towards our goal. We were in the zone where the British Army had occupied Germany after World War II. Moving through Recke, Bad Essen (near Osnabruck) to Minden. This small town had been rebuilt after the War – although some of the stories about the rebuilding of the local cathedral (very tastefully completed in 2006 after a 50 year rebuilding program) were amazing tales of large scale jigsaw puzzles.
Minden was also close to the small town of Lemgo where I had played Helena in ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ in 1968. I was part of a youth theatre group who had gone to Lemgo because it was twinned with the suburban area of Hull (my home town in England). Twinning of towns is, in my humble opinion, a brilliant idea that seems to have fallen out of the limelight. I believe it offers a great opportunity for cultural, linguistic and commercial exchange. As I mentioned last year, Namur was twinned with Quebec City – they had a lot in common as the capital city of the French speaking part of their respective countries. I would vote to have my Canadian hometown of Victoria twinned with my English hometown of Hull (it is possible to have a city twinned with many others in different countries). They have a lot in common as windy port cities of about 300,000, stuck out on a limb (or island), ignored by government and with a politically left wing population. Hull has a noble history as the home of enlightened thinkers like William Wilberforce, and Victoria has a not so noble history as the base from which BC was taken over from the First Nations. I would advocate for Victoria to become like Hull a ‘Free/Fair Trade City” where all procurement is put through a free/fair trade filter, and it may happen if these cities were twinned. (OK Rant over – back to Germany).
After Minden we travelled to the famous city of Hannover – home seat of Kings George 1 – IV and Queen Victoria of England. These kings (but not Victoria – girls weren’t allowed to be on the Hannoverian throne in those days) ruled both places and shared a kinship with the British monarchy that continues to this day. Like most towns in Germany, Hannover had been rebuilt after the War and is now a thriving city of over a million. It has several palaces surrounding the town, which huge parklands and gardens, we saw them from a city tourist bus trip (not really recommended). The harbour master in the Hannover marina actually flew the Maple Leaf flag when he found out we were Canadian. I was impressed that he even had one.
However our time was limited so we concentrated on the downtown core and followed a great walking route called the Red Thread, which was a floor line guide around the city. We had our tourist shoes on and followed the line to the beautiful old opera house, a memorial to the Jewish Holocaust, the Aegideinkirche ruin/memorial completed in 1347 and destroyed in 1943, the magnificent New Town Hall, and the quaint restored old town serving local beer.
The New Town Hall was quite the place – completed in 1913, it is a Neo-Renaissance building that has a massive central dome surrounded by galleries that survived WWII. The Rathaus was built on a marsh, the remainder of which, became a lovely lake and gardens. Hannover, as the capital city of Lower Saxony, seems a very affluent town – the down town shopping “paradise’ supported a large number of high end clothing and jewellery stores offering quite a variety of styles, gems stones and precious metals.
In Germany there has been a noteable lack of food and stuff markets, unlike Spain, France and the Netherlands. However Hannover boasted the biggest flea market in Europe.
After Hannover we made our way to Braunschweig AKA Brunswick (yes as in New Brunswick) where the ‘House of Hannover’ began. Brunswick was where we met Anne and Jim, friends from Canada who were touring Europe via the house exchange website. They had been in Finland for four weeks and were now in Holland (near Rotterdam), and visited Germany for Jim to retrace his childhood steps, then they are off to Sardinia for a couple of weeks (such a great way to see Europe). It was wonderful to share some wine and talk with familiar faces from Victoria and spend the evening ‘putting the world to rights’ with people who spoke the same language. The next day we took off down the canal through a large lock to the incredible town of Wolfsburg.
I am a VW-kind-of-girl, (four of the six cars I have ever owned have been VW’s) so I was happy to be in Wolfsburg (home of the Volkswagen company). I even owned a Wolfsburg Special Edition Golf, but I had no idea how comprehensive this company town could be. The canal goes right by the power plant, one of the factories that make VW’s and a theme park called Autostadt.
The marina was a short walk from Autostadt and about a kilometre walk into town. After a short wine break the four of us walked into town and had to go the long way round as dogs are not welcome in the Autostadt. We were impressed by the youth of the general population, and the general newness of Wolfsburg was founded in 1938.
This is the birthplace of the VW Beetle car and this car industry was a major foundation for the German economic miracle of the 1960’2 and 1970’s. This Beetle was the crystal and brocade version! We strolled around and had supper out (a treat for me as I had mussels – first fish in weeks). This town not only has a car industry, theme park based on car sales and the subsequent tourism, but is also a designer outlet city. The next day we said goodbye to Jim and Anne whose short visit kept Martin and I in touch with our Canadian roots, as after so long in Europe – we are losing them.
Autostadt Porsche Pavilion
There is a palace at Wolfsburg but the new architecture was more interesting including a marvellous building (the local Science Centre)called the Phaeno designed by Zaha Hadid. We viewed the building inside and out but did not go to the exhibition.
Habib Phaeno Building
We toured Autostadt and marvelled at the exhibit halls and the direct sales program. You can buy a VW (or Audi or Skoda) from an authorized dealer and save the delivery charge by and taking a car literally off the shelf. The park was started when the executives at VW decided not to build a temporary pavilion for the Worlds Fair in Hannover in 2000, but rather develop an independent permanent exhibit that expressed the values, design and culture of the VW company.
VW car towers – ready for pick up
They have succeeded in building a theme park with an impressive array of interactive experiences including a car museum, a green info/research centre, an off road all terrain driving course, test driving their vehicles (including the new electric) light, fire and water show, different car experiences like the Audi, SEAT or the Lamborghini pavilions and of course a bunch a very nice restaurants.
Autostadt worked for me – I was ready to buy a new VW right there and then.
We left Wolfsburg a bit ‘mind blown’ ourselves and trundled along the canal for another 75 kms. We noticed on the Mittellandkanal large barges flying the Polish or Czech Flag – so we knew we were heading east. The finale of this canal experience was going over the Elbe Bridge (a large canal over the River Elbe and floodplain) completed in 2003, then negotiating a 19 meter high lock (our largest to date). We have travelled about 1200 kms since we left Saverne, including almost 500km on the Rhine. France seems a long way away now. After this we are on the other side of the old West/East German border and curious to see what has happened since November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.