The legend of Castaway Gondoliers – Bamberg to Nürnberg

If you believe this is Venice, then think again.

That’s Bamberg, where my old friend Wolfgang left me in very good hands: I thank him once again for it. Bernhard arranged a fantastic welcome for us, and Jürgen Hoh offered me a bed in his nice house, very close to the Sailing Club.

In the meantime, Clodia was quietly put to rest under the octagonal shelter, waiting for minor reparations and symbologically protected by the number 2 and 4 (see Kabbalah).

After all, what’s the most common shape used to build baptisteries?

We spend the first night in Bamberg sleeping in the locker room of the Kanoe Club, with a deluge raining down outside.
In the morning we’re invited for breakfast at Jürgen’s place: The first one of many breakfasts that he’ll offer to our growing crew in the next few days. What a luxury!

We’re now going to meet the true Bamberg’s beer (so smoked that it smells liked ham) to be strictly served at room-temperature or better still cellar- temperature. How terrible, where not even dangerous, is instead the habit of serving iced beer!

American friends please forgive me, you know I keep you in my heart, but this is really a bad way to drink beer, costing us lots of energy. In the Schlenkerla brewery we rejoin with Bernhard, as many as two Jürgen and other local friends.

The atmosphere is typically Franconian: The building we’re in used to be a monastery where the monks brewed their precious beer. We eat a lot and drink even more. Very well indeed.

Jürgen Hoh quickly takes me to buy a Franconian flag, the Bavarian one that I’ve raised is not appropriate. We’re in Bavaria but first and overall we’re in Franconia. No jokes about that!

I also meet the mayor (Bürgermeister), a nice man in his bike outfit: In front of a good beer, natürlich!

We arrange a meeting for the next morning at 11 o’clock in the tourism office. In the afternoon… A big surprise: Time for a “Gondola tour” in Bamberg!

A Venetian soul in Franconia?

Jürgen Riegel, “Gondoliere von Bamberg” fell in love with Gondolas and has brought here two of them. He runs a shop in Bamberg but he much prefers to row for many hours every day. And he does it well, against a current that’s no picnic.

I’m excited and I can’t resist: Midway through our little tour along Bamberg’s waterways, I ask Jürgen to take his place in driving the Gondola. I’m happy and incredulous. I give the oar back to his rightful owner just when we approach a little waterfall.

The Gondola is 11 metres long and I don’t want to take the risk of damaging the “ferro” (iron) at fore.

Aboard, his friend Erika feeds us with a delicious cake. Andemo fioi! (“Keep going, guys!” in Venetian dialect). Tonight I’ll sleep like a log in my first true bed after four months (except for the pauses due to health check-ups).

In the morning Jürgen Hoh takes me around for a bike ride that I really enjoy, you may see a video that I’ve published on Facebook by clicking here.

On the way back it rains and, along with Paolo, we meet Anna-Maria Schülein, head of marketing and public relations for tourism, who, speaking a perfect italian, explains to us the city politics for managing tourism, favouring quality over quantity (although nearly two million visits per year are not a bad goal indeed).

Sure enough, you don’t feel that gross impact of mass tourism, there’re no cattle of moving bodies, of travelling consumers who degrade the world’s best sites. Tourism can destroy paradise, as somebody said. However, it may also save from hell, I say, if well managed. That’s easier said than done, but not impossible.

Forgive me for being trite. Bamberg docet. Chapeau! Anyway, the mayor can’t make it, but Anna is fantastic! Thanks. We also receive a pennant of the city, signed by the Bürgermeister himself.

I forgot to tell you that in the meantime Massimo has left the crew: He was great! A true new sailor, full of energy and a very fast learner. Thanks Massimo, see you soon.

Paolo comes from Italy to pick him, leaving us in exchange Nicola, our first film director last year.

He gave us his work and passion in very hard times indeed: A long, exasperating wait, hoping for me to recover from my sickness, and leading to an end that could had been for good.

I’m very attached and grateful to Nicola for his trust and his commitment, not to mention his friendship.


A wider view…

Later on, Jürgen Hoh takes hold of the keys to enter the magnificent tower, so we can have a look to Bamberg from above. It’s wonderful, rich in water and beauty.

Will beauty save the world? And water? And who will save the water, carefulness? Commitment requires attention, and attention demands for commitment… Remember?

In Bamberg I think there’re both of them.

Jürgen for sure is careful and committed. He takes us around telling many interesting stories about this city and the RMDK, Rhein Main Donau Kanal: Its origin, the 70’s madness, the 90’s try to make it more nature friendly.

Thanks Jürgen, invaluable friend and guide. I hope he’ll be with me, with us, in the next projects on the rivers.

How lucky his students!

In the evening we’re guests in the gorgeous house of Jürgen Riegel, eating a nice dinner in front of a charming fire, surrounded by old historical stones.

A baroque barbecue, enriched by coming and going friend, among them Hans, chaplain of the jails and rower himself.

“Voghemo, voghemo, che el nostro onor xe scomenzà dal remo” (“Row, Venetians, because our glory began with the oar”) as they say in Cannaregio, popular – and hence powerfully noble – district of Venice. Here, it looks like the “voghemo voghemo” (“let’s row, let’s row”) feels at home too.


The Lago League

The next morning we welcome our great friends from Lago.

Silvio, who’s helped us so much in boat building and a thousand other ways, Nicola, Lago’s marketing manager and now also running his own creative business too (he was the one who led to my fantastic partnership with Lago, giving many ideas as the beautiful and fast mind he is). How to forget Franchino, little big man who’s helped us in building Clodia and will reveal as a wonderful rower, Carlos from Colombia (but living in Italy since 13 years and speaking the local dialect better than anyone!), strong and generous who also gave his contribution in the construction stages. Last but not least Andrea, Silvio’s young nephew, bringing him his youth. While we’re all very chatty, me too, Andrea is a good listener, which is a very healthy beheaviour. In the above photo you may see, left to right: Andrea, Nicola, Silvio, myself, Carlos and Franchino.

The big celebrations are followed by a dinner with two musician friends, Viola and Vlade, stateless, multilingual sisters who delight us with both Italian and Balkan sounds, taking us right to the Danube.

The following day we have a meeting with the director of the Museen Der Stadt Bamberg, Regina Hanemann, in the castle-palace nestled on top of one of Bamberg’s seven hills.

The museum is very well built and restored: It presents a series of interesting exhibitions, among them that about Bamberg’s waters, the Reignitz and the RMDK. An extraordinary sight, the best I’ve ever seen on this matter, that makes you understand the relation between the city and its waters: Works, professions and the many changes that Bamberg and its territory have undergone across the centuries.

A Cranach painting, as little as sublime, is part of this permanent exhibition: Don’t miss it if you can. It has won many European awards for its design. I’m captured by the small-scale model of an ancient freight transport boat (equipped with sails! Thanks to those telling me that, in the past, along the Main sails were not used!)

My mind immediately goes to the huge and violent ships, eradicating all the essential river life to transport things that are often unnecessary to us. What an effort, but what a respect and navigation art can be seen in this little wooden model. Non sic patres nostri!! Here, nostalgia has the right to exist.

What’s next? Bernhard, who’s a tourist guide, takes us for a quick yet intense city tour: The Juden Strasse with its 11 breweries (what’s left of the 65 operating in Bamberg up to the end of the 19th century), the mills, the old lock on the Rhein Main Donau Kanal, the two residences of the Cistercian Abbot.

So many rich information, given with grace and rare irony. Thanks to Bernhard, see you soon!

We walk on the side of the fast and clean Reigniz canal, reaching the Rudden Club of Jürgen Hoh, with a beautiful Biergarten.

After a meal “franconian style” we see Jürgen coming, extremely elegant in his white trousers and the t-shirt of the “Settemari Venezia” sailing club (of which he’s a member). He’s aboard a classy Pupparino, a traditional Venetian boat once used as an alternative to the Gondola, that he restored by himself and called Pipistrello (“bat” in Italian).

We have a fantastic row countercurrent toward the kingdom of beauty, eating a nice cake in a model-camping and landing in the “white lakes of silence” of the river, in an evident delirium caused by Stendhal (and a little Paolo Conte, great Italian author, musician and singer) Syndrome.


Oars up to our friends!

Our “last supper” in Bamberg is a pasta with Amalfi’s lemon sauce, that I cook at Jürgen Gondolier’s place, for all our extraordinary friends.

The entrance is packed off with the bikes of the Lago boys, ready for departure. We’re happy but I’m also a little sad to leave Bamberg and all these people who have helped me so much.

In the morning we set off. Jürgen Hoh follows us aboard his canvas Kayak from the 60’s, similar to the one donated to the museum and now on display.

I forgot to mention that Jürgen has navigated and paddled in Norway and Greenland among other places, filming quite beautiful and poetic videos.

On the next lock we’re waited by many other friends: Bernhard greets us from the bridge, while two other kind souls give me apples and yogurth. I reciprocate with the sweet plums from Jürgen Riegel. Throws of food and friendship from the water. Oars up, as a sign of respect and honour, to Jürgen and to Bamberg, so proud and rich in water.

Let’s go. The gates of Thannauser (I’m in the mood for quotations today!) close behind us and we set off to Nürnberg, sailing and countercurrent.

The canal is much nicer than expected, surrounded by forests and a big sky. Silvio, at last, comes aboard Clodia, that he’s built with Roland. He now understands that’s a little big boat. His eyes glisten, he’s as happy as me. Jürgen is now far, but very close to my heart such as all the others.

The Lago band follows us from the riverside, riding on the wonderfully organized “bike paths” built along the German rivers and canals. In the meantime there’s a new kid on the block: Stefano who booked his stay aboard through this website.

In the evening, tired, we stop in Forcheim under a medieval bridge. Michael, friend of Marco, suggest us a good restaurant in an old mill. We’re drunk of life, water and a little of beer too.


Keepers of the sacred words

The morning, as usual, means setting sails. We’ve already got past so many bridges and locks. I’m counting them: Although some may be missing, I’ve now noted 852 bridges and 333 locks. But today we are going to meet a lock deserving a special mention. It’s called the “Vaffanculo Schleuse” (“Scheluse” meaning lock in German, while Vaffanculo being… mmm, well, an Italian insult close to “F… you”).

The Hausen lock, between Bamberg and Nürnberg was definitely waiting for us.

I’m rowing with Carlos in a very tough day with headwind, human pulling and rain. The lock is, as usual, a strong cement building with no sign of humanity whatsoever. On the pier there’s a little interphone to communicate with the control, very useful for little boats carrying no radio aboard, such as Clodia.

I push the button and, after a few tone rings, I hear a German voice. I say “Eine rudden boot, direction Nürnberg, open bitte”. Silence… I repeat… Then a few words, maybe in a local dialect. We can’t get to understand each other so I add: “Keine deutch… No tedesco, sorry.” The voice gets back saying: “Schleuse Vaffanculo!” but gently, nearly joking.

I look to Carlos, turn towards the interphone and say, in the same funny way (but ready to use more convincing words at need): “Schleuse Vaffanculo a YOU!!” Silence… A deaf noise… Puffing water… The huge gate 20 metres high and 1.000 tons heavy begins to open. Laughters.

Was this the Vaffanculo Power, or maybe the secret password?? Anyway we get into the lock, so high, on our own and by rowing, which is usually not allowed. Could have we met the “knights keeper of the sacred words”? Since today we’re freely quoting, I thought that a little Monty Phyton would fit in nicely.

The next morning, so many precious friends will leave us. Thanks, I’ll miss you.

I’m now with Nicola in Nürnberg. Tomorrow we’ll keep sailing.


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2 Responses to “The legend of Castaway Gondoliers – Bamberg to Nürnberg”

  1. Ralf Kennis says:

    Hi Giacomo, I’m Ralf from Berlin, sailor and I know English and Italian. I enjoyed reading your Blog and an article in a German sailing-rivista. I only say to you: continue your journey and writing. You’re making many friends and many good things with that.

  2. Giacomo says:

    Danke Ralf, so kind of you!
    I hope to meet you one day.

    Be water giacomo

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