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 . 

The VW plant in Wolfsburg

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.

Bülstringen church small
The church dates from the 13c. It has a fine baroque interior but the church was closed when we visited. Also there is a large pulpit. Pen, brush and ink.

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.

One of a number of half timber structures in the village.

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.


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.

minden aqueduct
Weser River seen from the aqueduct
Boat entering the aqueduct. We moored on the right, the first boat you can see in full..

The Schacht Pumping Station

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.

These five half timber house holds the Minden Museum, closed when Peg took this photo

The ornate pulpit in Minden Cathedral. It was rather dim and we could not enter so you can not see its intricacy very well.

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.

Schnitzels at the biergarten.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.