For 26 years, Karl and Silke Hofstätter roamed Europe’s rivers on board their hotel ship “Liberté,” before finally setting sail for new shores. With the Heidelberg-based “Weisse Flotte” and their brand new flagship “Königin Silvia,” they are reinventing the tourist cruise—and inviting culture on board.
It is a sight to behold: making an about face with the “Königin Silvia” (“Queen Silvia”). Manoeuvring the massive girl is no easy feat—unless you are Captain and CEO of “Weisse Flotte” (“White Fleet”) Karl Hofstätter. But just off the shore of “four-castle” town Neckarsteinach, he calmly turns the 60m long and 11m wide behemoth back to the west—back towards Heidelberg.
Heretofore, the passengers have experienced and seen a great deal atop the river: they began at the Heidelberg Stadthalle (City Hall), directly across from the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Walk). No matter if you’re British, French, American, Bavarian, from the Palatinate or Sauerland, once the ship stirs, you don’t. You just simply look and behold. The Heidelberg Castle, the Benedictine monastery Neuburg Abbey, Dilsberg Castle and the four castles near Neckarsteinach all create a hard-to-believe romantic ambience that captivates one and all.
“You really see what a change of perspective can do,” says one such captivated passenger. From atop the sundeck, the Neckar river seems wider and larger than from ashore. The hustle and bustle of the city fades to memory, the lumbering journey soothes and calms. “It’s the polar opposite to the hectic existence of life on land,” says the captain.
Maybe also because the sundeck on the modern “Königin Silvia” is full once again—the three-hour “Castle Trip” to Neckarsteinach is a mainstay for “Weisse Flotte”. Yet for Karl Hofstätter, such excursions are only one aspect of his job. His and his wife’s true motivation lies in establishing a line of culture and entertainment cruises along with the ones for tourists.