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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Roar of the Rhine Falls

Off to see the Rhine Falls. We have a much longer train ride today. It will take us 3 hours to get there. We left the Interlaken West station, changed trains in Bern and then again in Zürich.

We are on the German train from Interlaken to Bern. Of course, you know what that means already. We are LATE!!!! Yes, it is true again.

There is a saying, “There are people and then there are people.” In Thun, there was a group of three German speaking people whom boarded the train. Instead of getting all their bags on the train and then finding their seats, they ran to the middle of the car, tried to find their seat number and go back out on the platform to get their other bags. Well, because the train was late out of Interlaken and Spiez, it didn’t stay long in Thun. Once the whistle is blown, those doors close and lock!!!! Bags are sitting on platform. The poor man left the train in Bern and went back to Thun to get his bags. Well, that is what I assume. It was a tearful goodbye from the woman, whom I think was his wife, in Bern. They were calling the departure of the Interlaken train as we got off the train in Bern. Hope he made the train back to Thun and definitely I hope his bags are still on the platform. Now, he missed his seat reservation going to Germany. Here is another potential problem. Who has the tickets? Sometimes, multiple names are on a ticket. Surprised someone his age doesn’t know the ins and outs of traveling on a train. The joys of traveling!!!!

The Rhine Falls is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The falls are located on the High Rhine on the border between the cantons of Schaffhausen (SH) and Zürich (ZH) between the municipalities of Neuhausen am Rheinfall and Laufen-Uhwiesen/Dachsen next to the town of Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland, approximately 25 kilometers south from the German border. The nearest village to the Rhine Falls location is Neuhausen am Rheinfall (1 km away) and the closest city is Schaffhausen (3.5km away). 

Since I was last at the Rhine Falls, they now have a stop at the falls. Well, sort of. You can either take the long steep walk down and then up or you can take the outdoor elevators. Many years ago, I walked down and up so I know. Take the glass elevator even if it seems scary at first.

The Rhine Falls are 480 ft, 150 meters wide, and 75 ft or 23 meters high. In the winter months, the average water flow is 250 m3/s (8,800 cu ft/s), while in the summer, the average water flow is 600 m3/s (21,000 cu ft/s). The highest flow ever measured was 1,250 cubic meters per second (44,000 cu ft/s) in 1965; and the lowest, 95 cubic meters per second (3,400 cu ft/s) in 1921.

The Rhine Falls were formed in the last ice age, approximately 14,000 to 17,000 years ago, by erosion resistant rocks narrowing the riverbed. The first glacial advances created today's landforms approximately 500,000 years ago. Up to the end of the Wolstonian Stage approximately 132,000 years ago, the Rhine flowed westwards from Schaffhausen past Klettgau. This earlier riverbed later filled up with gravel.

About 132,000 years ago the course of the river changed southwards at Schaffhausen and formed a new channel, which also filled up with gravel. Part of the Rhine today includes this ancient riverbed.

During the Würm glaciation, the Rhine was pushed far to the south to its present course, over a hard Late Jurassic limestone bed. As the river flowed over both the hard limestone and the easily eroded gravel from previous glaciations, the current waterfall formed about 14,000 to 17,000 years ago. The Rheinfallfelsen, a large rock, is the remnant of the original limestone cliff flanking the former channel. The rock has eroded very little over the years because relatively little sediment comes down the Rhine from Lake Constance.

We decided to have lunch with a view. Michael is checking the train schedule.

Michael had the green salad and I had the mixed salad.

My mixed salad had lettuce, sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, beets, carrots, squash, and onion.

I had spaghetti bolognese

Michael had spaghetti with bacon bits.

The north side of the falls is a millsite. In the 17th century, a blast furnace for smelting iron ore found in the limestone was built. It was in operation until the first half of the 19th century.

In 1887, the ironworks applied for permission to divert between one fifth to one half of the river's flow for electricity generation. The Swiss Alpine Club, the Schweizerische Naturforschende Gesellschaft (a nature group) and several scientific societies opposed the plan.

In 1913, an international competition was held for the best plan for a shipping route between Basel and Lake Constance.

In 1919, a company wanting to build power stations in northern Switzerland were told that any such station at the Rhine Falls "must serve the economic interest of the public".

In 1944, the Swiss Council of States granted permission to build the proposed power station. The permission was to become effective on February 1, 1948, with construction to begin in 1952. But in 1951, the Neuen Helvetischem Gesellschaft (New Swiss Society), under the leadership of Emil Egli, got 150,000 Swiss citizens to sign a petition protesting the project; among the signatories were 49 famous citizens, including Hermann Hesse and Carl Jacob Burckhardt. The petition not only scuttled the power station project, but effectively prevented all future hydropower and navigation engineering projects on the upper Rhine to the present day.

Today, the falls are still under consideration for hydropower projects. If the full water flow were used, the power generated would average approximately 50 MW. The economic value of the falls as a tourist attraction may be greater.

The nearest community is Neuhausen am Rheinfall where tourists can also view the Wörth Castle. Boat trips can be taken up the Rhine to the falls and the Rheinfallfelsen. There are also viewing platforms with views of the falls built on both sides of the Rhine. These are reached via steep and narrow stairs (access by fee on the Schloss Laufen side). Guided tours of various lengths start from Schloss Laufen on the Zürich side of the falls – a youth hostel is also located in Schloss Laufen. Various restaurants are located in Schloss Laufen, Schloss Wörth and the Rheinfall park.

The Rhine Falls are easily accessible by car, bicycle and public transport (SBB railway station "Neuhausen am Rheinfall" on the northern side of the falls and SBB railway station "Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall" on the southern banks of the river). Large pay-parking lots are located on both sides of the falls.

Tourists have been awed by the Rhine Falls for centuries. In the 19th century, the painter J. M. W. Turner made several studies and larger paintings of the falls, and the lyrical poet Eduard Mörike wrote of the falls:

Halte dein Herz, o Wanderer, fest in gewaltigen Händen!

Mir entstürzte vor Lust zitternd das meinige fast.

Rastlos donnernde Massen auf donnernde Massen geworfen,

Ohr und Auge, wohin retten sie sich im Tumult?

(Hold your heart, oh traveller, tightly in mighty hands!

Mine nearly collapsed, shivering with pleasure.

Restlessly thundering masses thrown upon thundering masses,

Ear and eye, whither can they save themselves in such an uproar?)

In 1840, author Mary Shelley visited the Falls while on a tour of Europe with her son. She described her visit in a travel narrative that she published in 1844, Rambles in Germany and Italy. She says: "A portion of the cataract arches over the lowest platform, and the spray fell thickly on us, as standing on it and looking up, we saw wave, and rock, and cloud, and the clear heavens through its glittering ever-moving veil. This was a new sight, exceeding anything I had ever before seen; however, not to be wet through, I was obliged quickly to tear myself away."

The falls cannot be climbed by fish, except by eels that are able to worm their way up over the rocks.

To stand high above Europe's largest waterfall, feeling the roar and vibration of the water over one's entire body - this can be experienced at the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen. By ship one can reach castles, the Rhine Falls Basin and even the mighty rock in the midst of the waterfall.

Due to tectonic shifts in the Ice Age, the Rhine River was forced into a new riverbed over 15,000 years ago. The Rhine Falls came into being at the transition point where hard chalk turned into soft gravel. Over a breadth of 150 meters, several hundred cubic meters of water rush into the depths at the rate of 23 meters per second.

In the middle of it all stands a mighty rock that has withstood the elements for a thousand years. The rock can be reached on a circular tour of the Rhine Falls, during which one can observe the natural spectacle from up close. Virtually in the middle of the waterfall, visitors stand on platforms that jut out and partially hover over the Rhine. The castles of Wörth and Laufen can be reached by river boat, and very daring visitors can rent canoes.

The Schloss Laufen complex has sported an added sparkle since March 2010. In addition to the new visitors' center, a children's playground and the "Historama" (interactive exhibition about the Rhine Falls) have been opened. The new adventure trail with its dual lift system and the Belvedere Trail make for easy access to the magnificent Rhine Falls.

Orchards, huge sections for corn, sunflowers and vegetables, pig farms, chicken farms, sheep, cows and quite a bit of industry can be found between Zürich and the falls. I also saw many fields of pumpkins.

On the way to and from the falls, we passed by the Zürich airport.

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