This pen and ink is of a cove in Brandenburg, off the River Havel. Brandeburg an der Havel, the full name of the city, is one of the most charming in Germany and rivals many in Europe.
Entering a lock
I filmed this video as we were entering a lock on the Mittleland Kanal in Germany. I had to stop as we were close to docking as I need both hands and sometimes more to get us to the side of the lock where we can secure the boat for the ride up or down.
Potsdam, the residence of the Kaiser until 1918, was planned on the ideas of the enlightenment “…through a careful balance of architecture and landscape.” (Wiki) It is indeed a lovely city with some magnificent architecture, including Charlottenburg Palace with its surprisingly attractive decoration, paintings and objects. The city borders what was once called West Berlin.
The area has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The city was established by Slavs in the 7th century. The earliest written reference dates to 972. It was granted a town charter in 1345. By the late 1800’s it was a steel producer and for that became a major target of the Allies in WWII.
The surrounding area has many lakes and the views from the river are quite lovely. The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof Palace. Babelsberg is a major film studio and has been an important studio since the fall of the wall, when this region joined Western Germany. The city is home to the University of Potsdam, three colleges and many research institutes. The Glienicke Bridge is also called the Bridge of Spies. It connected Potsdam to West Berlin, where exchanges of spies took place.
Sansoucci Palace is a World Heritage Site, I believe for its magnificent and large gardens.
The Alter Markt (Old Market) contains several magnificent buildings on a large square adjoining the Havel River.
Charlottenburg Palace is far more opulent than I expected. The Prussian kings were comparatively minor in the history of Europe. They managed to filch quite the fortune to build this joint.
Getting around by bike is quite pleasant. There are bike paths most everywhere. We used them to see the Dutch section, with houses in the Dutch style. The parks are peaceful and aplenty. The marina is well located and very near tram lines, which we used to visit the Russian section, where there are a half dozen or so old wooden houses in excellent condition.
There was more to see and much to do than we allocated time for, as we are on to Berlin!
Bülstringen and Wolfsburg, Germany
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.
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.
Almere to Meppel
May 27, 2020
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.
Back on the boat in Netherlands
May 18, 2020
From a masked airplane ride from Madrid we proceeded to the masked train ride but not before a perfunctory interview upon debarking the KLM flight from Madrid. They did not keep the virus questionnaire at the end of the 30 second interview. That saved time helped us make a perfect connection to the train. Train schedules are much reduced here probably due to reduced ridership. We appreciated the fortuity, not just of the timing for the train but for how well the journey had gone given the uncertainty we faced. Our good forture continued even to the gate at the marina. We’d been give the wrong gate code although I’d asked a few days before. The resident harbor master saw us from his boat and opened it for us with his remote control. We could not know if anyone would be there to greet us aside from the 90+ year old who is, or was until now, the only one allowed to live aboard.
Once off the train we removed our masks. There were few people about and none masked and none close so we posed no mutual risk the entire 1.8 kilometer walk from the train station. During the next few days we had no need to get close to anyone other than chance encounters in the supermarket aisles. The public facilities at the marina are closed. No showers, toilets or laundry facilities. Their little restaurant remains shuttered.
For a few days we went about cleaning the boat deck and other exterior elements. It was a wet winter so the deck was green with algae. Then it was getting the heater to work. Nighttime temperatures were close to freezing so having a bit of heat in the morning is helpful. We do not run it at night as the heater runs off of diesel fuel so if fumes enter the living area you can suffer CO poisoning. One of the bikes would not shift gears so I had to mess with it. Then there was trying to remember where things were stored and how we did things last year. It took a few days before we left on Saturday.
By 0930 on Saturday the skies were sunny with a slight breeze. We turned the boat around to make departure easier from the narrow space and headed down the canal from Dronten towards Almere, about 40 km. Everything checked out ok as we went but then about 20 minutes later I noticed that the engine was running hot. I checked below and things were steamy so we floated in the canal while I figured out what had gone wrong.The hoses were all intact, the water pump belt was still entact, and the pump that circulates canal water through the engine’s heat exchanger was working- that’s the first thing you check before you depart. I decided to restart the engine and add coolant. The temperature came down and remained at the proper level for the rest of our journey. I concluded that the thermostat must have been stuck in the closed position. We ordered a new one and a spare belt.
Otherwise we had no issues along the way and after two days of sunshine our solar panels have kept our batteries almost fully charged the entire time. After a few days more these stopped working. I exhausted my diagnostic skills trying to find out what happened.
In Almere we had our first visitors. Our long time friends Kees and Ada, whom we met on the Eem in the village of Eemdijk in 2000, have two daughters. Marcella and Bart in turn have two daughters. They came by for drinks and snacks at 1700. It was just our second visit with anyone since March 9. On the deck we can keep a good distance. Inside it’s another matter so no one was allowed in. We joked and recounted stories for a few hours and even then, the sun showed no sign of tiring out.
After a week in Almere and a complete change of plans, we headed back to Dronten before a stop in Hasselt and then Zwartesluis (Black Lock) to try to find help with the solar panels. After that we hope to cross into Germany to start the 600 km voyage to Berlin via canal. It’s a beautiful route that takes a few weeks if you push hard. The borders with the Netherlands are still closed in both directions.
Paintings and drawings of ships and boats of the Netherlands
During our many travels to the Netherlands we have seen many boats and owned two ourselves. Viking is our current boat. We have seen two Tall Ships parades that terminated in Amsterdam, one in 2000 and another in 2015. These are magnificent sailing ships with three to fives masts. Here are my paintings and drawings.
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Dokkum, crawling under bridges
August 25, 2019
In 2000 we came to Dokkum, a small town in Friesland, the northeast section of the Nederlands. It has two thatched roof windmills whose sails are lit at night with a subtle purple light.
On the way to Dokkum we stopped in a tiny town called Wijns (wines). There are 258 residents as of the last official count. Many were in the small park next to the restaurant, which was booked for lunch and had no reservation space for dinner, although we got in as it turns out there is a section reserved for those without reservations – who would have thunk it? Children frolicked in the canal. Women changed clothes behind trees and sun bathed topless. Boats loped past. Sheep plead for dinner, not to be it.
To the southeast there is a route back to Leeuwarden, rather than the route we took to get here. There are 7 or 8 bridges that are barely high enough to pass under. We have to come to a complete stop and kneel on the deck as we pass under the bridge. Many of the bridges are lined with kids who dive or jump into the water on this hot day. At one bridge two older teens climbed onto our swim platform, talking to us as we proceeded. It was getting too far for a swim back to the bridge when they saw people coming towards us on a small boat. They asked for a ride back and were welcomed aboard. They swam over to the craft.
We came to a mooring that promised shade for the remainder of the day. We had just this boat with two people and a gaggle of noisy Canadian geese for neighbors. Wine and cheese on the deck!
Hoorn to Lelystad
July 30, 2019
Leaving Hoorn is an easy affair, passing by the wonderful old keep at the entrance to the old harbor. From there the crossing to Lelystad takes you across the Markermeer. We skipped the bird sanctuary just off the coast and then found the convoluted entrance to Lelystad. The bouys take you along the break water instead of directly to the entrance. Then there is a lock with a 5 meter (16′) drop to the polder, called Flevoland. The land that was recovered from the sea in the mid- 1960’s, thus all the towns are comparatively new and devoid of the traditional architecture that makes the country so interesting.
After the lock there is a bit of a ride to moorings outside town. We stayed a night at one but finding a poor internet signal we found another, and it turned out to be quite a lovely spot!
There is room for 4-5 boats, it is quiet and peaceful, and just a 5km ride to Lelystad, or you can take the bus whose stop is just 5 minutes by foot. There is a derelict boat, its windshield covered with paint, being the only blot on the scene. Someone is living on it, who is apparenty handicapped. A wheelchair sits on the dock. It came and went several times while we were there. We never saw the person, who must go to town to charge the chair as there is no electricity at this location. There were several friendly people on the other boats. Coming in, there was only room at the end of the dock, a difficult spot to secure. A woman came to us offering to move their boat, having just returned from their bike ride. They then helped us dock, as it was a tight fit.
We took the bus to the Batavialand Museum. It has several significant attractions. The Batavia is a replica of the flagship of the Dutch East India Company. The original was built in 1628. It carried a large cargo including spices from Indo-China, for which the people acquired a taste which remains to this day. Kip sate (chicken with a peanut sauce) is a popular offering. A rice tafel is an elaborate dining experience, with a wide variety of meats and veggies served on a lazy Susan.
Also in the museum is a huge tapestry, reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry. It is a history of the area, starting with prehistoric times. Link to video. It was done by a group of about 27 volunteers including artists, embroiderers and amateur historians.
Nearby there is an exhibit with an excellent English guide taking you through the exhibits of early settlements in the area, dating to 5000 BCE. They moved from place to place to find the high ground, often returning to the same locations once the waters receded.
Next we came to Dronten, a forgettable town with a pleasant harbor that is organized as an association, meaning in this case that everything is done by volunteers. One of them came from South Africa. He explained that there were conflicts between Africans and the white population, as well as between the Afrikaners who speak a form of Dutch and the English speaking population, of which he was a part. He was of Dutch heritage however. He also had huge properties in Mozambique. He lost them when the government forcibly removed control of land from foreigners.
Then came Zwolle, which we had visited in our boat Caprice in 2000. They were working on the harbor at the time. It is quite attractively done but from our point of view there are several shortcomings. The piers are short so when you dock you can easily come against the boats next to you. With the wind pushing us that is exactly what happened. However the people on the boat had anticipated the problem and were there to push us off and keep the bow from hitting the dock. Boaters always help one another like this. The second issue is the vertical ladder you need to get to the land. It is about 1.5 meters high. One slip and you could face a serious injury. Getting bikes up is quite a challenge. Fortunately our little bike is light so I was able to get it to the repair shop for a bit of wheel truing, although I had feared I would need a new wheel.
In the morning we went to the street market on Gasthausplein. Lots of vegetables and fruit, as well as the fish truck. A friendly shop owner repaired one of our phones. He spoke no English. We are finding more people here than elsewhere who speak little or no English.