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The Rhine 3: St. Margrethen – a little detour

    20 November 2016 – Mileage: 31 – elevation gain: 3768 Feet – No poles

    Spectacular is something else. I didn’t rain. It was warm. What I forgot: In the Rhine valley, there is wind. Strong winds. Lots of winds. Too much wind for me.

    But let’s start in the beginning. I put on other shoes than last time. Somehow a mistake. Last time I used a pair of Saucony Xodus. The damping and the grip were OK (except that the profile collects gravel). But this shoe does not fit my feet. I had to fiddle with it the entire day. This time I used Brooks Cascadia 9. The 9 is no longer in production and this specific pair was on storage for some years. Do shoes lose their damping abilities with age? I have no idea. However, this shoe felt like an old chewing gum. That hurt more than the bad fitting of the Sauconys. My feet hurt only once.

    The Cascadia 11 is already at my preferred dealer. Online in the US it stands at 90 $. I am prepared to easily pay the double amount as we are in Switzerland. If I do a thru-hike (or two) in some years I will use my network – if I buy 5 pairs or even more, the difference only will set me back nearly as much as 500 $ here in Switzerland. I tested the 10. The one everybody was complaining about the construction of the mesh around the toe joint. Bought them to small. I could also head out with Salomons or Asics. I get no more blisters. That’s good news. But today I kind of hurt my right foot. Let’s see.

    To reach the town of St. Margrethen you need 1 h 40 minutes from Zurich (and twenty bucks in train tickets). As usual I walk to the train station and I took the train at 5.33. If you ride the train at such times, you will have an entire train car for yourself. There are power outlets now so I listen to music on my phone. Metallicas songs sound better than ever live, except their drummer. Listen to Soilwork or Korn if you want to hear good drums, but so far they did not produce much epic pieces like Metallica. When I try to unplug, the housing comes undone. Good job, dear SBB.

    Again, I must pass the horrible town of Rorschach. A drunken driver ended up driving his car on the train tracks while I was in Zurich. I think that is fitting for this town. A young girl steps into the train in St Gallen. She has her skis with her. She leaves in Rorschach. I resist my desire to stop her for her own protection, of course. In Rorschach, they had frost, just two towns later in St. Margrethen there is no more frost.

    I surf along the Rhine with more than 4 miles per hour. At some point, I even get rid of my goretex jacket. I have the wind from the back. I switch back and forward between Switzerland and Austria. In Austria, there is a hunt going on. My trained ear can clearly figure out when the hunters have wildlife in their sights.

    On the Rhine river dam, there are small one-person cabins, like freestanding toilets. I inspect them visually to find out, if they are for hunting or from the border guards. I believe they are from the border guards as they have their windows covered with chicken fence. If they were for hunting they would have openings for the riffles.

    On all the official border stations, they still have barriers or felling trees. They must be extremely old as the color of the signs is faded away completely. With an ordinary sign this happens after 50 or more years. Some of the border posts are however no longer maned.

    Somebody sprayed “Jesus Christus” to a bridge. So, this must be newer. Spray painting is out now. On the bridges, you still see the wu-tang clan, 2pac or ACAB. Most of this primitive art is older than 20 years now.

    img_3148I reach Diepoldsau. In one of this border-toilet-houses they have built in a small museum. It’s brilliant. On one wall, there is an excerpt of an interview with the son of one of the refugees who fled into Switzerland after the Reichskristallnacht. It’s called Kristallnacht because the splitters of glass in the streets looked like crystals. And it’s a euphemism. Brocken shop windows were the smallest problem after this pogroms.

    In Zurich, somebody asked for a new Kristallnacht some years ago on twitter, this time against Muslims. He was dealt with quickly by some people, I’m proud of calling them somehow my friends. One of them is a former refugee herself. She had to flee the war in former Yugoslavia as a child. Today she is a better Swiss than every Swiss who is proud to be Swiss. They simply forwarded his horrifying tweet to the media. He lost everything: Job, political posts and so on. He was in the same political party as this mayor of Rorschach.

    In the Interview depicted in this small museum however, the son of the refugee recalls the words of his mother when she was stopped by a Swiss border guard. He had his assault rifle pointed at her and ordered her to go back to Austria which was already part of the nazireich at this point of time. Jews remaining in the reich risked their lives, as they were to be deported to concentration camps where they would be killed immediately or were forced to work under inhumane conditions. That was called “Extermination through work” by the nazis.

    The group of refugees had attempted already several times to cross the Rhine. She simply said: Shoot me if you want, I’m not going back anymore. Unlike the fascists in Turkey nowadays the Swiss border guard did not open fire. Instead she and her group were brought to safety. And their papers were altered on the orders of Mr Grüninger. So they could establish themselves legally in Switzerland after some years. It took only 50 years to rehabilitate Mr Grüninger after he was fired from his post because he helped hundreds of refugees. If you understand Swiss german watch this. Thousands of individuals tried to flee to Switzerland. Many were sent back by the Swiss army and the border guards – into almost certain death.

    On the other wall, there is the story of a family who had to flee Herat in Afghanistan. Therefore, they continue the story into today. Little has changed in the heart and minds however, of the people who are responsible to decide, whether a refugee can stay in Switzerland or she or he must go back.

    There is a 17-year-old girl who had her permit canceled and was ordered to back to Serbia tree days ago. Her mistake: Her mother waited too long to have her follow her to Switzerland four years ago. 6000 signed a petition calling for a permit for her to stay. She still must go back to a country she doesn’t know anymore and where there is nobody able to take care for her.

    I follow the Rhine. It is peaceful today but it is still clear why the refugees passed it where they did. The Rhine is cared for since the 18hundreds by a body established with a contract between Austria and Switzerland. They built some corrections to the natural flow in the beginning of the 19th century to prevent flooding. Every land crossing was fenced and guarded by the army during the second world war. Apparently the old Rhine had less water during the time.

    img_3155I even find the Paul Grüninger bridge. The border crossing on the Swiss side is still maned and they are busy. The border guards turn their heads away as I muster them. I had taken pictures of the sign remembering Mr Grüninger on the bridge. And I am white, sporting a jacket that screams expensive. Try this, if you are not white and blonde, you have no blue eyes and your jacket is from a cheap market somewhere in Romania. They will check your papers forwards and backwards. And again. They will run you through all their systems including their database, which has the same data than every other police database in the Schengen area. So, if you have a ticket from Spain, because let’s say, you bathed nude where you were not supposed to, they will know it. Nudism (hiking or bathing nude) is forbidden in the entire town of Diepoldsau since 1988 – says a sign not even 100 feet away from the bridge. Not even half a mile away there is an unmanned border bridge.

    I continue my way towards Chur. There is a problem. Suddenly I notice wind in my direction. For the first five minutes, I think it’s nice. It is a warm wind, coming from the south. I walk on the dam on the Austrian side. I must get down from this dam and walk where it is more protected. The wind gets stronger all the times. The wind tries to kick me down from the dam at some point where there is no way nearby. I consult my app.

    There is a way along the hill on the Swiss side. First I must however go there. I pass the town of Montlingen, then Oberriet – this town seems to be built around the Jansen company. They are specialist in steel construction elements. Their plant is somehow big but they seem to be more modest people than Mr Würth. They simply need the space for the production and smaller r&d facilities.

    The pro cattle company has seen better times: They rent out part of their building to a brothel. I want to leave the Rhine valley in hope for less wind. It is impossible to do miles in this wind. I cross the ruin of a medieval castle from 1170. With this wind, it is too dangerous to hike in the forest I think. But I do just that.

    Where the wind comes from

    Where the wind comes from

    I need to go the toilet but the area is super urban, everywhere there are people. I take the way up in the forest and I piss with the wind. I try do go down to the Rhine again. Then I see a sign, saying Appenzell 4 1/2 hours. I’m sold immediately. I have the newest in headlamp technology with me and its only one in the afternoon. I’m much faster than the time indications of this signs and I hope there is no more wind on the other side of the hill.

    The wind nearly blows me out of my shoes. So, I start to climb. Walking like this is extremely satisfactory. Of course, I get passed by a young boy, but he is just coming from the bus stop. I have already done serious miles. I climb for nearly an hour doing most off the elevation of over 3700 feet today. The forest is neat but I have never seen trees so much bending in my life. My rational mind tells me that loose branches would have already fallen. But the branches laying on the ground are getting bigger. Whatever. I look deep into the forest. There are Wolfs here. The sheep are carefully fenced in, with electronic fences and snippets of plastic band on top of it. This apparently helps to repel attacks. Once I see something but I can’t tell if it is a Brontosaurus or a Tasmanian Tiger doing a sabbatical in Europe. I force myself to take a break. I was so occupied with navigation that I didn’t drink for hours. I reach the Appenzell valley.

    Mountains in Appenzell

    Mountains in Appenzell

    I can’t believe what I see. It’s like a theme park. Except that people do live here, they are not payed actors. People do care, how they build their houses. I see brand-new houses that are built like hundreds of years ago on the outside. Carefully restored houses.

    They have a public bathroom under a church. If you don’t put golden taps, it is not possible to build in more luxury in a bathroom. There is less wind. In summer, it must be paradise out here. They have their own brewery, their own brandy and their own cheese. However, they were forced by the supreme court of Switzerland to introduce the right to vote for women in 1991. In 1990 the men decided it was not necessary. If you understand German, watch this. Last time I was here, I reached Appenzell from the opposite direction. My former girl-friend and I did a little hiking trip. However, I am not sure, if she could keep my pace today.

    I didn’t use my poles the entire day. My legs are not sore at all. But my feet hurt. It was a lot of road walking and I will not use this shoes again. So I have still have a piece of route to do but that is not the priority right now. Next time I will go to Büllach and then continuing westwards on the Rhine.