Our most recent river cruise on the Rhine and Mosel rivers, began on August 31 flying from Miami to Frankfurt and then on to Basel, Switzerland. After a good night’s sleep on the River Harmony we awoke to begin our tour of Basel, Switzerland. We rode the trolley into the center of this lovely city but heavy rain prevented us from spending more time admiring the area. We did visit the Munster (Cathedral) with an attractive cloister; admired the Trinke Fountains formed from gears and other pieces from the original theater sets. The market square is colorful and busy. Public toilets are common throughout the city.
After lunch on board the ship we listened to a guest speaker who spoke about Switzerland today. Basel is one of the largest cities in Switzerland and shares borders with Germany and France within a 25 minute bicycle ride. Before WWI there were no borders between the three countries but Switzerland’s neutrality during the war resulted in the their creation. Kevin and his wife frequently ride their bikes to Germany or France to buy goods which are cheaper than in Switzerland. They can bring in goods up to 300 swiss francs each time.
There are 8.5 million people in Switzerland with 52 train tunnels and 50 auto tunnels over 2 miles long. 25% of persons living in Switzerland are non-Swiss. In many cases, the parents have worked in Switzerland. Persons living here for 12 years can apply to take a history test and show proof of a job with earnings to receive a “foreigners passport”. This can be renewed two times and then the individual can apply for a Swiss passport. In 1971 women were granted the right to vote. Military service is mandatory unless one applies for civil service which must be twice as long as the military commitment of one year.
This evening we began sailing towards Strasborg France, our next port.
Sunday, September 3 Early this morning we stopped in Strasborg, France which was certainly one of our favorite towns on the tour. We rode the local tram into town where we marveled at the spectacular buildings many with wooden half timbered homes we had admired during our times in Germany. Flowers were hanging from windows and along quaint bridges. We stopped to watch the “turning bridge” which literally turned to right angles to allow boats to pass through.
We enjoyed watching shoppers purchasing the local cheeses in the market square.This charming village became a free imperial city of the German Empire in 1262 and then was occupied by France in 1681 and again by Germany in 1871. After WWI, France regained possesion in 1919. Following our walking tour, we ended in the town center where we were able to admire the strikingly beautiful Gothic Strasborg Cathedral whose single spire dominates the city.
After lunch, we departed on a tour of the Alsace countryside. This was a lovely ride through vineyards lining each side of the narrow roads. Many of the small villages compete with spectacular plantings of flowers along the roads and yards of the small homes. At the entrance to each town they display one, two or three flowers on the town sign indicating the awards the town has received.
A highlight of this excursion was a visit to the Stork Farm. This farm was established in 1976 after discovering the previous year that only 75 storks returned to nest. Beginning in 1976, 2-3 eggs were removed from each nest and the hatchlings were raised by hand. For three years these hatchlings were raised in an aviary preventing them from migrating with the rest of the storks. After the three year period these hand raised storks had lost the migrating instinct and remained in the park. After many years of successfully raising flocks of non-migrating storks they now allow the non-resident storks to raise their young and migrate each year. It was interesting to see the hundreds of storks in the park . The stork nests which we have seen on chimney tops can weigh up to 1 ton and are now supported with wooden beams to prevent them from pulling down and chimneys. After this stop we visited a quaint village,Kayersburg, where we walked up the steep main street snapping photos along the way. The lovely scenes and signs hanging outside shops added to the photogenic atmosphere. We visited a macaroon shop and later sampled the excellent local pinot gris wine. Of course we had to stop for an espresso and pastry at a local shop.
Monday, September 4 Today we docked in Baden Baden Germany, a town we had visited in 1961 during our time living in Viernheim. This town has been renowned since Roman days for its thermal baths. We revisited the Kurhaus, the casino, and The Trinkhalle, the mineral fountains .
The Kurhaus is the center for the thermal baths. Some of our group took advantage of the bathing opportunity. This is a lovely town with colorful plantings particularly of dahlias and the graceful ivy geraniums hanging from the windows
Tuesday, September 5 Today we again visited Speyer, a town remembered from our time living in the Rhineland. The Romans founded this town in AD 50 where it flourished in the Middle Ages. The lovely Romanesque Cathedral built between 1030 and 1125 was as lovely as we remembered it.
After lunch we all set off for our home-hosted Kaffeeklatsch. Our hostess was a most hospitable hostess names Ursula. Her home is large with an enormous garden area filled with vegetables and fruit trees. The three floor home originally housed her two daughters on the lower floor and her mother on the top floor. She now rents the top and bottom floors. Ursula was born during WWII. Her father was a German Naval officer who was captured by the Russians. He sent word to her Mother to leave eastern Germany where they lived as soon as possible since he knew that the Russians would be invading. Her mother took her to West Germany where they were eventually reunited with her Dad. We had an interesting time with Ursula enjoying delicious cake and coffee followed by pleasant wine as she talked about her life and her current opinion of Angela Merkel, whom she admires.
Wednesday, September 6 This morning we spent much of the morning on the upper deck admiring the castles along the Rhine as well as passing by the Lorelei. Legend tells us that this imposing 440 foot rock overlooking the river was the home to a lovely siren, Lorelei, who lured sailors to their deaths on the reef below the rock with her singing.
We arrived in Boppard . We toured this small town including its magnificent promenade with the hanging pots of ivy geraniums lining the street. Stopping at St. Severus Church we learned the legend of the selection of a bishop of the church. Severus was a weaver, who while resting from his labors, he entered the church where the selection of the bishop of the church was being conducted. The selection process was not going well. As he sat in the church a beam of sunlight and a white dove landed on Severus’s shoulder. The church elders seeing this phenomenon believed that this was a sign from God that Severus was to be the bishop. Therefore the church was dedicated to and named Saint Severus Church. In the town square in front of a pastry shop was a very sweet statue recognizing the previous owner who always handed out cookies to the children,
Thursday September 7 This morning we enjoyed sailing along the banks of the Mosel viewing the Reisling Wine Vineyards stretching acre upon acre up the steep hills. Small towns lined the banks between the vineyardsIn the afternoon we docked in Bernkastle with its sister city, Kues, sitting on the opposite bank. Touring this picturesque town with its half timbered homes we arrived for our wine tasting opportunity at Doctor Vineyards where we were escorted into the cave by the husband of the owner. We were given the opportunity to taste 3 Reisling wines which were excellent. We learned about the pruning of the vines which takes place in the spring. On each vine two of the strongest branches are chosen and bent to form a heart shape where they are tied to the stake. This will be the next year’s vine. We also were told about the flint in the soil of the vineyards as we had heard in the Duoro Valley, Portugal. The vineyards are planted on the sunny side of the slopes. During the day the flint absorbs the heat from the sun and at night is able to maintain the warmth in the soil. This area is considered a micro-climate as are most of the successful vineyards. Reflection from the river also increases the humidity and warmth. Roots of these vines extend 10 to 12 feet through the flint and into the soil below. A most interesting experience for us all.
Friday, September 8 This morning we attended an interesting discussion about the European Union. The EU is comprised of 28 member states which results in marked differences within the Union including 24 major languages and 200 dialects making communication difficult at times. The EU was founded in 1951 and included Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands and Luxembourg. The primary incentive for this union was to control the distribution of coal and steel and to prevent war between the countries. Robert Schumann, born in Luxembourg, was considered the father of the European Union.
The European Parliament was located in Strasbourg. There were 750 deputies selected for a five year term. There was an opinion that the smaller countries had more representation than they should while the larger countries had lesser. Individuals pay taxes to the town in which they live but do not pay taxes directly to the EU. The EU budget is 200 billion per year most of which goes to infrastructure and agriculture. The Council of the EU decides on foreign policy. The EU commission is located in Brussels and proposes legislation to the Council. The Court of Justice ( similar to our Supreme Court) is located in Luxembourg and resolves conflicts between countries and individual conflicts against a country. Members of Parliament are chosen by their country. There are 99 members from Germany. Each is paid the same by the EU. Money for the budget comes from the individual countries. Larger countries pay more based on the GNP of the country. Germany pays 24.7% of the total budget.
There is popular support for the EU but regional differences occur. These differences derive from generational and educational levels of European citizens. The Erasmus Project allows students from one country to go to another EU member state for 1 year for education. It is believed this will help in the understanding between countries.
The speaker commented that Brexit was not \strongly desired but the British were sending a message to the EU. He believes it will serve as an example to other countries of the difficulties resulting from departure from the Union.
The individual countries wish to keep their own military but the majority belong to NATO. Sweden and Finland are the only two not members of NATO at the moment. Countries desiring entry into the EU include Turkey which is an unrealistic wish, according to the speaker, since they are moving closer to Islamic philosophy. Other countries hoping to join are Ukraine, which is a long term possibility; Serbia and Yugoslavia. Montenegro will be accepted soon.
After this onboard discussion we moved on to visit Trier. We saw the Porta Nigra ( Black Gate) which is a massive stone city entrance built around AD 200 and the largest surviving city gate from Roman times.
We also enjoyed seeing the spectacular Rococo Palace
Saturday, September 9
Today was a relaxing day on board ship. We were fascinated watching the captain maneuver our over 300 foot long craft through a lock. There is no more than ten inches of open space on each side of the ship as we wait for the lock to fill and allow us to proceed.
We certainly enjoyed the time to observe the small villages as we sail by.
Sunday, September 10
Today we left the ship to tour the Reichsburg Castle . This castle overlooking the river was believed to be built in the eleventh century. King Louis XIV burned it during the War of the Palantine Succession. The castle then remained in ruins until 1868 when a Berlin entrepreneur, Louis Ravene, purchased it and returned it to its former glory by turing it into a summer home for him and his family. Since 1978 the city of Cochem has owned the castle and opened it to the public. The gardens of tuberous begonias were spectacular as we climbed up the steep cobblestones leading to the ramparts. The castle tour allowed us to admire the many pieces of antique furniture and wood carvings within the numerous rooms.
The town of Cochem is a quaint German village with a large market square and many small street leading to the St, Michael fountain.
Monday September 11
Today we had a lecture on Germany as a nation of immigrants. The archaeologist who presented the discussion began by stating that one in four persons living in Germany is an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant. Following WWII Konrad Adenauer encouraged immigration since the country had a low birthrate and the rebuilding of Germany required many guest workers to help rebuild. In the 1960s working visas were given to workers who had remained for 4 years and had a good record. Many refugees came to Germany from Eastern Europe. Managing integration was an ongoing problem, Angela Merkel in 2015 invited many fleeing Middle East refugees. To control the problem of integration she proposed two ways refugees could enter legally : 1. Marry a German citizen or 2. apply to the university. Smugglers are bringing in illegals for thousands of dollars. During January to August many refugees have drowned in overcrowded boats. 750,000 persons have entered Germany. If asylum is granted the individuals are placed in camps where they receive some money. Overcrowding results in criminal activity. German is taught in three segments of classes. There are long periods between these segments and frequently applicants lose what they had learned in the previous classes.
To work individuals need to know German. Three years are required to enter a career track. Many look for easier jobs . Terrorists attacks are blamed on refugees when this is frequently not the case. Youth of previous immigrants often do not find work and are frustrated and angry. The country remains split over the immigration problem. The costs of medical and retirement programs must be absorbed by the government. Fewer Germans now believe that refugees should be allowed into the country. Germany is now paying 6-7 billion dollars to other countries to encourage them to keep refugees from leaving.
There are areas such as Brussels where a large number of jihadist fighters have been found in ethnic ghettos. Students have dropped out of school and have identity crises where their Moroccan heritage has been ignored and their status in Belgium is not accepted. Are they Moroccan or Belgium? The youngest are recruited via the internet where 400 to 450 youth have joined the ranks. A pattern emerges where impressionable youth born in Belgium drop out of school and are missing structure in their lives then meet a recruiter who offers acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Germany is trying to change this narrative by contacting over 600 youth daily who are not only Muslim but fit the above pattern. They try to inspire the youth and provide a strong community where they feel a sense of belonging.
Our visit to Bonn’s Old Town was an interesting exposure to the Baroque City Walls and the Romanesque Basilica. Bonn was the provisional capital of West Germany from the end of WWII until the reunification in 1990.
Tuesday September 12
Today we entered the Netherlands. Our first stop was at the Netherlands oldest citiy, Nijmegen. We toured this picturesque town with its distinctive stepped roofs and narrow, tall buildings. It was reminiscent of our previous visits to the Netherlands as we passed the bicycle parking lots with bikes lined up on each side of the street.
The railroad bridge which spans the River Waal was a critical objective for the Allies in WWII to hold the area between Lent and Nijmegen during what is called Operation Market Garden. A speaker detailed this operation for us. On the tenth of May 1940 the Netherlands were occupied by the Germans. In September 1944 three airborne drops of 10,000 British and American troops were made. Six thousand were lost in this failed invasion. The intent was to capture three bridges beginning in Belgium. The bridge at Nijmegen was not captured. .
That evening we enjoyed a presentation by our very personable Captain. He spent time discussing our ship, the River Harmony. This wooden ship was built in Germany in 1999. She is 110 meters in length. A captain must have a license for each port entered plus detailed knowledge of each part of the rivers sailed. Previous to becoming the Captain of the River Harmony our captain grew up on the river first with his familie’s barge and then owning his own barge. He was asked what dangers occur on the river. A captain must know when the river is too high or too low and seek a safe harbor. High winds make river boats difficult to navigate. At full power the ship can do 24 km/hr but all depends upon the current and the depth of the river at the time. The engines are diesel and there are two generators on the ship plus a back-up. The “bluebird” marker outside the pilot house indicates ships should pass starboard of the River Harmony. The ship going upstream controls the passage. It is important to understand the needs of both cargo and cruise ships. A cargo ship must have 24cm of clearance. The steering system is totally manual. The ship has enough drinking water of 30-40 tons per day for 5 days. The ship has a 5 foot draft. The many cargo ships we observed carry harvests of sunflower and corn as well as steel, wood, coal and scrap iron.
Wednesday September 13
Today we visited Kinderdijk, a World Heritage Site, for its 19 original windmills. We visited the Blocker Mill believed to date back to 1521. If a city’s name in the Netherlands ends with “dam” then there is a dam present in the city. In 1100 the Dutch dug ditches around the wetlands to allow outlets to the sea. To prevent flooding which occurred each year they built “polders” which is a Dutch word meaning a low area of land surrounded by dikes and a dam to create usable land. In 1200 a Waterboard was created. Representative from each town or polder served on the board. The board was nonpolitical and each town was allowed to keep its own money contributed. This was the beginning of a long-range plan for the country. In 1366 the eastern waterboard built canals with windmills which picked up water in the low areas and dumped it into the canals. Much of the land is six feet below sea level. The Chief Miller is the person in the area who determines when water needs to be pumped into the canal. If the water becomes too high some can be held in storage lakes. In 1860 steam pumps were installed. In 1924 there was a discussion of abandoning the windmill system but this never occurred. Presently there is less rain and there is concern that the dikes may crumble. In an attempt to prevent this more water is retained in the canals.
In the past windmills were occupied by the miller and his family. They had large families is which the parents slept in beds sitting up and babies slept in drawers. Inside the windmill that we visited there were 3 levels. On the first level was the kitchen and the parents’ bedroom. The second floor was for the children and the third contained the mechanics for the windmill.
As we walked to the area of the windmills we passes the large archimedes screws which are now used to raise the water from the low areas to the canals or out to the river. This machinery was originally invented by Archimedes to raise water from the holes of ships in Greek times.
After lunch we visited the Delta Works here in Kinderdijk. This project has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The project is a series of construction projects in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. We toured the immense control building, one of many spread around the total area which consists of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers. We observed the enormous storm surge barriers in this particular area which would control an ocean storm surge that could inundate the area. This numerous collection of dams and sluices shortens the coastline of the Netherlands thereby reducing the number of dikes necessary. The visit was eye-opening and left us with a hope for the endangered coastline cities of the US who are consulting with these Dutch engineers.
Thursday, September 14
Today we had our last walking tour on our cruise. Antwerp, Belgium has a well-preserved Old Town and is the city where Pieter Paul Rubens was born and raised. The Port of Antwerp is one of the most important in all of Europe where more than 200 million tons of freight is moved annually. Great coffee and pastry were enjoyed here as in every other town visit on this memorable cruise. Here it was enhanced by superb Belgian chocolate. Occasional showers caused us to stop for lunch before visiting the Cathedral of our Lady to view the Rubens’ paintings. A delicious tomato soup and the European bread which we will sorely miss was a welcome break from the rain. Our mugs of Leffer Belgian Beer were most enjoyable.
We then walked across the square to visit the Cathedral of our Lady with its spectacular spires to view the four paintings by Peter Paul Rubens which were certainly a treat After this visit we returned to our ship to participate in a discussion of the “Radicalization of Belgium Youth”.
Inessa, the young Muslim woman from Antwerp who led the discussion ,was a 26 year old who spoke 5 languages and described herself as a world traveler. Inessa said that Muslims are not immune to terrorism and many more die in terrorist attacks than non-muslims. Belgium has had a problem with jihadists with Brussels having the largest number. These persons are usually residents of ethnic ghettos who drop out of school, exhibit severe identity crises and here are usually of Moroccan descent. The pattern is of a young person born in Belgium, school dropout and frequently having a prison record. They are unable to feel accepted in either ethnic group although they are frequently born in Belgium of Moroccan parents. The jihadists recruit among the youngest of these disaffected youth frequently via the internet. The recruiters are able to give structure to the youth’s life when there is none from family or community. Inessaa and her group are trying to change the narrative for these youth. Their organization contacts over 600 persons every day among both Muslim and non-muslim individuals. The goal is to create a strong community welcoming these people.
Inessa and two other students began her Muslim.com group while in college. They had no financial support and only a strong desire to change the lives of these disaffected youth. Inessa, who wears a headscarf, expected negative responses from her friends and community when she chose at age 23 to begin wearing a headscarf. People often tend to be fearful of Muslim people. In Europe when an attack occurs there is a strong backlash against the Muslim community. Although Inessa’s group is still in its formative stage she is hopeful that they can prevent some youth from becoming jihadist fighters and instead become part of a welcoming Muslim community within their host country.
This was our last night of our trip with the usual Farewell Dinner with delicious filet mignon and the parade of Baked Alaskas at the conclusion. Another enjoyable trip with interesting travel companions.