Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


The "Oberrhein", from Strasbourg to Rüdesheim

Monday 25 July 2022 3:45 PM

After a one-hour wait in front of the North Lock of Strasbourg and off we went down the Rhine, joined by the “Bona Verba” with Robert and Brenda. To our amazement, the current of the river was very fast despite the low water level. Our destiny was a small harbour 50 km downstream next to the former German Zollhaus (Border control). The only two Rhine locks between Strasbourg and Koblenz are double locks, 270m long, 24m wide and 10.30 deep. Depending on the traffic, sports boats are either going in with some big commercial barges or have the neighbouring lock to themselves. In these river locks, one is made to feel very small, but when we were followed into the second lock by 3 canoes, we gained a new perspective.

As we experienced on our previous Rhine tour, the small sports boats crisscross along the water creating a massive wash. Some come so close that we get thoroughly rocked and we feel they almost make a game of it.

However, they don't always end up so happy as you can see. 

Due to the fast river, we were pushed along with a 7km flow and reached our port for the night in record time. Yet after seeing working barges and diggers in the small inlet we decided to move on to the next place only a couple of kilometres away. On both banks of the Rhine are water-filled former gravel or sand pits now taken up by yacht harbours and watersport clubs. Some of these clubs offer guest places and facilities. 

With this next harbour, our book warned to aim for the very middle of the entrance. To the applause of the yacht club members looking on from a restaurant barge, Austin gunned it through the narrow opening against the current without incident and we tied up on what we thought was the visitor's moorings alongside the barge.  We then watched with horror the Bona Verba turning in front of the entrance and drifting towards a rocky dam wall, luckily hitting a sandbank first. With some skill, the skipper finally freed the large boat from the sand and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Once our hearts regained their normal rhythm we entered the barge restaurant where a beer and Schnitzel went down really well. With some of us already into our second beer, we learned that it wasn’t possible to stay tied to the barge overnight. We were tired and reluctant to venture further into the inlet having bigger boats than any of the ones moored inside. Siegfried, a friendly yacht club member, though a little inebriated, came to our rescue. He phoned the harbour master and led us to two moorings with sufficient depth. Not everyone on the Lodi and the Bona Verba got a good night’s sleep, worrying about how the hell we would get out safely in the morning!

All was good as we followed the club members' tips and both boats made it out intact. 

Our next stop was the lovely town of Speyer and knowing its harbour has a wide entrance and good depth, we could relax. But even here the low water level was obvious with the gangways from pontoon to street level now at a precarious 45° angle. 

Our first steps took us to Speyer's UNESCO Romanesque cathedral considered the world’s largest of the kind. The crypt gives access to the graves of Franconian emperors and empresses. It was not only piety that these kings and Kaiser wanted to be buried in the cathedral but also their firm belief that they were ruling' in the name of Jesus Christ".

In a room full of interesting relics we also found a relief of Edith Stein, a Jewish lady, who after studying philosophy converted to catholicism. As a nun, she continued to teach and write scientific works until she was killed in the Concentration Camp of Auschwitz in 1942. She was later canonised by Pope John Paul II. 

The Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz, where my Jewish 

grandmother was born, gained high regard in the Middle Ages, and the so-called “Judenhof” in Speyer with the medieval synagogue, women’s school and ritual bath are also a UNESCO world heritage site. 

We were very much looking forward to catching up with kind, intelligent and sportive Carsten, a friend from my home town and his delightful wife, Mareile, now residing in nearby Mannheim. They had organised a nice table in a beer garden on the bank of the Rhine for this evening. We had a wonderful time and, on the recommendation of Carsten and Mareile, tried some traditional food from the local region of Rheinland-Pfalz. 

Austin was game to try the not-so-appetisingly named “Saumagen” (sow stomach), a kind of sausage filling within a stomach lining, sliced and fried, and according to Austin very delicious. We learned that former German Bundeskanzler (prime minister), Helmut Kohl, had to visit prime ministers from several countries, including Michail Gorbatschow eating the local speciality which often includes also liver dumplings, sausage and sauerkraut. I stuck to the safer Maultaschen, vegetable and poultry-filled pasta pockets.

The next morning we were eagerly expecting my wonderful, lifelong friend Eva from Munich. We had looked forward to her arrival for some time, and finally decided on Speyer, having a nearby train station, as an ideal meeting place. In typical Eva style, she surprised us, turning up at the harbour, driven from Munich by her son in a very fancy electric BMW. Ever positive and not easily rattled Eva took the diminishing water depth of the Rhein river and the resulting long cruising hours as harbours were inaccessible in her stride.

Not so funny were the low water levels for the commercial skippers who could mostly only carry half their usual load.

Worms was one of the harbours off-limit to us and so we stopped at the Schiersteiner Harbour in Wiesbaden instead. We did however see Hagen, a warrior of Germanic legend, throw the “Nibelungen" treasure at Worms into the Rhine.

As it was a Sunday, the town of Wiesbaden was very quiet with all shops closed, even the famed Kuckoo-Clock shop. But there was life in the “Kurpark” where in former times kings and nobility would stay to bathe in the thermal baths, stroll around the gardens, watch theatre shows or play in the well-known casino. Now people still take leisurely strolls, drink some of the healing waters and on a hot day like this, paddle around the lake while getting purposely soaked by a large fountain.

In the music pavilion of the Kurpark, musicians were setting up their instruments and soon a crowd gathered to listen to so-called “Gassenhauers”, old pop songs from the 40ties, 50ties and 60ties, all songs Eva and I knew from our childhood.

Eva was very keen to dance and knew all the lyrics. Unfortunately, the heat and the red wine from the night before had got to me, and I was keen to get back to the boat. The hair of the dog had to be imbibed in the form of Austin’s expertly mixed Àperol Spritz!

Our next stop was the friendly Yachthafen of Rüdesheim, where the large clubhouse barge was an easy mooring place for Lodi. The Bona Verba who had beaten us there by a day or two was tied up in front of us. We received a nice welcome from Robert and Brenda who had kept us informed about cruising conditions ahead. 

We also were welcomed by the club Stewart Hans and all the other club members. We swung ourselves on the bikes, Austin using one of the club’s bikes, and set off to town.

Touristy Rüdesheim was unusually quiet. The low water levels must have caused a hiatus in the usual flood of cruise ship passengers descending on Rüdesheim.

"In den Reben schweben” meaning to hover over the grapes by taking a cable car up to the Niederwald is a must. The view from above is always spectacular and made Eva and me break out into a little highland jig. Towering high on the hill stands Germania, a 38m tall statue personifying a unified Germany, modelled after designer J. Schilling's daughter in 1871. 

From here we could also see some of the exposed sandbanks and rocks in the river below. There were clouds but still no rain in sight!

My idea of walking back to the village wasn’t too well received, but we made it down the gravel-covered, steep path through vineyards while picking handfuls of blackberries on our way. Back in the quaint cobblestone streets with its half-timber houses, we indulged in a cappuccino and, in Austin’s case, an Asbach Brandy Ice Coffee. Once Austin got the taste, he was hooked and we had to follow up by visiting the “Asbach Distillery”.  

"Asbach Uralt” is the most well-known German brandy and could be found in every family’s spirit cupboard in our youth. Through its smooth taste and clever advertisement, it became so popular and well known, that if something was old news, we called it “Asbach uralt” - uralt meaning “ancient”. Hugo Asbach had learned the craft of distilling brandy in France and was so taken by it, that returning to Germany he tried to replicate the process with the local wine and founded the company in Rüdesheim in 1892. As at the time it was inappropriate for ladies to drink in public, he later added brandy-filled chocolates to his line. We couldn’t do too much tasting as we had to return via bikes to the harbour and also were invited for drinks at the Bona Verba, so we just tried one small sip of the original Asbach and one of a new Asbach Aperitif Rosé. Delicious!

A day later we continued to the most picturesque yet also most tricky part of the river, The Middlerhein.

I end with the words:

"Wenn einem etwas Gutes widerfährt……………." 

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