Savouring the Saar in slow time

Part 1 – the German stretch : 29th June to 14th July 2022

We turned onto the Saar at 1005 in the morning, saying goodbye to the Moselle which had been our friendly waterway for the past 11 days, and to Luxembourg where we had moored for the past four nights. Now we were in Germany and the scenery was immediately different; the vineyards disappeared and wooded valleys lined the banks.

Before long we were into our first Saar lock. We had been told that the left side (in our direction) would have floating bollards, an asset in these deep locks. With the usual great German engineering the locks operated smoothly and our ascent was gentle!

We discovered a new waterways sign on the Saar – the two white lines on a blue background.

It means that two boats can moor alongside each other between the signs, presumably because the river is wide enough at that point.

The words underneath mean it is suspended in winter service (Google translate) but dont depend on me for the interpretation.

Before we left the Mosel and turned onto the Saar we had phoned ahead and booked ourselves two nights on a pontoon owned by a restaurant in Saarburg. Usually we cruise in fingers crossed mode, and are very rarely unable to moor at our first choice. On this occasion, however, because we much preferred the idea of mooring beneath the castle at Saarburg rather than at the main mooring just outside of town we booked ahead for this ‘two-boat’ pontoon.

It was a good decision. We were then right next to this marvellous old town and could explore it easily. It is a fascinating place as you can see from these photos – quite a history.

We did climb up to the castle one morning, going before it got too hot. I think we counted 381 steps up to the very top of the tower.

Well worth it for the view! No wonder a` castle was built here.

We could even see Calliope far below.

Somehow we still had the energy for a bit of fun right at the top!

As well as getting to know the old town itself, walking the narrow streets, we also went to two of the museums because of the industrial heritage each displayed.

Just behind the mooring is a bell foundry, now a museum, but it feels as if the workers have just gone home for the night and will be back tomorrow. The making of a bell is an ingenious and time consuming process – especially making sure it rings the right note!

These photos show something of the place, but one really needs to be there to understand it all. One thing that stood out for Stewart and I was that the moment of pouring the molten brass into the carefully constructed mould is so important that the priest from the church that had ordered the bell would come to the foundry, with other dignitaries, to say prayers for a safe casting.

The other museum that attracted us was the watermill museum. Water cascades through the middle of the town, although that was not its original course. Alongside the cascade first one, then two, then three watermills were built to mill a variety of products. Two of these buildings now form a museum, with the water still pouring past and turning waterwheels.

It was a wonderful sound!

After two days and nights in town we set off for the country leaving the pretty and historic town of Saarburg behind.

We soon had another lock to rise up through. And this time I was fascinated by the structure of the gate at the top end.

Looking up from the depths I could see lines of small circles against the sky.

And down at my level there were much bigger circular spaces too.

They seem to be designed to let the water through in a slower more controlled ,manner – but I am happy for any engineer to correct me.

Then as we rose up I started to see the huge arcing mechanism that would lower the door in a curve to take it below the level fo the water when the lock was full.

This would allow barges to move over the door and into the river.

Fantastic! And a far cry from the lock gates of centuries gone when there would be big beams of wood for the bargees to push in order to open the doors – but the locks were much much shallower then!

For those as nerdy as me, or just fascinated by the movement of water, here is a little video of the gate going down, and the river beyond.

There are several long long quays along the Sarr (and other rivers) set aside for commercial barges to take a break overnight, at weekends and between jobs. Most of these have 20m at one or both end where Sportsboots (as we leisure boats are called in Germany) can moor.

We were off to sample two of these, passing along a spectacular river valley on the way, still with a few vineyards to be seen! And a chance to get the bed linen washed and dried before our guests arrived.

We arrived at the first long quay, at Hamm, on a Friday at around noon. We were pleased to see only one boat – a work boat – moored on the entire length. Surprisingly this was moored at the very far end, and was more than 20m. The other end had a sign for boats carrying dangerous cargo – definitely not us – so we went and moored behind the work boat, which was empty and seemingly there for the weekend.

Yes, that is little us, dwarfed by the landscape and the work boat!

The views to the vineyards on the hills opposite were lovely, though slightly spoilt by noise from a road opposite.

We went for a walk around the area – all countryside. It was definitely sunhat weather, and we were pleased to find a seat in the shade half way round! Then we settled down for the evening. In fact we settled down for two evenings, staying there a second night.

Just a couple of extras for this mooring – a visit from a silver fritillary butterfly and a fly past by an air balloon.

The next section of the journey was a part of the river loved by hotel and passenger boats, because it goes through Mettlach, historical home of Villeroy Bosch, and current home to one of their factory outlet shops, right on the river.

This meant that when we reached the lock at Mettlach we were told we must wait to use the smaller of the two locks until two passenger boats had left Villeroy Bosch and gone upstream through the lock.

This was the first tone on the Saar that we found the large (commercial barge) and small (private and smaller craft) locks side by side – a feature we saw often on the Moselle.

Not a problem; all part of life on the water. We tied up in sight of the lock and had lunch while we waited.

This voyage upstream towards our next mooring was even more spectacular, than the day before, including a hairpin bend with high wooded slopes each side. A wonderful ‘lookout’ has been built at the top right on the curve; we could just see people way up above us, looking down.

This photo may give a better idea of the scale, as we cruised on up river away from the ‘treetop walk.

In case you are going to be in the area, here is its website:

https://www.baumwipfelpfade.de/en/saarschleife/

Not far then to Schwemlingen, the second of our long quays.

This time there was a cabin cruiser at the far end and we went to tie up next to it. We liked it even more than Hamm and stayed three nights. A big commercial barge came and went and a couple of other Sportsboots visited for a night or two as well.

The commercial barge was carrying its family as well as its cargo and it was wonderful to see how the youngsters made use of the on board crane for fun.

It was getting hot, and they certainly had the right idea, putting the river too good use.

We too had a rolling strategy! As the weather warmed up we took advantage of the breezes by opening up the dog box on the roof. It somehow makes Calliope feel even more summery!

While we were there we took a walk over the bridge to Besseringen to find a bakery, and anything else of interest. We did find some nice bread, and an interesting piece of art at the end of the village hall, but little else to be honest.

We were entertained one evening by the local fireman and women coming to practise their rib and man-overboard skills, plus hose practise into the canal.

And we were certainly entertained, if not enthralled, by the sunsets!

While we were moored up we had seen a lovely old tjalk pass by and had exchanged happy waves with the crew. Next day we found ourselves passing them, waving again.

Then at the next lock, with only a large commercial lock top use, we were asked (told!) to wait for another boat.

And after 15 minutes or so, who should arrive but the tjalk and crew!

We would have been happy to share the lock with any boat, but it was particularly nice to get a bit closer to this lovely boast and crew.

Captain Stu, being at the stern, was able to have a good chat with them as we slowly rose up to the top.

waved

We continued on our way, with fingers crossed, towards Saarlouis. We knew that the pontoon there was only about 40m long. Luck was on our side and we found a half empty pontoon to welcome the ‘just-under-20m’ Calliope; smiles all round.

Saarlouis rather took us by surprise. We had done no research beyond knowing that there was a big supermarket near the mooring.

What we were not prepared for was finding a town immersed in the history of Franco/German conflict. At one point in time Louis, the Sun King of France, ordered Vauban to build fortifications here – and many still remain.

Also there are lovely narrow side streets in the old part of town now given over to café and bar culture. We sat ourselves down and enjoyed salad with a local ‘pizza’ – the base was made of good German potato!

We were only supposed to have one night on the pontoon, but we sneaked in a second one (sorry to disobey the rules, but no other boats came along wanting to moor there). This allowed us to see a bit more of the town, and to stock up on beer and wine before our visitors arrived. Bizarrely the huge supermarket had hardly any beer and no wine boxes!

We also got our first view of the Saar Polygon. This is a monument commemorating the coal mining industry in Saarland, which ended in June 2012. As you move around it it appears to change shape – a very clever piece of design.

I keep giving weblinks in this blog – but there are so many things that I’d like you to know more about than I can describe or photograph. So here is a link to the Saar Polygon. https://www.bergbauerbesaar.de

I tried to get a few photos as we cruised nearby to catch the different perspectives, but alas the best I got looks almost the same as before. So I have added a couple of other things I likes along the way – a church that I think is at Bous and some colourful buoys.

Next stop – Völklingen. We knew it was a popular mooring because of the UNESCO Heritage status of the huge Ironworks (steel mill) museum. As we got close we saw the magnificent outline of the old industrial site that we would be visiting soon.

We had left early, for us, to make sure that we got there in time to secure a mooring for the next few days. It was a Friday, so a little anxiety about lots of boats turning up for the weekend.

We need not have worried. We arrived to find a long empty pontoon apart from a couple of very small boats that seemed to have long term moorings. It was a far lovelier than we had hoped; we had expected something rather industrial, but in fact it was a quiet mooring with nice scenery around.

We got secure and then began the fun of registering with the town hall, in German. My German language skills date back to school about 60 years ago, and were not great then! But Google Translate came to the rescue and we registered, and got the code to the pontoon gate so that we could get back in.

We had a relaxation day before son and grandson would arrive in Saarbrucken, following a flight to Luxembourg. That allowed us a walk around town, on both sides of the river. The steel mill side was quiet and typical of a town that has had a busy industrial past, but is now mostly a suburb of Saarbrucken. But it does have two good looking buildings with verdigris weathered roofs. And some great street art running through a subway – this is about a fifth of the total work.

We also had an external view of the Ironworks, or Steel mill, that would be our focus on Monday.

So awesome against the blue sky – but of course when it was a working site the sky would have been sulphurous yellow and smoke would have obliterated all the structures.

The mooring a also by the ‘Alte Sluis’, or old lock, that served the steel mill many years ago. It is now a quiet place for turtles, kingfishers, green woodpeckers and photographers!

Apparently the European ‘pond turtle’ is now quite rare so we were lucky to catch a glimpse.

And a glimpse is about all I can include here!

By the end of Saturday we were pleased about our early arrival. We had visited the local supermarket and stoked up on German delicacies, beer and wine ready for our guests and sat back for a quiet evening. We celebrated being there with a gentle G&T on the back deck, and waited to see the sun go down.

The next day the pontoon completely filled up with friendly German and Swiss boat crews! So our advice to you is arrive Monday to Friday, as it seems popular at the weekend.

There really was a surprising amount of wildlife around.

This musk beetle turned up to delight us – I had no idea what it was, but Google helped!

And on a more ordinary note, the two Völklingen swans came by to help me get rid of all our old crusts.

(I too have read that I should not feed bread to swans, but everywhere I go I see them thriving and see people giving them bread, so I don’t know.)

Sunday was not really about Calliope cruising, but as it was our main visit to Saarbrucken I have included it. We bought train tickets online to go and meet Ashley and Harvey, walked up to the station and were pleased to see it was not long to wait for the train.

But a slight setback when the train came in! Everyone on board was wearing a mask (Covid) and ours were back on Calliope 15 minutes away! So crew made a mad dash back, returned with masks and we were on the next train. Phew!

Saarbrucken is a big modern city with some genuine old features. The area around the town hall and Sankt Johanner Markt is lovely. We did end up there for a lunch of worst and frites while waiting for the airport bus to arrive.

We also walked by the river and looked at the potential mooring – very nice and green on that side of the river, with a full motorway on the other bank. Not for us then!

Once back in Völklingen with family we had an evening on board catching up with news and planning the next day.

This blog cannot do justice to the amazing place that is the Ironworks museum. When we went there was also a music video exhibition in the Blower Hall, so here are a couple of photos from there. TRhere was everything from Madonna to Peter Gabriel, Ganman Style to Queen, Leningrad to lots of things I’ve never heard of!

I hope this photo gives a sense of scale – yes that’s me by that big wheel – not a doll!

This is where the ‘blast’ originates for the blast furnaces that we saw later.

One of the things I most loved, both in the blower hall and throughout the steel mill, was the sense that the workers had just gone home; that they would be back.

Their tools, work clothes, and things like coffee mugs sat waiting to be ;picked up and used again.

Then the steel mill itself is so large and complex all I can do is add a few photos and a link to the web site – but it is superb! We explored it top to bottom.

So here are a very few of my photos, and the link to the wonderful website.

https://voelklinger-huette.org/en/

The views from the top were far far reaching in every direction, and Harvey was proud to have his Pompey (Portsmouth FC) shirt taken to new heights!

By the way he doesn’t have pale blue hair. We all had to put on blue hair covers before we put on the hard hats!

Some of the steel mill complex has now been allowed to go back to nature; watching nature reclaim the area is wonderful, and we were all glad of the cool green spaces after the hot metallic ones!

Throughout the steel mill there were pieces of urban art, far too many to display here. Lone installation I liked was a careful placing of old work lockers – genuine lockers from various industries across Germany.

What they had in common was their connection to the people who used them – clocked in each day, hung up their home clothes, stored away their lunch boxes for later, and sometimes wrote little messages to themselves or others.

and a little more of the urban art ….

One exhibit was rather alarming!

Especially when it seemed to pick Harvey up and look round for spomeswhdere to take him!

Luckily we rescued him from King Kong’s clutches.

It was exhilarating, informational, and exhausting – so we recovered in the museum beer garden before heading back over the river for supper in a Turkish restaurant.

[I am just wondering whether to share with you my most fun moment of the day ….. it does make me laugh so I hope it will amuse you too ……… ]

Enough of that nonsense!

Ashley and Harvey wanted some cruising on their short holiday; we planned to spend a day carrying on southwards, up river, through Saarbrucken, to Sarreguemines.

The journey was lovely, passing by interesting locks, villages, and of course through Saarbrucken.

For a while we were cruising midstream between France, on the starboard side, and Germany, on the port. Although this is obvious it really helps to make clear how often rivers are borders, and areas for battles – hence the many castles we have seen.

We reached a very different lock on the outskirts of Saarbrucken. We were in a very new freycinet sized lock, with obvious work going on alongside. It looks like a big commercial size lock is being built there to allow more working barges up the Sarr.

It was quite funny because the sound emitted when one raises the blue lever to operate the lock is more like an alarm bell! It certainly caused me to check I had not pushed the red alarm lever!

The next lock was at Grosblieberstroff.

We went up the lock easily enough and sat back at the top waiting for the gates to open.

But they didn’t – and it was a few minutes before it sank in that all the notices on the nearby building. in three languages, were telling us that we needed to collect a remote control to use at all the locks from here to the end of the Canal de la Sarre!

Once the remote was collected the gates smoothly opened.

We were soon underway again, cruising in the most beautiful weather, with the front windscreen down and a happy Captain who was in both shade and breeze at the same time.

Both the additional crew members helped out at locks and, in Ashley’s case, at the helm as well.

Calliope is a lovely boat for two to handle, but it is still a treat to sometimes have someone else sitting out i the sun!

Still have to give them some time off!

The last lock, on the edge of Sarreguemines, was essentially the border and we passed back into France from Germany; time to change the courtesy flag again!

(I did say that this was the German stretch of our Saar journey, but I will allow myself a few extra hundred yards just to complete our time with Ashley and Harvey aboard.)

We knew there was lots of pontoon space there so were initially a bit despondent when it all seemed to be full of boats. Then we saw a third pontoon with only one boat. Hooray! We were soon secure on the mooring, and not long after another boat joined us, so three in a row, next to a park.

To cut a longish story short, it was mainly empty because of its proximity to a footbridge from where Bastille Day fireworks would be set off the next day. But the Capitaine said we would be fine and we settled in with front row back deck seats for the spectacular next day.

It was an easy place to settle in to. We were moored almost on front of Le Casino des Fäienceries – now a restaurant but built by Paul de Geiger, director of the Faïenceries, who had it built in 1878 to provide a meeting place for his employees. We were also treated to lovely evening skies and many wonderful floral displays – this one on the passerelle (foot bridge) just by the mooring.

As Ashley and Harvey had not had a chance to see Saarbrucken, and we all had €9 train tickets to anywhere in Germany for a month, I returned with them for another wander. Drinks and ice cream were the main requisites as we walked round!! Somehow the only photo of the trip was waiting at the station!

It has to be said that it was hot both in the city and back in Sarreguemines. We were in the shade a lot of the day, at the edge of a park, but even so we were looking for ways to cool down

Grandson had one.

And we all had another!

This was quite an eventful cooling, with Stewart spitting out beer, plus a wasp(!!!), and Ashley somehow knocking over a full 50cl of beer, trying to rescue it, the glass breaking and him cutting his finger!

But all was soon returned to normal. mainly due to a very lovely and efficient waitress, who immediately appeared with elastoplast, a new beer, and jugs of water to clean up.

The night that ended with fireworks, and began with the usual bustling fun of a French town partying. We found somewhere to get beer, Creamant, burgers and chips, with plenty of music up and down every street.

Later we watched one of the best ‘feu artifice’ displays I have ever seen outside a major city. They were doubly fabulous because of the reflections in the river alongside Calliope. Thank you Sarreguemines.

All too soon it was time for Ashley and Harvey to go home. We began by walkng through the park and over the passerelle towards the station. Then they reversed their journey from 4 days before, by train to Saarbrucken, bus to Luxembourg and air to London. Stu and I walked with them to wave goodbye, then back to a quiet empty boat.

It was so lovely there in Sarreguemines that we stayed an extra night and visited the wonderful ceramics museum and gardens – but that is in the next blog – the French part of the Sarre!

Published by lesley-jane

Wife of Stewart, mother of 3, Granny of 6 (yes, I am happy to define myself by my family; I value them more than anything), and living abroad Calliope, our replica Dutch Barge, currently cruising the inland waterways of France, Belgium and The Netherlands. Retired from a couple of enjoyable careers, and now being closer to the real, outdoor me. Love water, fascinated by animals, enjoy music, support Pompey and try to find fun in all parts of my life.

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