Our next journey we commenced on foot, but found ourselves sweltering in a brilliant morning sun. After a number of miles we decided to have a paddle in the Rhine to cool down a little. This we did, but the river bed was a mass of pebbles and we had to do a hop skip and a jump on them.
We caught the German local train at the next station, and what a train it was. There was no carriage door, one merely climbed up and then shut the gate. In all probability there is no need to describe the method of transport any more.
We reached Koblenz by the train about noon, and immediately walked ourselves into a café and ordered dinner for ten. This must have come as a shock to the proprietor, for he asked us to walk around for half an hour, while he got it ready.
It was in Koblenz we saw some of the soldiers who were occupying the Rhineland, a grand total of four privates and a sergeant, all on the march, in steel helmets. These by the way were all I ever saw in full marching uniform. We bought postcards from an English speaking seller, after we had struggled with the sentences in German.
After dinner, for a dinner it really was, we crossed the Rhine by means of the pontoon bridge, in order to catch the steamer for our next hostel namely Bacharach or Stahleck Castle. The name of the steamer was 'Schiller', it was a paddle boat of about 150 tons, and on it we had one of the most enjoyable steamer trips it was possible to have. George got into conversation, mostly in German, with one of the waiters, who apparently had the afternoon off. I aided and abetted George as far as possible, and after the three hour journey was over we had increased our knowledge of German by a vast amount. This waiter whose name was Theo Nietgen had learnt some English off an Irish prisoner during the war, mostly swear words of course. We helped him to learn a little more, I mean good English, and he was a very apt pupil. We also met three English people from London on this boat, but they landed at one of the numerous stopping places.
We found Bacharach to be a typical German village and Stahleck Castle (where we were to sleep) a damn sight more typical of the Germans of centuries ago, for it was perched on the top of a hill, with a climb up to it, that would have given the Everest climbers a good bit of practice. We climbed this hill in way that most people would do it, after being on the move all day, but we were well recompensed when we saw the hostel (probably the best on the Rhine) and came into the courtyard of the castle. The view from here was simply marvellous, with the Rhine flowing about 2000 feet below us like a silver road with imitation ships moving gracefully along it. We had our first strange meal here, for we had Macaroni and Cheese laid before us, and for some it was a catastrophe, the smell being sufficient to cause a gas attack, but the rest thoroughly enjoyed it, and had more than their share. In the evening a sing-song was held which was attended by people from about six countries. The Germans of course easily outnumbered the rest, with the English a good second, and we sang 'My bonnie lies over the Ocean', which was a success, although rather flat at times. There was also two games we played, in which we competed, the first called the 'rabbits kiss', was one in which Ken excelled himself after struggling on all fours for some minutes, with a young German frau who had the pleasure of holding the other end of the string. The second game was a type of blind man's buff with a boy and a girl blind-fold, trying to catch each other by running around a large table. Reg had a good time trying to catch a very good looking Danish girl, who at frequent intervals called out with gusto 'Where are you my darling?' This of course gave Reg a great deal more courage. The sing-song concluded with the German anthem and 'Heil Hitler'.
The next morning we were roused at 6 o'clock and we had to make our bed, in such a way as to lose every crinkle in the sheets and bed covers, and to fold the blankets, in a certain way. Most of us gave up trying to do this and let the German who was trying to show us what to do, do the job himself. We had breakfast early and then Bernard, Jack, Colin and Reg left by train for Heidelberg. The other six were now relying solely on the German spoken by George. However during the day he used it very well and we had a good time on our own. It was during this morning that we managed to collect, or obtain by some means or other, a young German boy, whom we nicknamed 'Mad Albert'. He hung on to us like a leech until the following morning. He could not speak any English at all, barring two words which were taught to him by our good selves, namely 'Idiot' and 'Boloney', and the song we had sung at the sing-song the previous evening. In the village with this chap either he or we got into conversation with two young German girls who, were on a cycling holiday. We talked for some minutes and finally persuaded them to come for a swim in the Rhine, at a recognised bathing place which had been discovered by 'Mad Albert'. We had a very good time in the water, but found the current extremely fast. After swimming we all lay on the sand and sunbathed.
These two girls could speak English really good and so we were under no difficulties whatsoever, we spoke of Jazz and Classical music, and we sang some of the latest tunes, but we hardly ever got past the third line. About twelve, we like true Englishmen got decidedly hungry, and wanted our dinner, we asked our new friends, who had nicknamed themselves 'Hippy and Dickie' to come with us, at first they refused but after six Rovers had coaxed them they accepted the invitation, Mad Albert of course needed no coaxing.
We had an excellent meal but it cost us three marks each, the dearest meal we had in Germany, but it was money well spent. Afterwards we returned again to the sands and lay in a scorching hot sun, which nearly cooked our food a second time.
We talked, laughed and sang until 4 o'clock when our girlfriends had to leave us, in order to cycle to the next hostel at which they were staying. We were surprised at some of the incidents that had occurred to these girls whilst on their travels and apparently hardship was second nature to them.
Ken wrote a letter to their English teacher saying how well they spoke English, as she had told them that they were not very good at the language. Perhaps the letter will alter her opinion, who knows?
We returned to the castle for our tea, and Leslie, Mad Albert and myself went climbing to the highest part of the castle. Albert was very enthusiastic and willing so long as the danger was not too great, but he had some very funny peculiarities, about which it is not possible to write here. His trousers composed on 90% darns and 10% tweed, and the rest of his clothing was a cotton shirt, a pullover, shoes and a pair of ankle socks. He had a face very similar in features to Jack Buchanan, long and thin. He was tanned all over his body (by the sun) and by employment he was a bakelite presser. All these things we found out as he continued to hang on to us.
The evening brought another sing-song, at which we excelled ourselves, when singling 'Fare thee well' although we broke the speed record when going through the second verse. There were also international potato races in which we took part, the idea being similar to an egg and spoon race, however we did not have a great deal of success at the game, myself being unable to pick the potato off the ground with the spoon.
The next morning Ken and myself happened to be in the bedroom, when the beds were inspected, and he and I had to make most of them again, and then sweep the floor, however pretending to be ignorant of the words spoken to us we managed to get the inspector to do some of the work by showing us what to do.
While walking up the village, with Mad Albert still in our company we came across a shop where according to a notice in the window, English was spoken. We went in to buy some articles, and George asked for them in German, but the shop-keeper in a polite manner asked him to speak in English as he would be able to understand him better.
Feeling like another bathe we went to the bathing place once again, but this time we could not get Albert to go into the water, he merely played about in the sun. When we came out of the water, we sunbathed ourselves and then Mad Albert said he would have to go back to the hostel. In all good faith we arranged to meet him at 4 o'clock, when we were taking the steamer back to Koblenz. We did not think that when he left us on the sands that we should not see him again on that trip, but so it was, for within five minutes of his going our four colleagues returned from Heidelberg, found us, on the sands, and informed us we were going at 2 o'clock instead of 4 o'clock, as arranged the day before.
We had lunch sitting in the gardens near the pier, and then sailed by a paddle steamer for Koblenz. There was an English touring party on the boat, with whom we had a talk, as two of them had come from Birmingham. They were - by the way - two young ladies.
We were held up at one pier for some time owing to one of the paddles becoming damaged, and we were finally transferred to another boat, supposed to be an express. This second boat brought us into the company of some Bavarians in their picturesque clothes, who sang and danced for us to the music of an accordion. We taught them some romantic English phrase, which they used on their young ladies, and us, instead of saying 'How are you' they said 'I love you my darling', 'Goodbye my love' etc, which caused us a great deal of amusement. We passed the 'Die Lorelei' and other noted rocks and cliffs before we reached Koblenz.