German canals - bulletin six
DASH DOWN THE RHINE.
We have reached Amsterdam! 1300 nautical miles of river and canal and 200 of Baltic Sea lie behind us, winter layup in Holland and Scotland 2006 beckon.
Our starting point for the Rheindrang was Strasbourg yacht harbour, which in grand French tradition was in the middle of a very active red light district. Also in the very best traditions of France were the sanitary facilities. Here is a short conversation:
Don to harbourmaster: " Monsieur - ou sont les douches?"
Harbourmaster: "Il n'y a pas de douches".
Don: "Oh, ou sont les toilettes?"
Harbourmaster: "Ni toilettes, m'sieu".
Don: "Bloody hell".
Readers are left to imagine for themselves what we and all the other boats did in order to meet our needs.
To this stinky tale can be added another example of the fine disregard of the Frankish nation for even the most basic sanitary facilities. For example, the facilities at the Port du Plaisance at Rouen. When we visited in 1998, we were still inexperienced and naïve cruisers, and wondered at the sporadic appearance of ashen-faced folk, stumbling from the ablution block, some of them audibly gagging.
When the time came, Don wandered to the harbour office, to be greeted by Mme. Hortense Du Mort Noir, the concierge. This old crone, who was assisted by her daughter and appointed successor, Slatterne, escorted him to the shower and toilet building, shouted “Voila, Monsieur”, flung the door open; cackling evilly at his reaction to the sights, sounds, flies and odours thus revealed.
Faintly muttering apologies for refusing entry, Don joined the gagging procession back to their boats.
Readers should be reminded of the Deneys Reitz ditty regarding “facilities”. This was crafted in Sweden:
“The crew's content, their needs are met,
With a happy, clappy toalett
Would that it was always thus!
The terrifying Rhine Gorge
We left the boat in a small yacht harbour near Baden Baden, returned home for 3 weeks and then resumed the voyage after engineer and pal Paul Watts had ministered to the boat, with special reference to the deflated Pink Pig and the obdurately blocked toilet (see last section).
After Watty had departed glowing with triumphant achievement, Sha Sha Toptani and Ian “Peg-leg” Hamilton, he of the now mended broken ankle, joined the boat and we started in the direction of the magnificent Rhine Gorge. Our pilot book stated "At this stage, the river seems to go wild, submerged rocks foam just under the surface, downstream boats plunge wildly and apparently unstoppably round narrow and precipitous sections and upstream boats labour to make any progress, engines revving to bursting point".
The book goes on to describe the magnificence of the scenery, with a schloss on every crag, vineyards climbing near-vertical from the river side to 1000 feet.
The crew were agog as we approached the entrance to the gorge - all that is except for Don, who was suffering from gloomy foreboding.
His intimations of approaching doom were well-founded. Whilst the others exclaimed delightedly at the passing magnificence, cameras clicking and whirring, BT struggled to keep the boat from becoming meat in a sandwich between a slow barge and an impatient 110-metre hotel boat that was determined to overtake going sideways. When the maniac in the (French) hotel boat had finally pushed past us with a wild swing of his enormous stern, BT relaxed and took a look at the scenery. "Now," said he, "When do we reach the Loreli Rock, I've been looking forward to seeing it for weeks". Said Totty "Didn't you see - we passed it quarter of an hour back."
Thereafter, we swept past Koblenz, Koln, Dusseldorf and onwards at 11 knots to the Dutch border and the wonders of old Amsterdam.
It felt like the completion of a long and eventful journey. We had passed through Amsterdam in 2001, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on our way to the Baltic, not knowing anything of the rigours of bloody Poland. Now, 10,000 nautical miles and 12 countries later, maybe a little wiser, (some of us - Totty) we were on our way to the boat's chosen permanent cruising ground, the West of Scotland.
PS. Permanent? Don't you believe it!!
Report on Germany by the Deneys Reitz Social Anthropology Team
We passed right through the heart of Germany; through the extensive canal system and up the mighty Rhine to Koblenz, where we branched off on to the delightful Mosel and thence to France before rejoining the Rhine at Strasbourg and careering through the Rhine Gorge ending up in the Netherlands. We explored the German hinterland by car and public transport also, and so feel able to describe something of a cross section of that varied and often magically beautiful country, truly at the heart of Europe. Oh...... and Don was a director of a German company for a time - and worked with German captains and others in deep sea fishing in Canada. So, there is a bit of a sneaky cheating insider knowledge in this report.
Germany - an industrial country
It doesn't take too long from the banks of canals and the Rhine to be impressed by the sheer size of the German industrial base. Huge factories and chemical plants, supported by enormous power stations are fed by coal from Poland and blast furnaces consume vast quantities of scrap metal coming from the Czech Republic and Poland. Unlike Britain, which shows the scars of failing industry in its derelict factory sites and dying communities, there is little sign of failure in Germany. Statistics bear out the fact that Germany is one of the greatest industrial economies and exports much of its technology and manufactured goods - whereas our homeland has given itself over to shopping, housing booms and busts, consumer debt, call centres and financial services. (Alas!)
Many parts of Germany are stunningly beautiful
The Black Forest is a wonderful example of well-preserved forest accessible to all. Our experiences of wandering along woodland trails and breaking into Alpine-style meadows, whilst plucking fantastic edible fungi still stay strongly in the memory. This contrasts with the sandy low-lying marshlands of the Baltic coast, with a bleak beauty of their own.
Germany has a rich and varied history
The banks of the Rhine and Mosel are studded with castles perched on the tops of hills, speaking volumes of a rich and probably violent history. But there is also amazing architecture and rich literary, philosophical and musical heritages. And, of course, there is the more recent and shameful history of the Third Reich, when the country seems to have lost its reason. The scars of World War Two still show themselves in cities like Cologne and in smaller towns like Datteln on the Mittelland Canal. A memorial outside the town shows Datteln in 1939 and in 1944. Aerial photographs show the neat and well laid out town of 1939 reduced to unrecognisable rubble by “140 Lancaster bombers”. On the ground, there seems to be only one building of pre-war vintage standing. The memorial makes a point of recognising that nations do terrible things to each other - and singles out the German destruction of Coventry as an example. Really very touching.
Germans show an interesting range of psychological and cultural paradoxes.
German food is often consumed in vast quantities, lathered in voluminous sauces. The cakes are symphonies of fattening indulgence. Beer is drunk in vast quantities, often in mass demonstrations of quaffing.
The fantastic evening that we were lucky enough to spend with the members of the Brohl Boat Club on the Rhine features high on the list of lost nights - preceded by a firework display, with lashings of beer, schnapps and God-knows-what - the whole affair enlivened by bawling romantic and dirty songs in equal quantities until final collapse at 4am. And.... They were at it the next night too!!
Baden Baden is a spa town. There are two spas - one allowing participants to indulge themselves with saunas, pools , massage and other delights wearing swimming costumes - the other requiring the removal of all vestments. We chose the latter; an extremely pleasant experience for elderlies as there were a number of well-toned younger people of both sexes. Half a day of steaming, massage, pools warm, cold and hot was followed by guzzling enormous cream cakes. Wonderful!
Germans are dutiful
People go about their business with a serious sense of purpose. They work hard, in the West at least; productivity is high. It may be unkind and inaccurate to put their friendliness and helpful demeanour to us down to a sense of duty, but we certainly were vastly impressed and pleased by the way in which complete strangers would go out of their way to help - even lending us, complete strangers, their cars to go shopping.
Germans like rules and clarity about what is expected
Common professions of satisfaction are “Alles Klar” and “Alles in Ordnung”.
There are many things that are verboten - and unlike France or Britain, people observe the rules. In this they have common cause with the Swedes, who put up signs on roads, declaring “Genomfart vorbuden”.
Anxiety is close to the surface
It seemed to us that there were three causes of anxiety:
- Guilt about the recent past. Germany had a ghastly period of aberration from the mid 1930's to 1945. They had some excuse in the fact that they had been humiliated by the Allies after World War One, but not enough to justify the horrors of the Nazi era. They were terribly punished, bombed flat and crushed by the British, Americans and Russians. Some of the mass destruction was quite unjustified, and it certainly left a scar on the psyche, such that it is unlikely to happen again. In many ways, Germany has faced up to what was done by the Nazis, and this is admirable. But the psychological scars of guilt still evidently linger.
- Anxiety about conforming to rules and social conventions. Two French managers told a story about visiting a cement plant in Germany by car. Their vehicle was covered in cement dust. On the way back to France they stopped for coffee. When they emerged from the café, there was a man standing by their car. “You should get your car washed” said he, “it's a disgrace”. A friend was walking her dog by the canal in Wilhelmshaven. Reg the dog was well behaved, intelligent and friendly. A man screeched to a halt on the road and approached, obviously outraged. He spoke volubly and loudly. Our friend Jen confessed a lack of German. The man rose to his full height and shouted, “Hund on Line!!” She was hugely impressed that he should go to such trouble.
German houses are neat and clean, German boats are clean and neat, to the point that many seem not to go anywhere, so onerous are the cleaning duties. German gardens are neat and orderly, and carefully fenced, often with barbed wire, with Feindlich Hund” signs on gates. A small village we walked through was festooned with wire and ferocious dog signs. Surely people knew each other in a small village??
- Tending towards insularity. The Rhine forms the border between France and Germany for some of its length. In the mornings and evenings the road crossings are jammed with cars going from France and returning in the evenings. Tourists seem to crowd in from France at weekends. We spoke to several Germans in a village abutting France. What did they think of France? “Never been there”, they said. In many ways Germany is self-sufficient, and anyway foreigners don't know how to behave, so why go there?
- German food is plentiful. Food is consumed in vast quantities by many people. It is rather lacking in variety. In Stralsund, a beautiful town ex of the East, we split up to find a good restaurant with an interesting menu. When we got back together and compared notes, Totty said “Pork Medallions”. “Really”, said Don. “Well, Pork medallions to you too!”
We passed over the French border from Germany. The boat had been stocked with food a few days before in a large German supermarket. Once in France, we went to a small local food shop. What variety! What gastronomic delights! What culinary wonders!! The French shop had a richness and variety of food and drink that is seldom seen in Germany, where good grub is readily available, but without the rich variety found in France, a foody nation par excellence.
But..... We would strongly recommend visiting Germany for holidays and recreation. It is a friendly and beautiful country with a wonderful variety of architecture, culture and music - as well as unparalleled opportunities for self indulgence. But, for God's sake, keep your hund on line.
A final yoke
Haben sie zis vun gehoren:
Ve know ze British make very fine steel
Und of course, ze Swedishe stahl is very, very fine
And, naturlisch, Deutsche stahl is very, very, very fine
Aber ....... Ze Polish steel is ze best of all - zey steal everything!!!!!!!!
Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho!