Sunday 24 October 2010

My First Ride Along the Rhine

I was not the only Sunday cyclist riding along the Rhine
Taking advantage of the very rare opportunity in Düsseldorf to enjoy some weekend sunshine, I finally took the rather neglected Marinoni down from the rack and decided to make my way to the banks of the Rhine and meander down the bikepath for a while.

The route was easy as I am now getting used to riding the smaller side streets of the city and avoiding the traffic and streetcar tracks.  Even nicer, the bridge over the railway tracks that joins Grüner Strasse and Jülich Strasse is closed to motor vehicles while it is undergoing repairs so I happily sailed across it all by myself on the marked bikelane.

Reaching the Rhine’s east bank, around 4 kms from the apartment, I turned right and rode along a bikepath, a little way back from the river.  There are a lot of sports fields, which were well-used by people playing soccer, and there were many many joggers out as well.  The bike path here is not ideal, being broad but unpaved.  Further to the north, one has the choice of riding amongst the pedestrians on a wider and smoothly-paved path, or riding a bricked and rather narrow bidirectional bikepath.  There were not too many pedestrians out, so I took the smoother route.

I stopped to photograph some of the barges on the Rhine.  The amount of commercial river traffic must be seen to be believed and this fine Sunday was no exception.  I rode past the huge Messe Düsseldorf trade fairgrounds and then alongside the municipal waterworks.  The path was much better here, with few pedestrians.  I would have put on some speed but for the fact that there was a massive headwind making its way south from the North Sea, so I could not get much more than a steady 28 km/h.  I looked forward to the ride back, however.

It was pleasant enough to cruise along the river, and look at the barges.  Sometimes I passed fields with horses and I saw a few impressive modern bridges.  Aircraft passed overhead, taking off from the nearby Düsseldorf airport, one of the busiest in Germany.  The landscape is fairly flat and not all that interesting here but I was not complaining as it was good to get out in the fresh air.  The path turned a bit more towards the river and I passed a charming restaurant with a garden, “At the Old Rhine Ferry.”  And, sure enough, just ahead was a ferry for crossing the river.  There was a small village on the other side, but since a large bridge was just up the Rhine, it must be kept up by tradition.  It was fairly busy, but there were pedestrians and cyclists as well as automobiles using it.

The ferry sets off against the current, all flags flying in the wind
Riding back past the inn, I found a rather narrow paved path that would lead me to my destination today, Kaiserswerth.  The path was marked for pedestrians, and “frei” for cyclists, meaning I would have no special rights.  It was slow going as I had to navigate carefully between the Sunday strollers with the children and dachshunds, but soon I saw some impressive ruins on the right and a bit further Marktstrasse, which seemed promising.

Kaiserswerth has been part of Düsseldorf for 80 years but is in fact an older place.  It was apparently founded by St. Suitbert (or Swithbert) when he established a monastery there at the end of the 7th Century.  He is one of Germany’s six (as far as I can tell) patron saints.  The others include the famous St. George and then a lot of not-so-celebrated names: Kilian of Würzburg; Bruno of Cologne; Peter Canisius; and the euphonious Adalbert of Magdeburg.  Canada only has two patron saints and neither has a particularly impressive name.  But I digress.

The cobblestoned street was fairly easy to ride up and I saw several very old buildings.  One was very much in the Dutch style and is now a restaurant, “Im Schiffchen,” a common motif in Nordrhein-Westfalen.  The other was the old customshouse, and dated to the 17th Century.  Around the corner was a little square with a fine church and related buildings.  One was a hospital, where Florence Nightingale learned to become a nurse.  Next to the church are the impressive ruins I saw while cycling along the river.  These are the remains of the Kaiserpfalz, a fortified structure that was the temporary seat of the Holy Roman Emperor.  The town had been known as Werth previously but the imperial association turned it into Kaiserswerth.  This did not work out so well: Emperor Henry IV, who was a minor, was abducted from Kaiserswerth by the Archbishop of Cologne in 1062 as a way of establishing a regency to control the Empire.

All that remains of the Kaiserpfalz
When St. Suitbert set up his monastery, Werth was actually an island in the Rhine, and over time it became strategically very important.  It changed hands a number of times during various wars, most recently in 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession, when the French occupied it and it came under siege for two months.  By the time the Allied powers defeated the French garrison (and believe me, you don’t need to know much about the causes of this war), the place was pretty much wrecked.  The Kaiserpfalz, or what was left of it, was used as a quarry by local residents rebuilding.  And Werth had long ceased to be an island: the Rhine silted up and the island found itself attached to the east bank of the river.

Leaving Kaiserswerth, which is a popular place although not much was going on, I rode back inland from the river a bit, passing a number of fancy equestrian establishments.  I eventually rejoined the Rhine bikepath after enjoying some nicely-paved agricultural roads and arrived back home after a ride of 30 kms.  A bit less, actually, because I had a flat tire about 600 m from the apartment and walked the last bit rather than fixing it on the street.  Even acquiring a very sharp bit of metal in my tire was not enough to dampen my spirits after this pleasant ride.  And my timing was good as soon after the skies closed in and the rain came down yet again.

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