National Geographic : 1932 Mar
ENTERING THE FRONT DOORS OF MEDIEVAL TOWNS The Adventures of an American Woman and Her Daughter in a Folding Boat on Eight Rivers of Germany and Austria BY CORNELIA STRATTON PARKER THERE are three appropriate ways of arriving at a medieval town on foot, on horseback, and by a modest boat of sorts from the river. In these rushing motor days, the first two have decided drawbacks; the third is the perfect method of approach. Most strongholds of the Middle Ages were on rivers and, what is more, for most of their existence the towns expected you by river and built accordingly. The one way they never dreamed of your arriving was in a train of cars. They knew nothing of railroads for hundreds of years, and when an invention so out of keeping with the medieval world did lay its tracks in the direction of old towns, usually they were kept at a commercial distance. There is, of course, for every old town, the railroad station, built about 1870, of red or yellowish brick or gray stone, fune real and sooty. Across the cobbled street is the Gasthaus zum Bahnhof or the Hotel de la Gare, as sooty and funereal, too often, as the station. You look down Haupt Strasse, 1870 to 1890, glare at a factory chimney or two, and ask yourself why you bothered to get off at this particular town anyway. But keep on in the direction of the river-an old gabled house on a corner, in the next block three gabled houses with mellow carved woodwork, the Rathaus, or City Hall!-all your heart could desire! And across the square a welcoming inn, built in 1678. Well, well, this is better. Your for the most part unnecessary bag gage stored in a front bedroom of the inn, you prowl on down still farther toward the river. Now you know for sure and cer tain why you've come. You stand on the 15th-century stone bridge and look back to the 16th-century arched gateway leading to the crooked street, lined with crooked timbered houses, which ends at the Rat haus Platz. "Why, this town is perfect!" you ex claim. But the last picture you have of it-or shan't we be so cruel as to re mind you ?-will be that 1870-1890 Haupt Strasse, leading to the 1880 Bahnhof Hotel and the sooty, ugly 19th-century station. "PADDLE PEOPLE" PLY THE RIVERS But not yet. You turn your head up the river, along the remains of the old town walls. What is that speck coming down stream ? Paddles, catching the glint of the late afternoon light? A small blue boat with a yellow top, a bright blue flag at the bow emblazoned with a gold-creatured pat tern of sorts. A figure steps out in long, flappy, dark blue trousers gathered in at the ankles, gives a last look in a little book, and wan ders up the bank and over the grass, picking her way politely, so as never to step on the town laundry, not yet gathered in. She vanishes through a second ancient gate a bit upstream from the bridge. In a moment she is back, smiling. "Two beds !" she calls. Another form in long, blue, flappy trousers gets out of the boat; they unload a rucksack or two; then you behold them pick up the boat and disappear with it through the arch. Another speck rounds thebendoftheriver . . . anddis appears through the same ancient arch . . . and another. Ah, wanderer, you behold the chosen of the earth, the "paddle people," the joyous owners of Faltboote,or collapsible boats if you will spoil a good word-off for the night at the canoe station, marked in the river guidebook as the Guesthouse of the Anchor. And the boats? Did the river guide book not say there was place for fifteen? And the people? There are beds for the moneyed which cost, piled high with snow white feather bolsters, perhaps all of 35 cents for the night, but maybe less.