Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Rise and fall

Some of the locks we’ve come through with Erin Mae have been quite deep, but nothing compared to this.

Progressing towards the summit of our cruise we encountered three locks of 82 feet! As with a narrowboat, a deep lock isn’t necessarily any worse than a 6-footer – it just seems more scary while you’re in it.  One of the hardest parts can be securing your boat against movement. Here one of the crew lassoed a bollard, which then moved upwards in its slot as the water rose.

This morning we emerged from the Main-Danube canal onto the River Danube. It’s a beautiful stretch of river and we were now going downhill.

Some of the locks had a string of buoys across the bottom gate, to make sure you stayed far enough away from the gates. Once the lock had emptied they lowered a boom to pick up the end of the string and lift it back up to clear the way.

We soon encountered three very low bridges.

The captain collapsed his wheel house and operated things from elsewhere.

The crew came around insisting that everyone on the front sun-deck keep their eyes to the front.

And when the bridges arrived, we really did have to duck, even though we were already sitting down.

Finally we arrived at Regensburg. Its mediaeval heart might look similar to what we’ve seen elsewhere along the way, but there’s a big difference.

This is all original, rather than having been reconstructed after the carnage of the war.

There’s a magnificent bridge over the Danube that dates from 1146 and has seen a lot of history, including the march of Crusader armies.

Shame they had scaffolding and polythene sheeting all over one end of it, but that has been par for the course for a lot of the buildings we've seen. At the city end of the bridge is the gatehouse,

and to one side of it stands the kitchen that was built to make and serve sausages for the construction workers. It's still serving sausage today!

The gothic-style cathedral is regarded by some as the finest in Bavaria,

and has some very fine stained glass, including this window depicting its patron saint, Peter.

It has continued to be extremely hot as we now start the down-stream part of our journey. It’s certainly been different from anything we’ve done so far on Erin Mae – and not just in relation to the fall of the locks.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017


Today, our excellent tour guide Ingo was able to put Nuremberg’s grim associations into context.

For an hour we were taken by coach around various sites associated with the 3rd Reich – the stadia and some of the administrative buildings – and learned of their original purpose, how specifics of their design were intended to further that purpose, and how contemporary use occasionally, and quite deliberately, contradicts it. For example, one of the Nazis' establishments now houses a government department looking after the alien and the stranger!

We passed the buildings which hosted the Nuremberg trials after the war. It transpires that the reason they were held here was that Nuremberg was about the only place in Germany, not under Russian control, that still had a serviceable and secure prison. The link to the Nazi use of Nuremberg was a felicitous but incidental symbolism.

It was hard to capture a photographic record of this part of our tour through the coach windows, but the memory will live long. When it came to an end, Ingo took us on a walk from the castle down to the market square.

The defences of Nuremberg – the castle and the city walls – seem to have been pretty impregnable under mediaeval conditions. By the time they were rendered obsolete by more modern forms of warfare, the city could not afford to demolish them, so they are still here to tell the tale.

Walking down to the city centre we found the usual architectural mix, represented by the solid City Hall on one side…

and the soaring cathedral on the other.

Once again, we were encountering a city that had seen 90% destruction in WWII. Most of what we saw was reconstruction, though it was usually hard to tell.

There’s a wonderful fountain in the square, fed by pipes from a nearby but uninhabited region. Unfortunately, the pipes had been made of lead, so the populace was subjected to chemical rather than bacterial poisoning! Ingo gave us some stats on beer consumption in earlier times – 3 litres a day on average: and that’s an average which includes the babes in arms! But beer was far safer than water.

We found ourselves exploring one of the mediaeval quarters, where half-timbered buildings overlook the river.

As important as the view was the coffee and the local delicacy Lebkuchen – gingerbread. We found a great café…

 and the best Lebkuchen shop in Nuremberg, side by side.

It was delicious!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Old and new

Yesterday, in one of the churches in Würzburg, we saw one answer to how a traditional church might interact with modern art.

It was a representation of the prophet Isaiah, modelled strongly on the features of Sylvester Stallone! Today, in Bamberg, we saw more of this dynamic tension, as a city with World Heritage Site status because of its mediaeval delights works out how to preserve what is worth preserving while trying not to be simply a living museum.

The town hall, built over the river, looks down towards the wonderful waterfront of a sector known as Little Venice.

The backs of these houses are as interesting, if not quite as picturesque, as the fronts.

Some of the shutters have latches of which we noted several variations throughout the city.

The faces were sometimes rather posh as here. Others might be country bumpkins or knights in armour.

Above the town centre were more old, ecclesiastical buildings, designed to impress the visitor.

We discovered that one local Prince Bishop, of around the seventeenth century, had found the gaudiness of the baroque style not to his taste, and had removed much of the colour and sold off many of the artefacts. Today some will regret that, but the discussion as to what constitutes appropriate updating continues.

Some of the modern touches were very welcome. When our guided tour had finished we recovered our strength at a great little coffee shop – Rösterie M.A.G.

There was extensive range of coffees on offer, and an extremely good chocolate torte to go with it.

Thomas was our very helpful guide to the choices – and he knew all about Southampton FC! Thanks, Thomas! Then it was back to catch our transport by the city's concert hall,

which has modern depictions of local heraldic imagery dotted around.

Leaving Bamberg we have just come onto the canal that links the Main and the Danube. For a while we've been queueing at a lock – nothing changes!

At some point between here and Nuremberg, but probably in the middle of the night, we shall pass the watershed, and start the down-hill part of the journey.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

War and Peace

The Prince Bishops of Würzburg lived in the Marienberg fortress on one side of the River Main…

until they built the "Residenz" at the top of the slop on the other bank in the 18th century, in an attempt to emulate the style of Louis XIV.

We only got just a peep inside the front entrance, enough to see that it is, indeed, very grand.

In fact we didn't get quite as far as the place where they take your money, at which point we would also have learned that you're not allowed to take photographs. They probably wouldn't have minded me getting one of the formal gardens at the side before we left.

Würzburg has the mix of architectural styles that seems characteristic of the region.

But little of what you see is original. The abiding memory of our visit will be that of the air raid suffered on 16th March 1945, when in 20 minutes 90% of the city was destroyed by the RAF. There is a model in a special room of the Town Hall depicting what the city looked like at the end of that night.

In the years following the war, a massive reconstruction programme took place, of both buildings and reconciliation. The room contained plaques describing the situation of Würzburg under the National Socialist regime, the mass bombings that the Nazis themselves had engaged in, and links to the peace project based at Coventry Cathedral. There was a poignant reflection by one of the mayors of the city, and one of the most powerful comments was made by our excellent guide as responded, impromptu, to a question. "You reap what you sow", she said.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Main thing

Yesterday we discovered that the name of the town Mainz, which we were visiting, has nothing to do with the name of the River Main, onto which we have now come. The river’s name originates with the Romans calling it the “Minor” Rhine. We drifted up it through the night and tied up at breakfast time in Miltenberg – "the Pearl".

The usual castle stands guard over this mediaeval town.

The other reason for the survival of its delightful buildings would probably be that not a lot happens here! At the far end from the castle stands an imposing gatehouse, marking the beginning of the main street.

Last night after dinner the on-board pianist allowed me to play a couple of numbers on the ship’s Yamaha electronic grand piano. But it was a big disappointment – some of the keyboard contacts were faulty and the action had deteriorated, and I’d be playing a soft, expressive section when suddenly one of the notes would boom out loud. So when, this morning, we found a music shop few yards down the main street, a visit seemed in order to make up for the experience.

We chatted for a while with the owner Harald, who also runs a studio and a music production company, and that was good fun. I think he enjoyed it too, even though I didn’t actually buy any of the wares on offer in the shop.

The buildings here benefit from showing very little sign of an overall town plan. Walking down the main street you encounter various churches and squares,

and a somewhat higgledy-piggledy collection of edifices which rather reminded us of Nantwich and Chester, only coloured ochre rather than black and white.

There was time to enjoy it all before strolling back to the ship for lunch as we untied and continued up-river towards Wertheim.

In some senses, Wertheim was more of the same.

However, it was less linear and more haphazard. It also had a very steep walk up to the obligatory castle, which has watched over the confluence of the Main and the Tauber since the 12th century.

Of all the castles we've seen in our few days so far, this was the first we walked up to. Even at 5 p.m. it was hot!

The view from the top was spectacular, and showed why this spot had been chosen.

The walls gave evidence of the purpose for which they had been constructed.

We found that the castle was today the venue for a rock concert, and the top was throbbing, both with the beat and with all the people who'd come for it (carefully avoided in the photos I've chosen!). We found a bench with, bizarrely, a German version of the story of Percival, one of King Arthur's knights, written on the top. Three lads attending the concert were sitting on it, so we asked them to move a bit so we could read it. That led to us having a great chat with Roman, from Ukraine, and his two friends. Annoyingly, I didn't think about getting a photo of them until after we'd left. But they were part of a very enjoyable day.