Between German Paddlers by Canal
It is not surprising that river cruises are becoming increasingly popular. They offer leisurely travel between historic places with so much to be seen on and off the ship and your suitcase only needs unpacking once.
The itinerary for a river cruise between Köln and Budapest offers churches, castles and museums as well as a trip along the world’s highest commercial canal. What the brochure didn’t say that before and after this waterway was the chance to go on two very different German paddle steamers.
The cruise starts going upstream on the Rhine, Europe’s busiest inland waterway, against a current of typically four knots. After a couple of days, the ship went through the 65 km Rhine gorge with its 28 castles. Another fine sight was the paddler Goethe going downstream. How frustrating, and yet a study of her timetable showed that it was possible to take a trip on her.
Goethe does a return trip each day through the Rhine gorge from Koblenz to Rüdesheim where the cruise ship berthed overnight. From here her arrival was observed at 15:15 and then a short trip downstream to Lorch from where it was possible to take local train back to the ship in time for dinner.
How would this paddler manoeuvre to turn downstream? The answer was that, without any use of ropes, she executed a tight turn using her bow and stern thrusters. Another surprise was finding out that, in 2008-09, her operators, KD Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt AG, had replaced her two cylinder 750 hp steam engine with two 515 hp diesel engines which drive her paddles hydraulically.
Goethe was built in 1913 and is reputed to be the world’s largest side-wheeler. She was sunk in World War II, was completely rebuilt in 1951 and subject to major restoration work in the 1990s. She carries up to 900 passengers in four immaculate art deco saloons and, despite the lack of a steam engine, is a great way to experience the Rhine gorge.
Back on the cruise ship, the next river was the Main. To make it navigable over the 396 kilometres to Bamberg, it has 34 locks, the deepest being 7.6 metres. Bamberg is the start of the 171 km Main-Danube canal. It opened in 1992 and rises to 406 metres above sea level as it crosses Europe’s continental divide. To do so it has 16 locks, including several massive locks with lifts up to 25 metres, one metre more than the Falkirk Wheel boat lift.
On reaching the Danube the first call is Regensburg where one of the attractions is the Museum of Danube shipping (Donau-Schiffarhts-Museum). It was a pleasant surprise to learn that this museum is on the static paddle steamer Ruthof which was built for service on the River Danube in 1923. With her 800 hp twin cylinder compound steam engine, she could tow several barges either alongside or astern. She was also sunk in World War II when she struck a mine in southern Hungary. After twelve years under water she was raised and repaired to operate under her new name, Ersekcsanad from 1957 to 1975. After being withdrawn and laid up in Budapest, she was bought by her current owners and moved to Regensburg in 1980 and opened to the public three years after that.
Her crew accommodation below decks converted into museum spaces for an interesting collection of models of Danube tugs and other vessels. These, together with the engine, boiler and other aspects of the ship made this a worthwhile visit. PSPS members can be assured of a warm welcome here. The museum’s curator was well aware of our paddler and gave a me a hearty greeting when he learnt I was involved with the Waverley.