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Into the lowlands

It's unfortunate that my first official Border Stories interview had to delve into one of the darkest episodes of European history, from which the Swiss do not escape. So I'll begin on a brighter note.

The sun came out today, catching us on the point where the River Ill joins the Rhine. It was likely the wildest camping we'll have along the Rhine, even though the point and indeed the entire mouth of the Ill are entirely artificial, having been rebuilt recently to direct the Ill in a more suitable juncture to reduce flooding. As Paul pointed out, nothing in Europe is truly natural.

The canalization of the Rhine began in 1900 and had reached Diepoldsau by the 1920s, leaving the Swiss town behind a sleepy meander on the Austrian side of the swift currents of the newly diked Rhine. This made it a convenient place for Jews to try to escape Austria after the Nazis annexed Austria in March 1938, as Hanno Loewy explained to me as we walked along the Old Rhine between Hohenem and Diepoldsau. The director of the Hohenem Jewish Museum, he is an expert on this period. At first the Nazis were only too pleased for the Jews to leave, but by October the Swiss had had enough and required official (non-tourist) visas and asked the Germans to stamp a "J" in Jewish passports. These were then refused at the border.

He told many more stories as we walked, and I'll try to get back to them later. Right now I still have many kilometers to paddle while trying to catch up with the others, who will wait at a campground just where the Old Rhine reaches Lake Constance.

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