Down the Rhine, Up the Glatt: the Poet´s Path

“Insidious forces are marshalled against the time, space and will to walk and against the version of humanity that act embodies.

One force is the filling-up…”the time in between”, the time of walking to or from a place, of meandering, of running errands.

That time has been deplored as a waste, reduced and its remainder filled with earphones playing music and mobile phones relaying conversations.

The very ability to appreciate this uncluttered time, the uses of the useless, often seems to be evaporating, as does appreciation of being outside – including outside the familiar.

Mobile phone conversations seem to serve as a buffer against solitude, silence and encounters with the unknown.

…Obesity and its related health crises seem to be becoming more and more of a transnational pandemic as people in more parts of the world become immobilized and overfed from childhood on, a downward spiral where the inactive body becomes less and less capable of action.

That obesity is not just circumstantial – due to a world of digital amusements and parking lots, of sprawl and suburbs – but conceptual in origin, as people forget that their bodies could be adequate to the challenges that face them and a pleasure to use.

People perceive and imagine their bodies as essentially passive, a treasure or a burden but not a tool for work and travel.”
(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

I went for a walk yesterday, from Eglisau on the Rhine River to Bülach near the Glatt River, not so far, a four-hour walk, but rewarding nonetheless, especially after too long a time since my last meanderings.

Walking integrates my body, my mind and a sense of place, both geographical and spiritual.

Walking restores my sense of wonder of the world and gives me the air of open-minded exploration and imminent discovery.

Walking does not need a destination, as it is the savouring of details and varying perspectives, the consideration of life at a pace of three miles an hour.

“While walking, the body and the mind can work together, so that thinking becomes almost a physical, rhythmic act.

…Past and present are brought together when you walk.

Each walk moves through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a continuous experience – so unlike the way air travel chops up time and space as cars and trains do.

This continuity (has been) lost in the Industrial Age, but we can choose to reclaim it, again and again, and some do.

The fields and streets are waiting.”
(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: The History of Walking)

Eglisau, population 5,000, is all about location, location, location.

It is at the crossroads of two medieval traffic routes: it controlled shipping on the Rhine as it is located on both sides of the Rhine and the cities of Zürich, Winterthur and Schaffhausen are quick and easy to reach from Eglisau.

It once was a provincial capital and it remains, as it ever was, a market town.

Eglisau once generated vast revenues from shipping and salt transport on the Rhine, but with the 1919 building of the Rheinsfelden power station downriver the levels of the Rhine rose while old houses, incomes and a century-old wooden bridge were sacrificed all in the name of progress.

Still the foundations of the medieval old town are well preserved and still recognizable today – 17th century Gothic houses, the Protestant Church completed in 1717 with majestic views of the River, wine trails on the southern slopes high above, the baroque Weierbachhaus dating from 1670 – a winemaker´s house of historic value now a local Museum displaying artifacts on the town´s history, shipping, salmon fishing, salt trade and industry – make Eglisau well worth a visit.

A cruise down the Rhine is a pleasure as you float downstream under a 90-metre long railway viaduct of enormous 12 metre high stone arches.

Eglisau is an ideal starting point for hikes through vineyards and forests on either shore you may choose to follow.

I walked downriver to the Rheinsfelden hydraulic power station (a protected historical monument) to meet the Gottfried Keller Poet´s Path, a four-hour hiking trail from the town of Glattfelden to the hamlet of Schachen, along the Laubeberg (a elevated series of hills), to the Rhine and the Kaiserstuhl (“the Emperor´s Seat”, a nearby mountain), to end at the Schwarzwassersteiz Castle.

“The association between walking and philosophizing became so widespread that central Europe has places named after it: the celebrated Philosophenweg in Heidelberg where Hegel walked, the Philosophendamm in Königsberg that Kant passed on his daily stroll and the Philosopher´s Way Kierkegaard used in Copenhagen…

Jean-Jacques Rousseau remarked in his Confessions:

“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think. My mind only works with my legs.”
(Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

Glattfelden, population 5,000 as well, is in a lovely setting on the banks of the Glatt River (a stream in comparison to the Rhine) and walking to Glattfelden along the Glatt on a weekday while others work is a delight where one can appreciate peace and quiet only disturbed by the occasional racuous quacking from families of ducks.

Glattfelden, in the Zürich Unterland, on the lower reaches of the River Glatt, is the home of Switzerland´s largest film studio, as well as the “hometown” of poet/author Gottfried Keller (1819-1890).

Keller, in his youth, spent frequent holidays at the Glattfelden house of his uncle.

In his novel Green Henry (Der grüne Heinrich), Keller describes Glattfelden as “a valley of green meadows, laced by the bends of a crystal-clear stream and encircled by forested mountains.”

Despite the ravages of Time with its industry and traffic, Glattfelden still lies in the middle of peaceful countryside.

It is a beautiful village considered to be of national importance and worthy of preservation.

The Gottfried Keller Poet´s Path and the Gottfried Keller Centre were created in honour of the poet.

On the hills above the railway tracks and through forests with decaying post-suicidal leaves piled thickly on the ground, I walked to Bülach, a vibrant old town, regarded as the business centre of the Zürich Unterland, just 15 km away from Zürich as the crow flies.

Bülach, population 18,000, like Glattfelden and Eglisau and many other European country towns, has an attractive town centre.

The town hall is an impressive gabled building with a lovely timber-framed facade.

The Reformed Church and the popular Sigristenkeller Gallery stand on a small hill and are surrounded by pretty old buildings, including the Pfarrhaus and the old Tithe Barn.

The church is named after Saint Laurentius, to whom the town’s coat of arms is dedicated.

Saint Laurentius was Deacon to Pope Sixtus II and became a martyr when he was condemned to death by fire in 258 AD.

The church forms a well-matched unit with the Town Hall and has a tower rising above it to a height of 74 meters.

Also on the first Saturday of every month at 6 pm, trumpeters play for half an hour from the top of the tower.

In the 13th century, medieval Bülach was fortified by walls, whose well-preserved remains are still visible today.

Two kilometres north of the town is the Petersboden Vantage Tower with lovely views of Bülach and its surroundings.

A 40-minute hike from the Tower leads you to the confluence of the Töss and Rhine Rivers with barbeque and bathing spots and a beaver trail.

On Thursday evenings, the Bülach Observatory, the Sternwarte, offers the chance to view the heavens in all their glory.

To the west of town is the Neeracherried, one of Switzerland´s last fens, while to the south, halfway between Bülach and the Zürich International Airport outside Kloten, are the ruins of a Roman estate.

It is truly a unique emotional experience to stand in the middle of the fascinating flora and fauna fantasia of reed beds or wander through the excavation site of an ancient villa while just overhead there are close-up views of flying machines taking off or landing from all over the world.

When I think of yesterday, I curse today.

My PC refuses to start up, while my laptop reacts slower than molasses in January.

My technical troubles cause me to neglect breakfast and now smoke fills the apartment and the smell of bacon ashes permeates everything.

Breakfast is as irretrievable as the body of St. Laurentius.

Outside my window, the morning is a damp prospect of a sky raining down “cats, dogs and elephants”.

I think of my First World problems and, despite the weather, Outside seems a whole lot better.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Time I went for a walk again.


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