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June 7th 2019

The calmness and the force of water

Today a second voyage by ship was on my program: from the harbour of Constance to Schaffhausen over the western part of the Lake Constance, the Untersee, and the start of the navigable river Rhine to Schaffhausen. There I would like to see the Schaffhauser Rheinfall, the largest waterfall in Europe! Yesterday I had already bought a ticket, so this morning about a quarter to nine and after again a luxurious and tasty breakfast I was waiting at Pier 9 for the ship of the Untersee und Rhein shipping company. At two minutes past nine MS Thurgau entered the harbour and many passengers boarded. The weather forecast was good: sunny and warm, but that was not quite noticeable in the beginning. The sun did its best to pierce through the clouds – this interaction of light and shadow led to nice atmospheric images!


Konstanz: Impressions of the morning light on Lake Constance from the harbour

Onboard of the MS Thurgau an “artist impression” of our voyage was hanging, which somehow proved to be convenient in order to check all harbours and highlights on our way. The trip would take about 3½ hours, therefore a relaxed pastime!


Konstanz: map of the shipping route across Lake Constance (Untersee) and the river Rhine to Schaffhausen on board of MS Thurgau

As soon as we left the harbour the blue sky appeared and with that the beautiful light on the surroundings: the familiar Konzilgebäude, the tower of the Cathedral, the planes of the Stadtpark – the capital red beech now remarkably stood out! – and as we sailed underneath the first road bridge, also the tower of the Rheintor gate with the nice houses along the water. Like yesterday again a Zeppelin flew over!

The water level in the Lake Constance was very high because of the meltwater from the mountains and the heavy rainfall of the last weeks, so the captain announced over the speakers that the cover of the upper deck would be lowered and that we all had to remain seated. The wind shield was folded down and the roof lowered. Everyone was curious to see how much space was going te be left between our heads and the underside of the bridge! All went well. Just after the traffic bridge a large sign is standing with a large “0”: this kilometre beacon indicates that the navigability of the river Rhine begins here. I know that in Arnhem near the John Frosts bridge kilometre beacon 883 is situated – on the Maasvlakte, the man-made land at the estuary of the Rhine, near Rotterdam the last one is standing: nr. 1035! It is an interesting thought that the water on which we were navigating at this moment will flow past my house within some time…

It was very pleasant to travel quietly and rather silently on the smooth surface of the water and to enjoy the panoramic views. On the north bank are vast reed lands, making this area into a wonderful paradise for birdlife. Over 3.000 swans are living in this area. We passed many swans in the distance, but sometimes a swan has to swim away swiftly to avoid a collision – the older swans clearly were more experienced than the younger ones! The shipping route was indicated by beacons of wickerwork. We also travelled past the famous monastery island Insel Reichenau, which has been enlisted on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Between Konstanz and Steckborn: panoramic view on the Untersee towards the east

On the Untersee the ship repeatedly crossed the (invisible) border between Germany (north bank) and Switzerland (south bank). One of the landing sites is Steckborn am Rhein: this place, where already in Roman times a settlement existed, is on Swiss territory. The buildings in the waterfront are beautiful: many half-timbered houses and a large white building with towers, in which now a museum is situated, the Turmhof. This is the most characteristic building of Steckborn, dating from 1271 and built in the water. Further downstream on the slopes vast orchards are created: like in the whole of Canton Thurgau this is a “fruit country”.


Stegborn: view on the old houses along the lake’s bank

A next highlight on the route is Stein am Rhein on the north bank but on Swiss territory. Here again many half-timbered houses, nice squares, also on the waterfront. The small town in its entirety a listed protected area. High above Stein the borough Burg Hohenklingen is situated, that was built in the 13th century and still has its authentic features from that period, because it has not been damaged during the wars. The Castle is visible from afar. Against the slopes vineyards have been created, especially with Blauburgunder (Pinot noir), RieslingxSylvaner, but also Sauvignon blanc.


Stein am Rhein: view on the town and the Burg Hohenklingen Castle

Between Stein am Rhein and Diessenhofen the landscape on both banks changed into green: wooded, steep slopes, only a few houses on the banks – very peaceful!

At one point another announcement was made: due to the high water level we could only pass underneath the bridge at Diessenhofen if the cover of the upper deck was completely folded back: everybody was requested to leave the upper deck. Then many things were happening: not only the cover was lowered, also the flag post on the foredeck was folded back, the lights on the wheelhouse were put flat on the deck and the superstructure of the wheelhouse was hydraulically lowered!

In the distance the covered wooden bridge from 1812 came in sight. It is the only still existing bridge of its kind over the Rhine in this area: it is listed. On the east side it is covered with wooden planks to which flower baskets with geraniums are attached, on the west side it is cladded with “Schindel“, the wooden shingles. Very cautiously the MS Thurgau manoeuvred underneath the bridge. It showed that the lowering of flagpoles, cover of the upper deck and wheelhouse had not been an unnecessary precaution as we passed underneath the bridge: we could almost touch the bottom of the bridge!

After a short stop we left Diessenhofen behind us and headed on to Schaffhausen.


Diessenhofen: MS Thurgau leaves the pier

After a quiet trip of about three quarters of an hour Schaffhausen came in sight. On the hill above the town is a fortress dating from the 16th century, the Festung Munot. The watchtower can be seen from the distance. In the early 19th century the fortress lost its military function and fell into a decline.
On initiative of painter and sketcher Johann Jakob Beck (1786–1868) the fortress was restored again. Now it is used for multiple cultural events Against this slope vines grow, from which the famous “Munötler” is made. The produce is small: around 5.000 to 7.000 litres depending on the year…

The city itself I didn’t visit, because I was heading to the waterfalls. So I climbed with many fellow-passengers into a kind of small train on wheels, the “Rhyfall Express“, that took us over rather many “hobbles” from the harbour through the inner city, slope up slope down, to the waterfall. We also passed a dam, belonging to the Schaffhausen hydroelectric power plant. Onwards to the waterfall the water is still flowing quietly… At the final point of the small train I got a first postcard impression of the waterfall. Nearby was a kind of basin, in which the water was almost standing still: it was teeming with large fish, common chubs to be precise, one of the species which are naturally present in the Rhine.

On a protruding rock with view on the waterfall the Schlössli Wörth is standing, already well-known in Goethe’s times. At the entrance of the restaurant a sign is hanging with a text Goethe wrote to the occasion of his visits to Schaffhausen, the waterfall and the Schlössli”on September 18th 1797. I am not able to describe it more poetically that that…!


Schaffhausen: sign at the Schlössli Wörth with a quote by Johann W. Goethe from 1797

In the restaurant lunchtime was over, but a glass of wine with view on the waterfall was still possible. I quite liked that idea, so I sat down cosily at a strategic viewpoint and a glass of Sauvignon blanc from the wine-growing area of Schaffhausen. It came with a glass of water and some bites. The wine was delicious: every sip was a delight and the views were superb!

After this break I went through the crowds towards the north bank of the river. From this distance was already visible how the water was churning and frothing, exactly as Goethe has described it… On an information sign some data are mentioned about the Rhine Falls: width 150 metres, height 23 metres, depth of the basin of the fall 13 metres… The border between the Cantons Schaffhausen and Zurich is in the middle of the Rhine and the waterfall. Both Cantons share the maintenance costs.

The fact that on this spot along the Rhine industrial activities have already taken place since the 11th century is mentioned on several plaques. In the early 19th century a forgery that had been in place since the 11th century was bought by an entrepreneur and in 1888 passed on to the Schweizerische Aluminium Industrie AG (shortened to Alusuisse), where for the first time in Europe aluminium was made the electrochemical way. Until 1945, when the factory was closed down, monthly 50 tons raw aluminium was produced. In 1954 the buildings were demolished and the area was transformed into a park. Alusuisse has offered the Municipality of Neuhausen a plaque and a sculpture made of aluminium: “Dreiklang bei Nacht” (“Triads by night”), made by Ernesto Hebeisen (1919–2007). In 1976 on the same north bank a wooden waterwheel has been installed at a side-stream of the waterfall, from which the water supply can be regulated with a sliding hatch. The waterwheel is a replica of the original waterwheel that has been in place since the 11th century. Only in 1854 the wooden waterwheel was replaced by a turbine.

The closer I came to the waterfall, the more impressive the natural spectacle became: at several small platforms tiny drops of water splashed into my face. I also noticed somewhere in the middle of the waterfall a  wrought iron sign with two years: 1888 and 1913 with an image of hammer and sledge hammer op top. How have they been able to put that sign up there…?

A few impressions of the power of the waterfall:

A railway bridge has been built upstream of the waterfall between the right bank and the left bank: it is the railway connection between Winterthur and Schaffhausen. There also is a footpath alongside the railway tracks. From that point there is a marvellous view towards the west over the waterfall. From the train the views are also great, especially from a double-deck train! On the highest point of the left bank the Schloss Laufen Castle is standing, of which the oldest part dates back to the 12th century. The railway tracks runs through a tunnel under the Castle.

The Schloss Laufen can be visited. The entrance gate to the Castle shows the coat of arms of the Canton Zurich. On the castle wall a plaque from 1950 has been installed to commemorate that Switzerland has managed to stay clear of the hostilities during both the First and the Second World War and that thanks to the Army that has been safeguarding the security of the country. I did not visit the Castle. Actually I was more interested in the restaurant, because I had gotten slightly hungry in spite of that nice glass of wine and the bites. From the various angles here the views were special too!

At a few minutes past four o’clock I passed by train through the tunnel underneath the Schloss Laufen Castle and over the railway bridge over the Rhine. Again another beautiful photo moment! After changing trains at the railway station of Schaffhausen the train journey took me back along the Rhine and the Untersee, the same way as on the way in by ship this morning. I noticed that the railway stations of the towns aren’t not that well-kept as the landing ports on the waterfront! The panoramas from the train on the Untersee and the orchards were equally very nice too.


Between Steckborn and Kreuzlingen: view on the Untersee and orchards on the forefront

On the way to Schaffhausen I had already spotted from the ship sombre concrete colossus here and there along the waterfront. These were bunkers from the Second World War. Oddly enough I always was under the impression – and according to me many others with me as well – that Switzerland has actually stayed clear of any aspect of war, but this is not the case. From 1936 on a “chain of fortresses”, a “Festungsgürtel” has been built around the Swiss town of Kreuzlingen. It was 11 kilometres long and consisted of over 80 bunker complexes, anti-tank ditches and other obstacles equipped with long-range cannons. It was meant to prevent that the enemy would conquer the Rhine bridge near Constance. Luckily it was not necessary. Nowadays the problem is that these concrete blocks cannot be used for anything else and that demolition is nearly impossible… Nevertheless students of the University of Constance and ArtEZ, the University of Arts from Arnhem(!) have developed a case study – purely theoretically – according to a newspaper article in the Kreuzlinger Zeitung, such as transforming the bunkers into a Bed&Bunker! When I almost reached Kreuzlingen, the train drove past one of these bunkers – near Triboldingen. This bunker was painted in vivid colours…


Triboldingen: view on a bunker from the Second World War

Walking back from the railway station of Kreuzlingen to Constance, which took about ten minutes, I passed the nowadays completely safe border between Switzerland and Germany. The area of the crossing point has been designed as a kind of museum with many panels with information about important moments in history. It seemed as if the border just didn’t exist anymore – and I like that idea very much!