Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


Canal de la Marne au Rhin: Niderviller, Sarrebourg, Lutzelbourg, Saverne

Friday 15 July 2022 9:14 AM

As we moved east into Alsace everything seemed to be still a bit German. From the fir trees bordering the canal at Niderviller to the restaurant next door called “Tannenheim” and the pickled pork knuckles which Austin quite enjoyed. Menus are written in French and German, and almost everyone from the waiters to the mechanics at the marina speaks both languages.

School holidays had begun and the waterways filled up with lots of hire boats. For the first time, we got bumped by a “bumper- boat", as we unkindly call them. Luckily no damage was done!

To escape the boating madness we took a taxi to nearby Sarrebourg ( not to be mixed up with the German “Saarburg"). This little town, formerly fully surrounded by ramparts, retained a small remnant of its fortifications and a hint of its medieval prosperity. But what brings tourists to town is the Chapelle des Cordeliers, a gothic choir, once belonging to a much larger church of a Franciscan abbey. Its claim to fame is one of the most amazing stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. Called simply “Peace” this 12m high and 7.5 m wide beautiful creation is accompanied by soft grey-green side windows and gradually softening blues on the opposite side reflecting the colour of the main window. In the center is a large bouquet of roses which symbolises the Jesse Tree crowned by Adam and Eve being reconciled with heaven. 

On the right is Isaiah and his prophecy of men and beasts living together in harmony.  Moses, the sermon on the mountain, Abraham and the three angels, a girl from Lorraine in the traditional headdress and a mother and child all feature in Chagall’s artwork. A street scene on the very bottom is recognisable as Sarrebourg. It was drawn by Chagall from a postcard, as at the time he was too sick to travel and paint en plein air.

In the nearby museum hangs the wall-to-wall tapestry, woven by Chagall’s long-time artist collaborator Yvette Chauquil-Prince, as a model for the window. The museum is not to be missed as it contains among the local Niderviller porcelain and earthenware history, astounding local archeological finds of prehistoric and gallo-roman origins.

After leisurely cruising from Niderviller eastwards, without any locks (hallelujah!) and transversing two tunnels, which presented no challenge to Lodi’s experienced captain, we reached the Arzviller Boat Lift. We sailed straight into the basin which seemed to be waiting for us, and in the “caisson” gently descended the 41-degree incline plane.

A few locks further, just before the afternoon heat settled in, we moored up at Lutzelbourg. It was too hot to do anything but take slow walks along the towpaths in the evening. On one of the walks, we noticed a beautiful Aussie barge called “Melba”. We got chatting and spent a fun evening with Melbournian owners Debra and Mark on their 27 m-long floating home.

From Lutzelbourg it was a very hot 20 km and 9 lock-sail to Saverne, only to be told on arrival, that the harbour was completely full. We had forgotten that it was the 13th of July, the day before Bastille Day when the French start their celebrations with fireworks, music and all kinds of entertainment.

We were sweaty and hot, yearning for some shade and had already resigned ourselves to carry on, when unexpectedly we found a place with power just 100m around the corner from the harbour. There were already 15 boats moored along the same bank, but only 5 spaces had access to power, and although we were a little doubtful if we could legally stop there, this space was just the right fit so we snuck in. It turned out that these 5 spots were allocated for port use and the capitainiere had not been aware that one of them had just been vacated. So all was good, and we had electricity, nearby shops and the harbour’s facilities all at our disposal! 

As our cupboards were bare and in anticipation of the next day’s holiday shop closures, our first port of call was the local supermarché. The air-conditioning in the shop was lovely and we probably dallied in the aisles much longer than necessary. At sundown, the whole town seemed gathered around the harbour to watch the 10:30 fireworks display in front of the magnificent Château des Rohan. From the harbour, one looks directly onto the 14 m-long facade of the majestic castle.

The next day a multitude of events took place all over town. From concerts to military presentations to a floating duck race everything was happening, while the harbour-side bar and several drink and food stalls were busy catering for the crowds. 

We took some refuge inside the Château’s museum and having climbed the 70 steps to the observation tower we were rewarded with a fantastic view over the city and the Alsatian countryside. We also had a delicious salad with salmon and Alsatian potato cakes at one of our favourite restaurants, "Maison Katz". This restaurant occupies one of the oldest half-timber houses of Saverne, built in 1606.

The Romanesque/Gothic church Notre Dame de la Nativité has also become one of our favourites. We came upon a special shrine to Saint Vitus there, and doing some research about the saint, we learned that the 15th of June is celebrated as his feast day which used to be celebrated in Germany with dancing in front of his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was later given to Sydenhams Chorea, a neurological disorder. I don’t know if this says much about the German dancing abilities as this neurological disorder sadly represents fast, erratic and aimless movements of arms, legs and face. Saint Vitus was also called upon to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and, Eva Maria Börsch take note: oversleeping! 

Austin and I will say a quiet prayer to him. We shouldn’t oversleep either so we can be in Strasbourg in two days to have our water filter looked at. And, no doubt, Austin will find a “special" hardware somewhere in this beautiful city - I am sure!

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