Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


Racing down the Rhine

Monday 29 May 2023 10:53 PM

There were a couple of traffic jams in front of the last three locks of the Moselle and we had to take our turns behind the “big boys”. But what time we lost, we made up quickly once we hit the Rhine. The currant carried us downstream, doubling our actual motor speed to 17 km/h. As usual, the professional barges and us respected each other. Barges coming upstream towards us had their blue-boards up to take advantage of the slowest flowing riverside and we stayed well out off their way. Not so the little speed boats criss-crossing the river and creating huge wakes behind them.

Our first stop was at the yacht club harbour of Neuwied. Tackling the strong eddying currant of the Rhine harbour’s upstream entry arms is always quite a challenge. However Austin has now become quite masterful in handling this manoeuvre. He had a really good sleep that night! Apparently, negotiating the strong currants of the Rhine takes a bit more concentration than ambling down the Moselle! My challenge was trying to sleep with the loud boom-boom from the speakers and terrible singing of the ongoing yacht club party.

The next day we were heading towards Cologne, almost my old stomping ground!  On the Upper Middle Rhine where we are now, are still quite a few spa towns and castles or picturesque castle ruins. A ruin of the more recent times is the legendary Bridge of Remagen. Here, in 1945, a much written about 18 day battle between the American Forces and the German army took place. The Germans tried to blow up the bridge to prevent the western invasion of the Allies. They threw every trick in the book, and every weapon and explosive available at it yet weren’t able to stop the Americans crossing the river. Good old German engineering it seems, bit them in the foot! The pylons on either side now stand as a memorial of this battle.

We also passed our old pre re-unification capital of Bonn where long, tree-lined promenades and stately old mansions line the river. Moving closer towards Cologne I was allowed to take the helm off Austin for a while, but eventually freaked out when a police boat approached and slowed down right beside us (not that I was doing badly, mind you!). But when they moved on, I realised that they were just being respectful not wanting to rock us with their wake.

Soon after, we were approached by a rogue jet skier coming right up to the Lodi. "Could we help a small motorboat who had lost it's propeller?”, "Sure!!!" With the jet ski pulling the boat away from the shallow side, we made a quick handover of ropes and towed the grateful, young couple 6 kms downstream to their home harbour of Sürth. Then it was time to announce our imminent arrival to the Hafenmeister of the Rheinau Hafen in Cologne.

Here we are now, just south of the old city. The promenade next to the harbour has been transformed into a modern area with three 60m high buildings in the shape of Loading Cranes encompassing offices, appartments, bars and cafés. Former warehouses and the Pegeltower (indicator of changing river heights) complete the feeling that this once has been a commercial harbour. At the end of the harbour wall a round glass construction contains the highly frequented Chocolate Museum. 

On the riverbank stalls, tables and chairs were set up for the Cologne Wine Fest - one way to celebrate this public holiday weekend of Pentecost (Whit-Sunday)! We went against the trend and thought we won’t "do like the Romans", who introduced wine to the Moselle and Rhine, but do like the “real” people from Cologne and drink the local beer called “Kölsch” (from “Köln", being the German name for Cologne). It went down very smoothly too!

As we had two days before our friend Eva arrives for her yearly duty as a deckhand and bottle washer, we headed to the old part of town. Here too beer and wine were flowing on the Heumarkt (hay market) and locals and tourists were swamping alleys and foot zones. Nevertheless, we braved it into St. Peter’s Cathedral, the emblem of this city, and once the tallest building in Europe. Still today The “Kölner Dom”, as we call it, is the second tallest cathedral of Europe and the third tallest in the world.

In the dark ages, when I was a kid and someone annoyed you, we used to "let someone see Cologne” which usually involved pulling them up by the ears. I think this was an early start to my career as Physio. I since improved my skills in neck traction somewhat! On a very clear day, one can see the cathedral from the observatory of my home town some 45km away.

The cathedral is truely magnificent and one can’t help but being in awe of how it's construction starting in 1248 was achieved. Inside the Cathedral are some beautiful windows and art work, and the golden shrine containing the bones of the Three Holy Kings and three martyrs.

On a lighter note, we passed the fountain of the “Heinzelmännchen” of Cologne. These are elves who enter workshops at night, finishing the work of craftsmen in the most flawless manner, then disappear in the early morning hours, so the old legend says. The Brothers Grimm wrote about it in “The Shoemaker and the Elves”.

Apart from remnants of Roman existence in many corners of the city, there are also several old towers and gates from the Middle Ages. We stumbled upon the Bayen-tower, now a Women’s Media Centre. Apparently in 1262 the female citizens of Cologne stormed this impressive tower and with the battle cry “Kölle alaaf!" chased the mighty archbishop away! This battle shout is still used today during the famous Carnival of Cologne.

Now it’s nearly time to pick up our friend Eva who will arrive by train via the worlds busiest railway bridge. 1200 trains pass over the "Hohenzollern Brücke" daily! One can walk across the 409.19m bridge to the eastern side of the Rhine to enjoy the city panorama. But tourists not only walk over the vibrating walkway for the view. All along the metal fence separating pedestrians from the railways are thousands of lover's locks (last estimate 340 000 on one side alone) with inscriptions dating back to the eighties. I hope the combined weight, which is said to be 40-50 tons won’t bring the bridge down! Looking forward to a safe arrival drink with Eva.


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