Robert Schneider used to work as a bargeman between the towns of Mannheim and Rotterdam. Today he takes people round the harbour of his hometown Mannheim on his passenger ship “Kurpfalz” (Electoral Palatinate) and tells them about life on the waterfront—about constant change.
Robert Schneider steers the blue-and-white painted ship from the cab that is too small to hold more than one person. However, the captain is not alone. Standing on the “Kurpfalz” sun deck you can keep a sharp eye on him through a windowpane, watching him get the ship moving with feeling by means of a small lever and turn the large wooden wheel in a practised manner to adjust the helm.
The round-the-harbour boat trip in Mannheim typically starts on the Neckar river, close to the Kurpfalzbrücke bridge. Many of the tourist parties not only come from the region but from across Germany and those who don’t know the city yet are introduced into Mannheim’s smells first: The downstream voyage ships passengers past the famous chocolate company that natives call “Schokinag” as it used to be called, even though it has had a new name for a long time now. Then on to Mannheim’s typical contrasts and beyond: mountainous, colourful walls of stacked containers and gravel and sand piles as well as the Musikpark start-up centre on the left; the green meadows along the Neckar—the “Neckarwiese”—with joggers and strollers on the right and behind them the new Mannheim town archives “Marchivum” erected on a former war bunker.
Passengers will experience a good two-hour boat trip—the harbour is extensive. On an amazing journey, Robert steers the boat through the joint harbour area of the towns of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen, which together form one of the most important river docks area in Europe and which are much more extensive and complex than most passengers would have imagined at the beginning of the tour. On the port side, shortly afterthe point where the Neckar river flows into the Rhine, lies the habour part called Mühlauhafen. Passengers learn that the containers stacked here in huge piles are shipped to Antwerp and Rotterdam and from there across the Atlantic to global ports.
Robert explains that container ships are the most energy-efficient means of transportation and are much quicker than you would expect—thanks to congestion-free waterways. The tour from Mannheim to the Dutch port of Rotterdam takes as little as 30 hours. The way back upstream against the powerful Rhine current, however, takes about 50 hours. More than 130,000 containers were loaded in Mannheim in 2017 alone. What is inside? Robert laughs through the microphone. “Anything that fits: underpants, bicycles, jelly bears.” Unlike at the sea, there are restrictions for rivers: A maximum of two containers can be stacked on top of each other for Neckar shipping, because many bridges are low. Shipowners may stack two more layers for Rhine shipping though.