Experience report by Jürgen Nimptsch

The Rhine is more than a river

Tomasee - Quelle des Rheins
Anyone who lives near the Rhine, like me in Bonn, knows and feels that it is not only water that flows past us. Residents, tourists, walkers, poets, composers, sightseers, boatsmen, joggers, cyclists, singers, lovers: they all know that this stream touches each and every one of us in one way or another. It is surrounded by longings, myths and legends.
Hiking at the source of the Rhine

In the summer of 2017, I read an article about the «Source of the Rhine», presented by Hans-Kaspar Schwarzenbach, the Director of Tourism for the Disentis-Sedrun region, in the «Schaufenster», a weekly newspaper that is distributed free of charge to all households in our city. His statement: «It is in the nature of the river that Anstösser must have seen it once. » I didn't exactly know what the Swiss meant by «Anstösser». I understood that all those who had been given already an «impulse, or Anstoss» by the Rhine should be interested in where this source of power actually originates.

Zugfahrt durch die Rheinschlucht

I set off and describe here only the possibility of a memorable short 3-day break. There are plenty of occasions for longer journeys, be it in Zurich, in Chur, the oldest city in Switzerland, at the imposing Rhine Gorge, near the source with some gold washing, or during one of the many possible connecting tours, for example, with the Bernina Express of the Rhaetian Railway as a UNESCO World Heritage Site through the glacier world down to Lake Lugano.

Rhätische Bahn beim Kloster Disentis

If you take the first flight in the morning from Cologne-Bonn to Zurich and board the train to Sedrun in Graubünden at the airport, you can check in at 3 p.m. in an accommodation of your choice and tune in to the Rhine spring the next day. The Wifi password in my hotel was, what else, «Rheinquelle». The region markets its product everywhere professionally but unobtrusively.

Leuchtturm Oberalppass

The next morning at 8.30 a.m., the half-hour free ride on the Matterhorn Gotthard train to the Oberalp pass for the explorer of the Rhine spring. On this route, the train utilises additional gearwheels and climbs up incessantly. The information stand Rheinquelle at the Oberalp pass station is decorated by a small replica of the lighthouse at the Hoeck van Holland, the mouth of the Rhine. It is considered a symbolic connection between the source and the mouth of the river. The original is located near Rotterdam, where the Rhine joins the North Sea.

Im Tomasee

At the beginning of the very well marked hike, the information: "Source of the Rhine - 1.5 hours". For me, it should be two, because my strength is the plateau rather than the ascent. At 11 a.m., about 24 hours after my departure, I stood at lake Toma, designated as the Source of the Rhine, and I was moved: by nature, and the knowledge that all that we connect to the Rhine down there has its origins up here. First, with my feet into the cold, crystal clear water, and, after some hesitation, also fully with swimming trunks. Only the real full-body baptism should make me a soulful Rhinelander. The centuries-old legends about the figures from the fairytale lake, such as the Pazolamännchen or the water nymph, Mariuschla, who lives in Lake Toma, illustrate how immense the expansion of personality can become as a result. With one step, I crossed the little creek at 2345 meters above sea level, which turns into a several hundred meters wide, huge stream for us.

Goldwaschen in Disentis

The only thing missing now was the Rhine gold, which the river still carries into the valley, as it has for centuries. In Sedrun, after my return in the afternoon, I discovered a shop that offers «tours for gold miners» and also sells the results of these efforts.

Die Rheinschlucht

The next day, I took the train back through the Rhine Gorge. Its Rhaeto-Romanic name «Ruinaulta» is composed of the words Ruina (scree/quarry) and «aulta» (high). Millions of cubic metres of rock thundered into the depth about 10,000 years ago during a rockslide. They buried the Vorderrhein under a several hundred metres thick rock mass. Over time, however, the river cut deep into the earth. The resulting lake kept flowing, and the Rhine Gorge was created – today, a natural paradise with rare flora and fauna, and also a place for rafting adventure tours. The white cliffs of the Rhine Gorge rise several hundred metres high. Here, one can feel the force that makes this stream bigger and bigger and carries on for 1200 kilometres into the sea. Without lake Toma and the Ruinaulta, no Rhine romantic, no castles, no boat tours, no Rhinelanders.

Jürgen Nimptsch

I still see these images in my mind when I look at the stream at home in Bonn. I understand where the calming effect that this river has on me comes from. And even more than before my trip, I understand why I like to call it "Father Rhine".

  • Jürgen Nimptsch, former Lord Mayor of the Federal City of Bonn from 2009 to 2015