How I fell in love with Germany
Russell Hafter, formerly proprietor of Russell Hafter Holidays, was an impressionable teenager when he caught his first glimpse of the Rhine.
It was always taken for granted in our family that being able to speak other languages was not just a ‘good thing’, but essential. And so, in the summer of 1966, just after leaving school at the age of 18, I found myself on the Loreley Express from Hoek van Holland to Bonn, where I was met by my father’s cousin Helmut and his mother, my great aunt Annie (who, in spite of being over 50 percent Jewish had lived through the entire Nazi period in Hamburg with no more problems than most).
Living with Dad’s cousin came with many new experiences. One was living in a flat, rather than a three storey house. Another was living over a Gasthof, which must have imprinted itself deeply on my subconscious at the time. Even more memorable was working in a small factory making mechanical adding machines, among half a dozen workers with not a word of English among them. But most impressive of all was that huge river at the end of the street, just a few yards walk from the flat.
While I had grown up on the banks of the Thames, rowed across it at high tide and waded to the island in the middle at low tide, the Rhine was utterly different. It was hugely impressive, with hundreds of real ships, some racing downstream, others slogging upstream against the current. These ships had cars parked on the aft cabin roof! Scattered among the cargo ships were the wonderful white steamers of the Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheindampfschifffahrt. Those two words may have been hard to pronounce, but they certainly stuck in my mind, conjuring up all sorts of romantic images.
Finally, one Sunday afternoon I felt I could afford to spend some of my earnings on a steamer trip, from Königswinter on the opposite bank to Andernach and back. Though I later discovered that castles are not as frequent on this stretch as they are south of Koblenz, there were more than enough to awake a fascination with this great river that remains with me today. On the return journey, after much thought, I splashed out another couple of Deutschmarks on a little guide book All about the Rhine, which I still have, and which still, in spite of (or perhaps because of!) the poor English, evokes the magic of the great river.
Some 46 years on, at least in part in homage to that teenage discovery of one of Europe’s truly great rivers, I offer ***walking holidays (among many others) along the Rhine Castles Way between Koblenz and Bingen.
***Since writing this article, Russell has announced his retirement. His itineraries are now being offered by Macs Adventures.
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