Watch on the Rhine
From SARAH GAINHAM
THE river rolls, swells past, battleship grey and with waves that still seem wavelike though they are made by the huge ponderous barges and not by the mysterious pull of the moon. The swell is solid, and the knowledge that the river itself really is almost solid, and with filth, does not detract from its industrial beauty. Someone recently called it the biggest sewer in Europe, and this, like the disgraceful and graceless ribbon- building along its lovely banks, is an insult that the Rhine manages to ignore. There is not much left of Heine's turbulent soul of Germany, nor could the Wagnerian Rhine Maidens breathe through their gills any longer in these waters. It is an industrial carriage-way, an international waterway of constant traffic. The barges, that look long and slender from the banks and enor- `mously low and broad seen from water-level from bow or stern, hardly ever stop. Once at midnight on a New Year's Eve in bitter frost, I saw the Rhine empty, still and silent; the seven hills of the Prussian' bank crowned twice with festive lights. Otherwise it was as dark with winter woods as Goethe must have seen it, going up- river to experience the war scenes which changed his whole view of the world. A Herr Mueller was there then—indeed ever since the fifteenth cen- tury—watching over the orderly thin patchwork of underprivileged vines in the most northerly vineyard of Europe. Herr Mueller is there still.
For a few weeks this autumn I lived on the eastern bank across the river from Bonn, near the Chancellor's overgrown villa-village. It used to be said that Rhoendorf did not become the capital of Germany only because even Adenauer saw that it could not be expanded enough. Here the river must be lived with, all the time. In Bonn people live for years without being aware of the Rhine. On the far side it is constantly there, for government is on the other bank and the flat, stolid ferries are the only way of getting there except by a detour of nearly ten miles to Bonn Bridge—the only bridge for nearly sixty miles between Cologne and Coblenz. There is the big ferry, which stops in fogs or when the water-level drops below a certain depth. And there is the little ferry which pops back and forth with un- assuming speed and neatness, making fast in seconds and with a turn-round speed of a couple of minutes while practised drivers slide their vehicles on to its two-lane space and off again the other side. Left to itself the smaller ferry is as fast as crossing the bridge amid. heavy traffic.
But it is rarely left to itself and one may sit inside one's motor-car for ten minutes swaying on the bow waves of a succession of barges from Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and Germany. They have the right of way—which does not prevent the ferry skipper showing off his rivermanship by coming within a foot or so of their black hulls.
In the summer season the Red Ensign is frequently seen, bringing tourists to 'Rhineland- Wineland.' Here one sees the basic tourists, Dutch, British, Germans, a few Scandinavians. It is hard to say which are the least charming or the least ill-favoured. It was always a tourist area, the local people do not want to be rid of guests whom they are used to since the eighteenth century. But the mechanical modern tourism is hated—there is just too much. Our fathers came on foot with rucksacks. The little houses and narrow lanes are crammed nowadays with disappointed people who see nothing of what they set out to see; they themselves have buried it and to see the Rhine- land one must come back in autumn. A few miles up-river, in the Rheingau of the aristocratic wine- growers, the Stuben carry shaming little notices which try with funny pictures to cover their pained astonishment at the behaviour of their guests. 'Please don't come here like this' under a drawing of fat women reeling in funny hats and short shorts; even 'Please do not drink too much.' During the grape-picking festivals bus- loads from Dortmund and Utrecht howl like demented cats in the autumn nights, knocking parked cars about, banging on locked gates and committing nuisances in doorways. Local people do not go to these saturnalia any more. They pru- dently save the good wine for the winter evenings and buy up tuns of inferior stuff for those that know no better than to drink it.
Then, suddenly it is over. The slightly primitive, stolid locals can be seen again, the memento shops are mercifully shuttered, and the village cross, set up after articles of peace were agreed at Muenster and Osnabruck in 1647, is no longer invisible behind ice-cream and Coca-Cola ads.
Back to normal life on a misty morning, when the fog rolls in bundles while a breeze from the south helps the sun to disperse it, a black police car waits at a few minutes to nine beside the roadway leading to the ferry. Its radio crackles and the thick-set policeman waves his arm at the ferry pilot. The arriving cars bump up over the
metal ramp--there is no jetty, the roadway begins at once—then, from behind, a low Porsche drives forward as the last passengers leave the flat boat. It is allowed on the wrong side of the road and drives straight on to the ferry. Behind it a black Mercedes 300, followed by a smaller Mercedes, slips past without having to wait an instant. The waiting cars on the correct side of the road do not need to be urged to hurry and the foot pas" sengers all turn their heads to glance at the familiar aged man, his narrow head with thin greying hair bent as always over a bundle of papers. He does not look up. Only as the fern/ lets down its ramp to the farther bank and his escort and driver start up, does the Chancellor lift his eyes for one moment to nod to the familiar faces of his fellow passengers. A couple 01 tall students, another couple of well-bred clearly bound for embassies or ministries where they will carry files and answer telephones in several languages. An odd stranger may stare and
wave; not the usual ferriers. •
The Chancellor does not like Bonn. He (14_,s not like anything much, except his own house an" perhaps parts of his numerous family. lit* is an old story that he has shares in the ferry coll pany which is the reason there is no bridge .1 his is a calumny, If there were going to be a bridge, he would be going to have shares in that too; the reason there is no bridge is that the Old Man does not want what is left of the countryside on the Prussian Bank to be finally ruined. It is not connected historically or emotionally with 1300° and Bad Godesberg. The people there take the train or road to Cologne, to shop or theatre. Their lines run to..the ancient city twenty-five ,rules away, those august Romano-Gothic ruins..are 'Town' to them. Bonn is 'French,' proviaeial; a mere huddle of a place without even a .real university building—for it is, and always housed in an old summer palace of the Cologne Archbishop Elector. That Bonn was chosen tO be flooded by strangers and box-like building units of new and supposedly provisional administra- tions was no compliment to Bonn. It was chosen for two reasons. Bonn was nearer home for the Chancellor; and Cologne did not have to be 011`e again spoiled by the foreigners—they include th.1 Easterners and Berliners—who had had levelled to the ground but had not killed it
It is hard for a foreigner to like Cologne- • s harder to like Bonn. The Koelsche and the Bn- ner don't much care. Their lives are sinking he 1.11, a new surface, a fresh layer of history' is h'.lh' built upon their foundations. The Old Man trop' across the River is making the new history
the foreigners, who almost universally dislike the Rhinelanders. Under the surface remains Ger many; Low Germany where the wars
were, worked upon, fired upon, and ever~' 1-„s generations revenging itself upon the 8traitg, 'd who make its fate. In the south, in Austria and again in the Rheingau, one feels the Cierf",1% that is a supranational 'idea' of a language 311u, culture. In the Rhineland, at. the ferry. one face to face with the Germany we have nev't understood and that has never understood once more civilised and more primitive than the rest of Europe. The Germany symbolised by the Rhine; divided against itself, dominated 171)1 foreign traffic of goods and ideas, protitihi by and hating those who dominate it.