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Day 1 on the Mittelland Kanal

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.

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Three abreast in the Rode Lock. We rose 8 meters a teaspoon at a time.

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.

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This couple on this barge was with us for the day came over to talk after the long 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.

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In the older part of this town of 15,000 there are a number of half timber buildings dating back as far as 1663 (this one is now a tavern)
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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.

By Gary Kirkpatrick

Artist and travel blogger.

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