How do you overcome rivers, both large and small? How do you reach the other side – that seems so close? For people who live cheek by jowl with a major river, these are everyday questions.
Take the case of St. Christopher, seen here in the shape of a 500-year-old statue carved of oak. This huge figure of a man has turned up the legs of his pants, has a firm grip on his walking staff, and is wading through the torrent. The child on his shoulders is the Baby Jesus, who, according to legend, grows heavier and heavier during the crossing. But Christopher perseveres; he battles his way through the water to reach the other bank – and goes on to be venerated as the patron saint of travellers.
From the early 16th century on, this over life-size figure stood at one of Emmerich’s town gates – the Christoffel Gate. Just beyond, at its foot, there were boats criss-crossing the river. For centuries, people, animals and goods were transported across the river by ferryboat – in the shape of rowing boats, sailboats, cable ferries and finally motorised boats.
It’s entirely fitting that the last of the ferries to ply the river at Emmerich was named after the patron saint who once prevailed against a river. You can see a model of the “Christophorus” ferry in the glass case in the centre of the room. It operated from 1962 to ‘65 and was able to carry 22 private cars per crossing. By way of comparison: these days, 20 thousand vehicles a day drive across the Rhine Bridge. No wonder the “Christophorus” ferry stopped operating as soon as the bridge was opened.
But Emmerich has not just lost its ferry traffic – the ship building has gone, too. On the wall to the right of the windows, you can see a model of the Prenger Shipyard. It was located on the lower Rhine Promenade in the second half of the 19th century. The pale route through the dockyard is a section of today’s Rhine Promenade. Whenever a newly built boat was due to be launched, the promenade had to be closed off. Crowds of sightseers would gather on either side. But in the late 19th century, the age of wooden shipbuilding was coming to an end. The son of the dockyard’s founder, Heinrich Prenger, moved his business upstream to Ruhrort and switched to building iron-hulled ships.
If you’d like to know how shipping on the Rhine developed over the centuries – or even over millennia – you can find out in the next room. Do you see the two doors in the long wall of this room? They lead to our next stop.
Foto: © Claudia Klein