We turned right at Koblenz.
We had driven up the Rhine from Bacharach, carefully avoiding taking a ferry. It seemed a bit too professional for us in any case. It actually looked like boat, rather than the motorised beaver dam that had transported both us and our precious caravan over the River Neckar a week or so before!
The Dortmund leg was altogether a bit boring and industrial, although removing two ticks from Rosie and one from Mark en route helped to pass the time!
We got to the planned camp Am Linge at Bringhauser, which Mark assured me is where the windsurfing is. Mark also assured me that the campsite had good reviews; however it looked crowded, wet, buggy and uninviting. The lake was really low so there was a long walk to the water through mud flats, which the campsite overlooked. It had all the appeal of a disused quarry.
“Do you speak English?” I asked the proprietor. He heaved a sigh. “Drei nacht?” I asked, trying to ameliorate. He walked out with me and spouted something in full Führer mode, complete with hand gestures. Despite my blossoming relationship with ‘German in 3 Months’ I didn’t understand a word. “Terrasse. Left side” he commanded, indicating with a hand gesture that was a bit too close to a Hitler salute for my liking. Then he stalked off and left us to it. So we left.
We went back to a pretty campsite that we had seen as we passed through Affoldern. The man there didn’t speak much English but shook our hand warmly as we arrived. “Anywhere here!” he showed us to a large grassy area. “See my wife at 8 o’clock tomorrow.”
It rained overnight. We are fed up of German weather!
We woke up and it was sunny, blowing a force 5 and we were in a great windsurfing spot. There was only one thing for it.
We are not in quite as bad a situation as when Mark had to emulate David Beckham by wearing my sarong because he had run out of pants, but our clothing situation is near-critical!
The lady here is lovely and speaks perfect English. It is her day off – she is doing dog training! We were not charged for the dogs and on this campsite, there was no charge for the showers.
Our research had highlighted Edersee as a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site – and we had come for the windsurfing. Usually, our research is very thorough, but I only realised that we were on the Eder dam, one of the targets in Guy Gibson’s Operation Chastise – better known as The Dambusters – when the lady in the Tourist Office mentioned the war.
Sure that I must be obsessed with it, she took great pains to show me “the bombardment” in the little booklet that I bought about the local area. Maybe that is why Mr Campsite Am Linge was so rude to us. Around 68 local lives were lost in the floods after the bombing. The dam was breached during the night and the telephone reports did not reach the localities downriver in time. The flood waters raged down the valley as far as Kassel, 35km downstream. Walking the dogs into the village, I found a house with a line drawn high on the wall, showing the level of the flood waters on the morning of 17th May, 1943.
As regards windsurfing – the Tourist Office told us that the lake was too low and the part that we are on can’t be used for watersports as it is a levelling lake, so is too dangerous for recreation.
Definitely, laundry was the best option!
Eder Dam and Waldeck Castle
It was sunny again, so I walked to the bakery. It was shut from 07:00 – 10:30! I managed to buy two croissants and two cookies at the garage. Of course, being Saturday and being Germany, all the supermarkets are closed in the afternoon!
We were disappointed that we didn’t walk up to the dam – we found out later that there is a footpath from Affoldern and it is only about 4km. However, we drove there and walked across the dam. We discussed whether it would have been tasteless to turn up in Lancaster Bomber costumes with ‘We Woz ‘Ere’ emblazoned on the side. No more tasteless than the waft of burgers and waffles from the tourist industry that has grown up around the scene of such a terrible disaster.
We ambled along a forest path on the other side of the valley and were treated to spectacular views back across the dam and reservoir.
Looking from the top of the dam really made me wonder about the approach of large and cumbersome bombers like the Lancasters of 617 Squadron, which flew in over Waldeck Castle in the dark. I know that they had to fly at 60 feet for the bouncing bomb to work but the lake is surrounded by mountains and has several bends in it. The approach was very short before the bomber would have had to pull up to avoid crashing. I think they had four seconds to get in position, release the bomb and pull up. So far behind enemy lines with a bomb invented by Barnes Wallis especially for the purpose, really, the audacity of the raid is unbelievable!
I felt relieved in a way that we hadn’t known that the dam was here, otherwise I would have felt very uncomfortable about making a special trip to gawp at a place where there had been such a loss of life, although I suppose we still went to gawp anyway. These sites do help us to remember the bravery and sacrifice on both sides and is a stark reminder of the grim horror of war. It brought home the strange feeling of being in a country with which our own parents and grandparents had been enemies, fighting in a life or death struggle. Yet we have met almost nothing but kindness!
It was on this walk that I began to understand the reason behind all the geographic disagreements with Mark over the last few days. “How was a house in our village flooded by the dam being breached. We are above the dam!” he said. “Look, that is the campsite that we were going to stay at just round there.” I felt obliged to reply “No it isn’t, the campsite we went to was in Binghausen. It is on entirely the other side of the lake.” “No it isn’t” “Yes it is.” “It’s behind you!” And so the pantomime went on.
It also explained why the campsite Am Linge turned out to be so awful after all Mark’s careful research – and why we could not windsurf on the part of the lake where we had camped… We drove to the campsite where he HAD intended to stay. It was on entirely the other side of the lake! He had mixed up Binghausen with Bettenhagen. The sad part is that the wind there would have been clean yesterday and we would have had direct access to the water. It would have been a classic day windsurfing! There were lots of lovely walks from the campsite… had we been there, we may well have stayed even longer!
So the answer to planning the perfect trip; do loads of careful research, select a perfect spot, then go randomly to some campsite barely even in the general area and disagree for several days with your wife on all points of geography!
Our visit to Waldeck Castle treated us to a Lancaster’s-eye view of the Eder dam, although the crew wouldn’t have been able to see it quite as well as us, because they approached in the dark. Again, the bravery and skill of the pilot and crew left us open mouthed in awe. In our safe and cossetted lives, it is hard to comprehend that the crews who embarked on this mission probably did so in the full knowledge that they were unlikely to survive. Only eleven of the nineteen Lancasters which were deployed to the German dams returned.
The group of four Lancasters which attacked the Eder dam made eight passes over the dam between them. It was the very last bomb, deployed by Nan Knight, which caused the breach. Only two of the four planes made it home, although this did include Knight’s.
Waldeck castle itself was a bit disappointing – it was over renovated and had been converted into a hotel. However, the views from the ramparts were spectacular. There was even a little, old cable car to bring your bike up the hill!
As we walked through the woods, Ruby tried to disguise herself from The Boggles – although we told her that they are only harmless sprites with beech-leaf ears and they don’t come out in the daytime.
It is fairytale-ville here, though. Snow White was supposed to be based in Bergfreiheit, a local miners’ settlement. In the good old days, children wearing pointed ‘protective’ caps were used to fetch ore from the local mine. Because of the heavy work, the children remained small and stooped, thus begetting the tale of dwarves.
Nice to know that the fairytale of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves has its origins in child labour in the ‘good old days’!
Next time, follow us into East Germany, where we are told that dogs off the lead vill be shot!