We continued along the Mittelland kanal to Wolfsburg. A large part of the city was built in 1938 to provide housing for workers at the VW plant, where the Beetle was manufactured. The city’s roots, however, date to the 13th century. In 1302, it was first mentioned as the seat of the the Bartensleben family. There was a residential tower, later fortified and turned into a moated castle . A predecessor was probably the Rothehof tower, built around 1200 . The Neuhaus Castle was built circa 1372 .
Today as home to the one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturing plants, it has the highest standard of living in the country. There is a large modern art museum without much art in it when we visited, just two temporary exhibits, both good.
Futher along the canal we came to Bülstringen, a small historic town right on the Mittelland Kanal. It dates from the 1300’s.
The baroque church building was added to a Romanesque tower in 1708. The baroque church was probably designed by the Braunschweigian master builder Hermann Korb. The interior is octagonal, an uncommon shape for these structures. The rich furnishings, including a large pulpit altar, date from the time of its creation. There are two bells from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Gothic crucifix is from the 16th century.
Another unusual feature is the semicircular seating arrangement formed by the two-story octoganal wooden galleries. The Romanesque west tower and the baptismal font inside (early 13th century) belong to the oldest part of the church. The bright bell dates from the end of the 13th century.
The village has one hotel and perhaps two or three other businesses. There is a fair amount of traffic passing through but otherwise it’s a sleepy village. You could use for filming scenes of the middle ages.
From Minden we traveled to Hanover, around 65 kilometers to the east. We can travel with relatively reasonable fuel consumption (about 2.5 liters per hour) at around 12 kilometers per hour, so a trip of this length takes about 6 hours given there are no locks or bridges so no need to stop. We reserved a place at the only marina in town. Fortunately there is bus and tram service within less than a ten minute walk, and the center of town is only 4 kilometers. The next day we set off for the tourist information bureau on our folding bikes.
In the old town centre are Marktkirche (the Church of St. Georgii andt Jacobi, and the Old Town Hall. Also you find the Leibniz House, the Nolte House, and the Beguine Tower. The Kreuz-Church-Quarter area has many narrow streets. The Ballhof Theater was once a sports hall. The Market Hall and the Leine Palace are nearby. The ruined Aegidien Church which is now a monument to the victims of war and violence with a sculpture of a person kneeling. The Marstall Gate leads to the Leine River. This is much of it plus more was on the tourist info walking/biking tour of the city, a 4km route marked by a red line. It took us by the old Rathhaus (City Hall), a gorgeous building. The rear side faces the man made lake with an island on it where people picnicked in the warm sun while we ate on the steps served by another friendly waitress. The mushroom soup was fabulous.
Photos by Peg:
Hanover is home to eleven universities and several libraries. August Kestner Museum holds a collection of Etruscan and Egyptian art. It is not of the caliber of the Egyptian museum in Torino nor the British Museum, nor the Etruscan museum in Rome, not by any stretch. The building was erected around the older one damaged in the war. Some good items nonetheless. The Sprengel Museum focuses on German Expressionism and French Modernism. It has a fine collection, including some from well known artists as well as some that should be better known.
We ended the night with the thin strip of moon shining over the harbor, its lights reflected in the shimmering water. A barge slipped silently past into the darkness as the nearly submerged sun gave its final farewell of the day.
Minden dates to the 800’s. It sits about 30 kilometers from Bad Essen through forested areas with the occasional house alongside the canal. There are some small towns along the way too, but none on the canal and most are not visible from the boat. There is a marina in Minden on the river, a drop of many meters in the lock. As we are continuing on the canal, we moored where we saw free moorings on the canal, just after someone left one of the few spaces provided.
The mooring is just 100 meters or so from the aqueduct that takes boat traffic over the Weser River well below. The old town is about a 10 minute bike ride, bike paths most of the way.
The downtown area is a mixture of half-timber structures and various versions of modernity. The central shopping zone is pedestrian only and mostly modern.
The old town features the Cathedral of St Gorgonius. Minden was founded in the area surrounding the cathedral.Some structures are built in the later Weser Renaissance style and others from the time Minden was still a fortified town. The town hall dates from the 13th Century, surviving a major bombing in World War II.You can still see the octagonal pattern of the town wall on maps.
We climbed the six flights to the upper terrace of the old-town, our legs aching from having spent so many hours on the boat. These are called the Martinitreppe (St. Martin’s steps). Here you find St. Martini dating from 1300, St. Marien, and St Simeon’s church built circa 1300. You will also find the Alte Münze (old mint), the oldest stone building in the Westphalia region. The Schwedenschänke (Swedish tavern) dates from the Swedish occupation during the 30 Years War.
It was Peggy’s birthday so we headed for the biergarten on the river. Schiffmühlen (mill) Gastronomie has beers on tap and your choice of schnitzel on the menu. Vegetarians stay home or just drink beer. You sit just above the river. Across the river children play in the water, far enough away to form an impressionist painting of white and pinkish dots. Couples, groups and singles sit under the shade of the trees. Our waitress speaks English, and apologetic for bringing Peg a sweet wine, not a dry one she asked for. It was a pleasant ending to the day.
It was an 11 hour day during which we went only about 35 kilometers behind a very slow barge. The barge was slowed to walking speed by the shallowness of the Dortmund-Eems Kanal. We also had to traverse 6 huge locks after an hour wait at the first one. We had to stay with the barge due to the size of the locks, as they do not want to empty and refill them for just a few pleasure craft.
We finally dragged ourselves into the first possible mooring area on the Mittelland (Middle Land) Kanal, which will take us to Berlin. It’s a gorgeous and quiet spot with just a few pleasure craft and one barge spending the night.
There were just three boats including ours plus the barge carrying recycled glass. One boat was named Pasta. It is the middle boat in the photo above. The captain is from Poland. He traveled to Netherlands to buy his boat and is now taking it home. He paid $600. It has an old motor but it putts right along with us. He went south when we turned to the Mittelland Kanal but we saw him the next day.
The couple on the barge picture above (built in 1908) is taking their new purchase to Berlin where they will live aboard. They will spend the summer anchored out and then move into the winter berth they have reserved.
They joined Michael and Imke, aboard the Norwegian coastal cruiser “Swalk” and another couple for drinks on the side of the canal. Michael and Imke both speak English rather well. The woman on the barge spoke some English but her husband and the other couple conversed only in German. Michael did some translating for us.
The Germans love schnapps and showed it this evening. By the time I stumbled to the boat to get my hoodie (they were still wearing just shorts and short sleeves), I’d had four shots, plus the wine we brought in and a beer someone offered, so I’d had more than enough. A glass or two of wine is my usual limit.
The next morning we took off for Bad Essen, a stopping point Michael recommended as allowing for a reasonable period of travel. The weather was gorgeous, the canal wide enough for the barges to pass us with plenty of room, and we were able to move along at around 8 knots/12 kph. The countryside is heavily forested, with some small towns and farms along the way.
Bad Essen has thermal baths. These were once very popular sources of cures and may still be so as far as I know, although medicine is the main go to here of course. The baths are housed in charming old structures, some of which are half-timber as shown below.
The visit to Bad Essen led to my first German draft beer since arriving. We found the pedestrian zone just five or ten minutes by bike and across the canal from our mooring, After we returned to the boat we invited Michael and Imke for cherry cake. We talked for a few hours about the routes ahead of us and got to know them a bit. They bought the boat together so they can do some coastal cruising and plan to marry on one of the coastal islands off Friesland. They were very solicitous of us for the two days we traveled together, which we much appreciated. They are heading home and since a lock ahead on their route is due to close, they must leave us tomorrow.
The friendly owner of the converted barge behind us, who guided us in to our berth after seeing we did not know where to go (our marina reservation had been given to others), also stopped by. He knows these canals. He showed us the best route northwest of Berlin and even gave us an old chart for the area, one we’d been looking for. He also knew where we might get charts and other boaty things, not too far away. He commented that once we get to Berlin we might not ever leave. We spent a month there several years back and understand its attraction. This was a very useful visit and having Michael and Imke to translate was very helpful.
We spent a quiet night on the canal. The barges stopped around 10 pm but they made little wash at any rate. We stayed the next day, Sunday, in the hopes of finding someone to help with some electrical puzzles I have been unable to sort so far. That turned out to be futile as the person answering the phone did not speak any English. I’d say about half the people in this small town speak at least some English. Our waitresses all spoke reasonably well, struggling to find words but finding a way to describe what they meant.
Teenage boys jumped from the bridge right in front of us in the warm sun. Others swam. Small boats whirred back and forth and large barges glided past leaving barely a wrinkle in the water. Across the way at dusk the brightly colored chairs placed on the city dock reflected in the light of the setting sun. Suddenly there were no worries. Even the orchestra is beautiful.
To take a boat like ours into Germany, France, Belgium and the rest of the EU requires an operator’s license, called a Certificate of Competence, a marine radio certificate and boat registration papers, which are not used in the Netherlands to convey ownership so the Dutch national yacht association issues them. You also need proof of insurance. All this cost days of time in study, travel to exams, tracking of papers with delays in post caused by the pandemic. It cost more than $500. Imagine my disappointment when this was all we had to show for it:
Niente. Nada. Rien. Not even one stereotypical “papers, please.” All my duckies in a row and none to drink.
At least the ride to Haren, our first stop in Germany, is pleasant and uneventful if a bit slow due to the narrowness and age of the canal. The many bridges on the small canal opened automatically without us having to wait. The locks were opened promptly and easily managed.
Haren has a charming albeit modernized central pedestrian shopping area with masked shoppers in the stores and unmasked sitting at outdoor cafes and fast food shops. A Turkish kabob shop owner said hello as we walked past. Unfortunately we’d already had lunch. Peg got some vitamins from a helpful pharmacist. It seems like a relaxed and friendly place.
In Germany, unlike in Holland and France (places we’ve been on this boat or the last), you can only moor where it is expressly permitted. In Haren we saw an area on google maps where boats were moored and where the lock keeper in town said there might be some places. There weren’t. We ended up in the marina, where finally at 4 p.m. the harbor master showed up. He spoke a few words of English, enough to get us registered for the night. It’s a very nice spot just off the Eems River.
We spent the night next to a friendly Dutch couple but not near the older Dutchies we traveled with during the day. The next morning I filled the boat with water and prepared to leave. Peg returned the hose and happened to read the sign on the post, which I had not. The water was non-potable river water! So out came all 450 liters, which took 30 minutes, and in went a fresh tank, also another 30 minutes as we had to wait for the friendly Dutch couple to finish. Then we were off to Lingen.
The three locks we went through are enormous, built to handle the large barges we subsequently encountered. They all took us up several meters to the next level. The bollards are way too far apart for vessels of our size so both lines have to be looped onto the same bollard, ladder or pipe. Fortunately the rise is gentle but we did not know that at first so were a bit anxious. At the last of them we had to wait an hour while repairs were done. All required a minimum of 45 minutes to traverse.
It was a lovely day, about 23c (72f) with hazy skies alternating with patches of blue. The cool breeze kept us quite comfortable even with short sleeves and shorts. There is nothing but forest, some bikers on the path waving as we passed, even some without children with them.
Finally we came to Lingen. Again we’d seen a mooring on google maps so we followed the enormous dredging barge being pushed very slowly by a small boat running at wide open throttle. We finally got into the harbor only to find that mooring is not permitted. Our navigation app only shows marinas and it showed the next one 4 km further along.
It was easy to find, but to make sure the app was correct I waved down a boater on a small sail boat motoring in the direction opposite to us. He quickly replied in German but we understood. The marina was just around the corner.
It’s an easy one to get into. There were all the Dutch and the one German boat we’d been seeing along the way. We slipped easily into an open slot and before long the very friendly harbor master came along to tell us a heavy rainfall was coming and would be so kind as to come to the nearby office now. We did and for a modest price we have all the services one can hope to find at these places – water, electricity, bathrooms that you can use (they were still closed in the Netherlands) and even a washing machine.
We passed a restaurant a bit before we arrived. It’s website says take out only. Even with dining in we would not suffer a bike ride in the rain to get there. There’s a hotel with a restaurant just a five minute walk so perhaps one or the other will be accessible to us if the forecast holds. But the next day we found a delightful cafe in the forest, where I am sure we saw Hansel and Gretel eating bread crumbs as they walked along hand in hand.
Our main complaint has been the difficulty of obtaining information about free moorings. We can not find detailed charts nor an almanac and apparently these do not exist. None of the free places we passed along the way were on the app and none were suitable for small craft, lacking docks and bordered with rocks. We are allowed to moor there but you’d be hitting the small rocks that line the shore. Perhaps you could moor up to a barge that was there for the night. However everyone we talk to says not to worry, there are plenty of places along the way. It would be nice to be able to plan a bit more however.
On the Hoogvart, between Hoogeveen and Nieuw Amsterdam, we are in the deep countryside of eastern Netherlands, passing through a very prosperous-looking area with many large farms. In the first photo, you will see a very large roof. This is because the barn is attached to the house, as is the custom in rural areas. In the second picture, a good example of how well the farmers seem to be doing here, you’ll see on the left a large Palladian-style double door. It is the carriage/wagon entrance to the barn.
There are 20 bridges on this canal, most of them about two feet above the water level. We have our very own bridge master, who opens each bridge as we arrive, closes it after us, then speeds past us along the road in his car to the next bridge. Makes one feel important!
A brugemesiter (bridge tender) stays with you as you proceed through the sequence of bridges assigned to them. The boaters try to go through together, meeting on the docks to make arrangements. They try to limit the amount of time the bridges stay open, as vehicles use the bridges. On major canals, several bridges are managed from a central location with cameras at each bridge, so the brugmeister sees when he needs to open a bridge. There is a phone number or VHF radio frequency the skipper can use to request an opening. At every bridge there is a red/green light. Red means nobody knows you are there or that a barge is coming from the other side and will smash you to smitherines if you are in the way) red WITH green (like in this photo) means the bridge is getting ready for you (so you know somebody somewhere has seen you), and green means OK to go NOW. Out of courtesy boaters try to move through as quickly as they safely can.
After a week in Almere Buiten we’d modified our plans given changes in the plans of visitors- they are not coming. So instead of going to Belgium we are back to our original plan: take the canal to Berlin. It’s a 600 kilometer cruise. If we are not pushing the throttle to the max we can cruise at 10 kph so it will take us about a month at a reasonable pace, and given we’d like to enjoy the beautiful German countryside other boaters have told us about. But first we must get through the border, as of today still closed. Germany has experienced a bit of a bounce after they started to relax restrictions so we wonder if the June 1 date will come and go with a fence keeping us in Nederlands. We depart from Almere Buiten to saunter towards the border in the hope of finding a welcome mat.
We arrived a Ketlehaven in a bit of a storm so spent the night at the lock. We passed through the next mornig, a 5 meter rise, then proceeded to get a bit confused about how to get to the Issel River which will take us to Zwartesluis. There is a good mechanic who should be able to solve the Mystery of the Suddenly Not Working Solar Panels, which had been quite effective in the sunshine we were enjoying in Almere.
We were unable to see the yellow markers along the shore and given that there are no channel markers we elected to go the longer but safer route. It was a pretty nice day, a bit gray but low winds and no rain. It was a pleasant ride to the shop. They said they were quite busy but would try to give us an hour. They gave us three the next morning. The friendly mechanic found corrosion inside our 24 volt panel’s junction box. The panel is about 15 years old so this is no surprise and confirmed my suspicions. We simply disconnected it and rewired the two 12 volt panels to produce 24 volt and we were getting amps flowing into the battery, more than enough to run our refrigerator.
Our next stop Meppel, another ghost town, with two old windmills and nary a soul on the street. However there are chairs piled outside some of the restaurants, and a bar had employees looking as if they were getting ready for business. Nederlands is set to allow restaurant service as of June 1 and given the 0 growth rate in cases, I think there is a big party coming.