A two-hour drive south of Rohrbach brought us to the Altmühl River where we donned river shoes, rented a three-person canoe, received a quick paddling lesson, and gingerly stepped into our boat. My tiny bit of hard-shell kayaking experience allowed me to follow the German instructions, sort of.
The Altmühl is a lazy river that gently cuts through lush corn and canola fields on its way toward the Danube. Lined with tall grasses, shrubs, and willow trees, it’s a haven for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies the size of hummingbirds. I actually witnessed a pair of dragonflies kissing! Really, they hovered nose to nose and their long legs outlined a little heart shape. Like ghosts, remnants of ancient limestone cliffs rise above the river valley; these weathered and worn formations called the Twelve Apostles silently guard the plentiful bike and boat traffic.
Cousins Dirk and Delia are experienced boaters, so when Dirk suggested I get in the front with Delia in the middle, I assumed this was because, as a team, he and Delia could more easily communicate with each other. It didn’t dawn on me for some time that he put me in front to take advantage of my (ah-hem) whitewater experience. I was slow to realize that from the front I was the eyes of the boat and needed to relay steering information back to Dirk. I was also responsible for setting the paddling pace—me, the herky-jerk who gallops for a while and then stops to gaze around and smell the scat. Our instructor had advised us to alternate paddle sides: front and back paddlers stroke together with middle paddler working the opposite side. We quickly discovered that this wasn’t working. Delia was no match for the power that both Dirk and I put on our paddles.
During the first little Class I rapid, I thought, we need to go there, but my team-challenged mind hadn’t yet figured out that I had no control over which direction we went unless I communicated with Dirk at the back of the boat. Oh geez.We weren’t the most elegant boat on the river that day, nor were we the most challenged. A couple of team-building organizations were taking advantage of a warm summer day. After a few false starts, the business group got along reasonably well. The other team builders were a class of early teens with four to a boat who provided comic relief. One group, with a boy in the back and three giggling girls in front, were particularly amusing. They had started ahead of us so by the time we caught up with them, the boy’s enthusiasm with his harem had faded. And then they were upside down in the reeds beside the river. Whooee! I felt sorry for that boy. Three girls with wet hair and runny makeup and you know whose fault that was! The giggling had morphed into top-of-the-lungs insults.
Another group of kids couldn’t paddle a straight line. As we caught up with them and passed them, one pipsqueak squealed, “Look, even they are better than we are!” (Yes?!) We got the last laugh when this group finally got to the take-out, still shoe-lacing across the river: all the way to the right shore, sharp turn and all the way to the left shore. Oh how their arms must have hurt the next day. The lone boy with his harem was visibly chewing the inside of his cheek by the time he was back on land.
After about five hours on the river, we headed to the Brombachsee for a swim and beach time. Brombachsee is a large reservoir built for flood and water-flow control for the Danube farmland and shipping lanes.
On the way home we stopped for dinner in Weißenburg, a charming little town with the preserved remains of two town walls, an older, inner wall, then a newer wall a few streets further out. Some of the town’s beautifully preserved buildings date back to the 1300s.
After dinner, we walked out to the UNESCO site of the Römisches Reiterkastell Biriciana, an ancient Roman fortress identified by reconstructed stone towers and paved paths that follow the foundation of the old wall.
UNESCO site of Kastell (Fort) Biriciana, home to a Roman Cavalry Unit
The huge Roman Bath House was closed, but we peeked through the windows to see the foundation and fire pits that heated the water. The bath house was crucial to keeping frozen Roman soldiers from deserting these cold northern winters and fleeing home to their warm wives and sunny beaches.After a long day, we deserted back to comfortable beds at Dirk and Delia’s home. One last day of adventure awaited before we would load the car and drive north to the wedding, which is what brought me to Germany in the first place.