Der Rhein


Everything has to start somewhere. This bridge in Konstanz on the Swiss border marks the official start of the Rhein River, or point zero on the 1939 Rheinkilometer scale. From here, the Rhein flows west and north through Germany, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands to de Hoek van Holland and marker 1036.20.

grpx_170101_135We’ve always wanted to drop a motor-free boat in here and simply float downstream to the Hook. You can do it too, thanks to centuries of engineering and several canals. For most of the river’s history, you would have been arrested several times over as a spy, of course, but these days, things are much more friendly.

This course ignores the two upper Alpine Rhines that feed Lake Constance from Lake Toma in southern Switzerland. The cycling route EuroVelo 15 starts near there in my old stomping grounds of Andermatt and runs 1,233 kilometers through 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites before it ends at the Hook. Pack really high quality rain gear. It will get a lot of use.

grpx_170101_158The Romans considered the Rhein the absolute outer edge of civilization and only crossed it in an occasional publicity stunt for home consumption. For centuries, the French tried to make it the official border with Germany, even though the Germans had long populated what they called the Rheinland on the western bank. In 1918, the victorious French occupied the area, but then withdrew. In 1936, when Adolf Hitler kept his election campaign promise to move back into the Rheinland, the French could have easily brought his government crashing down and maybe even prevented World War II (he certainly thought so). But by then, they were too quarrelsome and exhausted to even try.

From childhood, I recall massive traffic jams along the Rhein, with massive convoys of American tanks and troops endlessly shuttling back and forth for all to take note. I also recall heaps of rubble and bullet-ridden buildings still left over 20 years after the War. And a lot of people still talking about the War, especially the Germans, always explaining something.

Today, that part of our shared history seems to have vanished. These days, the Rhein is all about connection rather than division. Sounds like a good enough thing.


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