3. Mainz – Strasbourg – By boat

                On Friday, October 6, 1853, at six o’clock in the evening, we embarked in Mainz. Henninger had brought provisions with him on the boat. It was a fine evening and we hoped to have a pleasant night on the water. But this was not so. We had scarcely gone a short distance when the horses began to get restless; in half an hour we had both shouted each other hoarse from shouting and admonitions. Such a beginning of our journey cheered us little, and thoughts of the future put us in a gloomy mood. So, we finally arrived in Mannheim at midnight. It was pitch dark and the sailors were cursing, and the bearded captain received us with a thunderclap and insisted that we couldn’t come to Strasbourg the next evening but had to stay here in Mannheim and take the train. Our boat should have arrived in Mannheim at nine o’clock instead of twelve o’clock so that the Strasbourg boat, to which we were to be transferred, could arrive in Strasbourg the following evening before the canal was closed. According to the captain’s assurance, that was no longer possible.

What to do here? We had paid up to Strasbourg and didn’t know if we would get our money back from the agency and if the train didn’t cost twice as much. Now I knew from a tariff that I read in Mainz that the steamboat should have arrived in Strasbourg at two o’clock; so if we left three hours later, we would also have to arrive in Strasbourg three hours later, at five o’clock, consequently at a time when the canal was not yet closed. Moreover, I noticed that the sailors dreaded the work of moving the two stables from one boat to the other, so that perhaps that was the only reason why they insisted so firmly that we could not come along.

Nonetheless, the captain’s question as to whether we wanted to come along or not was somewhat ticklish for us. It was therefore a quick decision. Since my companion Henninger, as I noticed right away, wasn’t the man for this, I briefly explained to the captain that we would go with him, even if it lasted three days. A barrage of curses followed my words; However, the sailors got to work, the horses were brought over and off we went at lightning speed through the Mannheim Bridge and on.

The horses had become so wild because of the rough handling during disembarkation that we had to decide to spend the night on the deck. It was reasonably cold there, and sometimes our eyes closed from sleep and weariness. Finally, about four o’clock, the horses were quiet. We now wanted to enjoy at least an hour of sweet sleep, so we went to the end in the forward cabin. But what a sight! At least forty or fifty raftsmen had set up camp here. One lay on the bench, the other on some wobbly cabin chairs; a third lay beneath, a fourth on the table and, pushed more and more to the edge of the table by the shaking movement of the ship, threatened at any moment to fall down on his carelessly slumbering comrade. We didn’t want to give ourselves up to the friendly nudge of a rafter’s boot heel; also, the perfume that reigned around this night’s camp was too strong for our nerve-weak noses. So, we hurriedly went to the first cabin, where we found enough space to stretch out our weary limbs.

When I opened my eyes again, it was already quite light; a bright streak in the eastern sky heralded the new day. Finally, the sun arose flaming to bring warmth, light and new life to mortals. Now one raft after the other emerged from the small cabin door, “shook their manes with long yawns” and then looked a few times to the left and also to the right with an astonished look. At the same time, he drew out either an earthenware whistle an inch and a half long, or his beloved chewing tobacco, cut off a piece of it, put it between his cheek and teeth, and bit it like a hungry wolf; yes, one even assured me that this had been his only breakfast for forty years.

While Henninger was taking care of the horses, I made the acquaintance of an Italian who had an English grammar book with him because he was just beginning to learn English. We alternately made teachers and students; he taught me some Italian phrases and I helped him with English.

From Mainz to Strasbourg the banks are quite flat; There may be a few old willow trees every hundred paces, surrounded by a number of cairns. Only on the French side, as the only exception, does one see a well-built customs house from time to time, standing close to the bank, in front of which the blue-tailed Douanier (customs officer) sits, comfortably smoking his cigar. It was about four o’clock when we saw the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral on the horizon. Not only were we very happy about this, but also the bearded faces of the sailors, who had been seriously wrinkled for a whole week, brightened up. Because a sailor only laughs on Saturday evenings and Sundays when there is no work, never on weekdays.

So, we finally got to the entrance of the Strasbourg canal. The city is not located entirely on the Rhine, but a little further away and higher than the river, which is why you can only get to Strasbourg by means of locks. The monstrous locks are really something colossal; but one must marvel even more at the different constructions of the bridges which lead over the canal, especially when one sees something like this for the first time. When we came to the first, it parted in the middle, and both parts, resting on a movable iron knoll, were turned toward the landward side. The second bridge also split in the middle and both parts were lifted high enough to allow free passage. Incidentally, only two men were needed for all these operations.


Finally, we got to the approach of the steam boat in the middle of the city. Here some “red pants” received us with serious and strict official faces. Our passports were found to be correct and we thought we could pass safely when someone took my arm and led me to the customs office, where I had to give the horses a precise signal and deposit fifty francs. I was told that I could get this amount back in St. Louis, the last station in France. With that deal settled, we hiked to the Hôtel à la cave profonde (Inn in the Deep Cellar) that my brother had recommended to me. First the horses were taken care of. We always did that, because they were entrusted goods that we had to return as intact as we received them.