Schaffhausen, a town of 7500 inhabitants, stands on the right bank of the Rhine, just above the spot where the rapids and falls commence, which render that river unnavigable as far as Basle. It was originally a landing place and magazine at which the portage of goods began and ended, and owes its origin and name to the boat or skiff houses here erected.
The river remains unnavigable from Schaffhausen, (population now 35,000), unless you’re crazy enough to try and sail a boat over The Rhine Falls, the biggest waterfalls in Europe. Instant death is guaranteed. Talking of which, I love the description the police put out of a jogger who witnessed the death of 76 year old local who accidentally fell to his death in the falls, whilst admiring the view in 2013:
“The man is about 30 years old, about 190 centimetres tall, of slim build, wearing a grey and blue jogging suit”
Oh, yeah, I forgot the important bit…
“He had a three-day beard.”
Now, I’m not sure how long it takes you to grow a beard – especially if you’re a woman – however I think it is a fairly safe bet that not everybody sprouts stubble at the same rate, and I guess the Schaffhausen Police’s description of a “three-day beard” would be slightly different to that of the Appenzell Police.
Pleasure cruises and small rowing boats sail up stream towards Bodensee (Lake Constance) with the traditional Weidling wooden boats lining the river banks of the town and popular for hitching a ride on – apparently you just ask the boatman as he passes by, presumably getting your pretty girlfriend to wave her thumb in the air, whilst you hide behind a bush (it once worked for me), holding a crude cardboard sign in her other hand which states your preferred destination along the river – “Rhinefalls” obviously being less successful than “Schlatt”.
It is almost exclusively on account of its vicinity to the celebrated Falls of the Rhine, that Schaffhausen is visited. It has little resort, except from the influx of travellers, it being one of the portals of Switzerland, and there is little within the town to deserve notice.
I was confused to Murray’s comments about “little within the town to deserve notice”, not least for the fact the grumpy sod had devoted almost two pages of his “Handbook” in detailing how beautiful the buildings were.
The wall and turreted gateways of the town have been preserved and furnish very picturesque subjects for the pencil.
The city walls, dating back to 1250, still stand in parts, with the Obertorturm, being the oldest original building in town, dating back to 1273. It got me wondering how many modern buildings will still be standing 740 years from now. I dread to think what my hometown of Manchester will look like with some of the build-them-quick-build-them-cheap eyesores that have arisen in recent times.
Elsewhere, along the city walls, the Schwabentor (to the left as you come out of the station) was added in 1361, whilst the Diebsturm, dating back to 1414, was one of two towers built into the wall that acted as a prison. It became an air raid shelter during WWII, protecting the locals from those American pilots unable to read maps, and has been empty ever since due to having no door. I was left fascinated by this 600 year old structure, which has been built around and blocked in, basically serving no purpose and with absolutely no way of accessing. I presume that nobody was inside when they bricked it up.
It is distinguished above almost every other town in Switzerland by the antique architecture of its houses, whose fronts and projecting oriel windows are decorated with carvings and stucco work.
Schaffhausen is arguably the most beautiful city in Switzerland, with its old town being kept intact and dating from long before Murray rode into town, making his description just as accurate today as it was to the 1830’s English travellers.
Many of them were originally entirely covered externally with fresco paintings, but of these there are now few examples; the house called Zum Ritter, nearly opposite the Couronne, is one of the most remarkable of those that remain.
Haus Zum Ritter still stands at Vordergasse 65 and is now a chemist, its beautiful painted facade looking like some sort of medieval tattoo. Talking of which, if you want a tattoo, you should contact my mate Coli Niederhauser, who has a tattoo parlour in Schaffhausen. And whilst we are on the subject of Ritters, check out the musician Josh Ritter – possibly the greatest lyricist alive today and one that I’m sure Murray would have namechecked, had he been around at the time.
The Couronne, opposite (Zum Ritter, not the tattoo parlour), is now the Coop bank, with a plaque on the wall marking its spot.
The houses or halls of the ancient Guilds, or Zunfts, are worthy of attention on account of their quaint inscriptions and allusive ornaments.
There were originally ten guilds represented in Schaffhausen, each possessing a most magnificent guild house from which they would create the rules of which people could practice their specialist craft. In essence they were almost cartels and, as a result, wielded great control over the city. Nearly all the buildings were sold in the 1850s, however each still stands with the exception of the Rebleuten, which was destroyed in April 1944 by US bombing – the city’s border location obviously proving confusing for the trigger happy American pilots, outside of the USA for the first time in their lives.
The Zunfthaus zum Rüden (house of males) is now the Hotel Zunfthaus zum Rüden at Oberstadt 20; the Gerbernzunft (tanners guild) is now the Restaurant Gerberstube at Bachstrasse 8; and, the prettiest, Gesellschaft zun Herren, the guild for the most noble families, is now the the Herrenstube at Fronwegplatz 3, boasting a stunning Baroque facade.
Other guilds included the shoemakers, the locksmiths,the plumbers, carpenters, merchants, butchers, bakers, doctors, hatters, tailors and the fork makers. I presume spoon makers were also invited as a +1 guest to their meetings at Fronwagplatz 7.
Behind Haus Zum Ritter, Münster Allerheiligen (All Saint’s Church) is the oldest building in the city.
The Munster – originally the Abbey of All Saints – was founded 1052. It is a building in the Romanesque, or round arched style, remarkable for its antiquity, the solidity of its construction, and as exhibiting an unaltered specimen of that style.
The arches of the nave are supported by single circular columns, and those in the centre of the transept by square piers of the most massive kind.
The cloister attached to the church contains a profusion of monuments of the magistrates and patrician families.
Kloster Allerheiligen (All Saints Abbey) is now home to an art museum, natural history museum and a pretty herb garden.
The Town Library contains the collection of books of the celebrated Swiss historian Mueller, who was born here.
Whilst the Bibliothek am Münsterplatz moved from the original Ministerialbibliothek, a few doors down, to this old grain house at the back of the Münster in 1923, to this very day, the library still boasts that “the brothers Johannes von Müller and Johann Georg Müller are among the important personalities that Schaffhausen has produced.” Their Muller Brothers Greatest Hits collection is spread over a total of 240 archive boxes (30 linear meters) including over 40,000 letters. Johannes Muller was one of the most famous historians of his time and his letters include correspondence with, amongst others, Goethe, Schiller, Georg Forster, the Justin Bieber Fan Club and Humboldt – not to be confused with Hublot. Talking of which, Schaffhausen’s most famous export, IWC (the International Watch Company), are based by the riverside next to the library.
On the height above it rises the curious and perfect feudal castle called Unnoth or Munnoth.
Despite being a regular visitor to Schaffhausen, I had never been up to the castle, so my reaction on entering it, was one of pure amazement. First of, I had to cycle the steep but delightful zig zagging footpath from town, reminiscent of Lombard Street in San Francisco, which was still part of Mexico, and probably called Calle Lombardo, when Murray would have trekked or hired an Uber Mule up to Munot.
Its towers have walls of great thickness (18 feet), said to be of Roman (?) construction; the building, however, was not finished in its present state till 1564.
The moated round castle that greets you, at the top of the climb, appears rather different to the perspective you get from the town below, and you can see the Roman influence. It’s believed that they once had a watch tower here, however the earliest records date back to 1098, possibly explaining Murray’s usual sceptical questioning of the claim.
Because of its location on the hill, the moat was never filled with water, however they did throw some fallow deer in there to graze. Hardly as impenetrable as Bern’s bear pits but, if the enemy did still try to cross, they are likely to be killed by falling carrots and apples, chucked in the general direction of Bambi by the tourists above.
It is provided with bomb-proof casemates, capable of sheltering many hundred persons. Many subterranean passages lead from it.
The castle is free to enter and, on walking through the tiny door, you are not prepared for the impressive cavernous interior, which is lit by the sunlight, shining through holes in the roof. Totally unmanned, there’s no signs leading you around, so you are free to explore like an adventurous child.
One of the passages leads up a historic steep spiral staircase, which is not so easy to climb with cycling cleats attached to your shoes – one step forward, three steps back.
At the top of the stairs, you emerge from the tower, unexpectedly, onto a huge platform, which is used as a beer garden. A year after Murray’s book was published, in 1839, the Munotverein organisation was formed by a local art teacher as an attempt to preserve the building. Today the club still exists and the roof of the castle plays host to weekly black-tie balls, an open-air cinema and opera performances. For over a hundred years, traditional ballroom dances have taken place in the round, with strict well-defined steps and sequences – something which obviously appeals to the peculiar Swiss habit of following rules.
The lovely lady in the kiosk recommended a Munötler wine for me, made from Pinot Gris grapes grown on the hill of the castle. I took in the view of the vineyards below as I sipped it, admiring the panorama of the city and the snaking Rhine.
Heading back down to my bike was no mean feat; I had to use all my skiing knowledge – pizza, plough, pizza – to slide back down the spiral staircase in my cycling cleats, desperately trying to grab a hold of the wall to slow me down and stop me from taking out anybody who happened to be walking up in the opposite direction.
Heading down the steps on Romerstieg (behind the castle) to the river, it drops you off at another guild house. This time the Fischerzunft (fisherman’s guild), now the Restaurant Fischerzunft, which is well worth a visit, if not for its stunning location alone. You can watch the boats come and go here from the landing stage, with the trains on the impressive bridge above passing less often than the tourists, with their cameras primed in position for the action shot, would like.
Diligences go daily from hence to Zurich and Offenburg (on the road to Strasburg and Frankfort), three times a week to Constance. A steamer runs twice a week between Schaffhausen and Constance.
How many times have you ran for a bus and a train, only to miss it by a matter of seconds, and think “bloody hell, I’ve got to wait another 15 minutes before the next one, now”? Well, imagine poor old Frau Fischer, back in 1837, slowed down by her heavy grocery shopping from Schaffhausen market, missing the steamer home to Konstanz, and thinking to herself, “For feck sake, I’ve got to wait another three days before I can get the next boat home. I better call my family to let them know that dinner won’t be ready. Oh, hang on, I’ve got to wait another 40 years before the telephone is invented. Nevermind, I’ll be home by then.”
Nowadays, the Schaffhausen URh boats go four times a day, and take 5 hours.Trains go almost every half hour to Zurich (an hour away) and Offenburg is just two hours by train (changing at Singen).
The celebrated wooden bridge over the Rhine, of a single arch, 365 feet in span, was burnt by the French in 1799, and is replaced by one of the most ordinary construction. A model of the original may be seen in the town library; the architect was a carpenter from Appenzell, named Grubenman.
I love the fact that Murray always namechecked random architects, carpenters and artists, possibly as a result of having nothing else to say, but his words would have allowed such workmen to then advertise the words “Internationally Renowned” to future clients. However, it has to be said, the original Grubenmann-Brücke was bloody impressive.
The concrete Rheinbrücke Schaffhausen–Feuerthalen that now stands in its place certainly lacks the same imagination, and the name of its architect was probably forgotten before construction was even completed…
The best mode of visiting the falls from Schaffhausen is to hire a boat from thence (costs 48 fr) and descend the river, which already forms a succession of rapids, by no means dangerous under the guidance of a boatman accustomed to the river.
Nowadays, the best mode of visiting the falls from Schaffhausen is to cycle from thence (costs nothing, other than mud, sweat and gears) and follow the river on the left side through Flurlingen towards Dachsen.
When the increased celerity of the current and the audible roar announce that the skiff is approaching the falls, the steersman makes for the left bank, and lands his passengers under the picturesque castle of Lauffen, situated on a high rock overlooking the fall, within the Canton of Zurich. It is occupied and rented by an artist who speaks English, and charges 1 franc admission for each person.
I’m not sure if the woman behind the admissions counter at Schloss Laufen was an artist, however she spoke English, and charged me 5 franc admission for each person to the Rhinefall.
The advantage of approaching the fall on this side, is that nothing is seen of it until it is at once presented in its most magnificent point of view, from the little pavilion perched on the edge of the cliff immediately above it.
The little pavilion still stands, and its multicoloured windows offer different perspectives of the falls, adding a monochrome glow to the view.
Several flights of very rude and slippery wooden steps conduct from this pavilion to a projecting stage, or rude balcony, of stout timbers, thrown out like the bowsprit of a ship, from the vertical cliff to within a few feet of the fall. It actually overhangs the roaring shoot, and though perfectly secure, seems to tremble under the impulse of the water.
Whilst stood on this “projecting stage”, easily over a hundred times in my lifetime, I’ve often wondered to myself – as is the wont of Aquarians apparently – how they went about constructing it. Now that I know it even existed as far back as Murray’s visit in 1837, I’m even more baffled, and less trustful of his words that it is “perfectly secure.”
Here, covered with the spray, the traveller may enjoy the full grandeur of this hell of waters; and it is only by this close proximity, amidst the tremendous roar and the uninterrupted rush of the river, passing with the swiftness of an arrow above his head and beneath his feet, that a true notion can be formed of the stupendous nature of this cataract.
I never grow bored of looking down at the water rushing beneath my feet, whilst getting soaked from the spray above. The Rhinefalls certainly are a place that you should visit at least once in your life. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been at least 100 times (I live locally and it’s on my cycle route). I remain in awe of its seasonal changing beauty and the impact it has on the coach loads of tourists who usually stop here first on entering Switzerland. For they are certainly the greatest introduction one would ever need to the most spectacular country on earth.
The best time for seeing the fall is about 8 in the morning, when the Iris floats within the spray (provided the sun shines), and by moon-light. The river is usually most full in the month of July. The Rhine above the fall is about 300 feet broad; the height of the fall is reduced to 70 feet.
I’ve never seen my own village at “8 in the morning”, let alone the Rhine Falls; for I rise only in double figures and, anything before, my eyes are usually so blurred from lack of sleep, you could tell me the toilet flush was The Rhine Falls, and I’d probably believe you. I have seen it “by moon-light” however (the falls, as well as my toilet), and I can confirm, especially during a full moon, it is truly serene with not a tourist in sight, other than some 30 year old jogger, about 190 centimetres tall, of slim build, wearing a grey and blue jogging suit, and with a three-day beard.
That is unless of course you visit on July 31st – the eve of Swiss National Day – when they have a spectacular firework display over the falls; one of the highlights of the calendar which attracts over 10,000 people (so get there early). In 2016, tightrope walkers will even attempt to cross the falls before the display.
Crossing the river by the little ferry boat, or by walking back up to the castle and across the railway bridge, constructed at some skill and cost in 1857, twenty years after Murray’s visit, you get to view the falls from the Neuhausen side.
Its appearance from the opposite side of the river is tame in comparison, and the first impression from thence, made by the finest cataract in Europe, will most probably prove disappointing.
This vista is where the coach loads of tourists get dropped off and, far from being disappointing, might well be “tame in comparison”, but it offers a great view of the entire falls, and the castle above.
The river, after its leap, forms a large semicircular bay, as it were to rest itself; the sides of which are perpetually chafed by the heaving billows. Here in front of the fall, on the right bank, stands the Castle of Worth, a square tower, containing a camera obscura, which shows the fall in another and a very singular point of view.
Schlössli Wörth is now a fantastic fine dining restaurant, well worth making a reservation for. With such an amazing view, it’s no surprise that it comes at a hefty price tag (CHF 40+ for main courses), however there is also a cheaper self-service restaurant for those on a budget.
From this tower to the foot of the rock on which the castle of Lauffen stands, several ferry boats ply to convey visitors across; charging 4 batz each.
Having come across the river by one of these little ferry boats, I can confirm it no longer costs 4 batz each. The cost is now just CHF 2 each way, (or
Two isolated pillars of rock, standing in the middle of the stream, divide the fall into 3 shoots. Seen from behind these pinnacles seem eaten away by the constant friction of the water, and tottering to their fall; indeed, as the rock is soft, the waste of it within the memory of man must be considerable.
From this side of the river, the two “isolated pillars of rock” are the centrepoint of the view and as I walked alongside the falls, I got to see the erosion Murray talked about close up.
The boats are much tossed about in their passage, but sometimes approach the base of the pinnacles above-mentioned without risk, provided they keep clear of the eddies.
It turns out, according to the modern day know-it-all, Jimmy Wikipedia, that “an eddy is the swirling of a fluid and the reverse current created when the fluid flows past an obstacle”, rather than angry local fishermen Edward Osterwalder and Edwin Haefliger.
For just CHF 10 you can be “much tossed about” in your passage – less of a dirty mind, please – to be dropped off at “the base of the pinnacle.” Make sure you ask the ferryman to come back and collect you though, as it can be a cold and wet night stuck out there on the rock in the middle of the falls. Although, in saying that, you will get to benefit seeing the falls at their best, “about 8 in the morning” and “by moon-light”.
Close to the fall is an iron furnace; the wheels of the hammers are turned by the fall, and the draught caused by rush of the water supplies the place bellows.
Amazingly, in 1944 the Swiss Government agreed to build a power station at The Rhinefalls, after initial plans in 1887 and 1913 were shelved. Opposition was so great, 15,000 people signed a petition, including Nobel Prize winning author Hermann Hesse and Red Cross President Carl Jacob Burkhardt. The Swiss Government backed down and the site became a permanent tourist attraction for future generations.
The walk from the Falls to Schaffhausen is very pleasant, and commands (as you approach) several pleasant landscapes, of which the town is the principal object.
Heading back into town on the Neuhausen side (after briefly walking back to Lauffen over the railway bridge, to collect my bike), the route takes you along the beautiful riverside into Schaffhausen.
SCHAFFHAUSEN ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS:
Opened in 1799 and now a restaurant, Restaurant Falken, serves local specialities including a Schaffhauser Pfanne, a plate of mixed meats, vegetables and rosti.
Couronne, not recommended.
The 3 star Hotel Kronenhof, dates back to 1489 with previous guests including Goethe, Tsar Alexander, General Dufour and Michel de Montaigne. Whilst Murray, may not have recommended it, “very good” reviews online, show it’s improved its game since.
There is a good inn close to the Rhinefall… At the village of Neuhausen, 10 minutes’ walk from the fall, there is a clean and moderate small inn, Zum Rhinefall: charges – beds 2 fr, dinners 3 fr, breakfast 11⁄2 f.
Whilst there is now an ugly 1980s building housing a Hotel Rhinefall, it is not the same Hotel Zum Rhinefall mentioned by Murray. For historic accommodation, you can’t do much better than the Dachsen am Rheinfall Youth Hostel, located in the thick walls of Laufen Castle on the opposite side of the river, right above the waterfall itself.
0km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN BAHNHOF
0km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ SCHWABENTOR → flat
0km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ RESTAURANT FALKEN → flat
0km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ OBERTOR → flat
0km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ ZUNFTHAUS ZUM RUEDEN (Oberstadt 20) → flat
1km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ DIEBSTURM (Neustadt 13) 10 m
1km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ ZUNFT ZUN METZGERN (Fronwagplatz 7) 20 m 20 m
1km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ GESELLSCHAFT ZUN HERREN (Fronwagplatz 3) → flat
2km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ HAUS ZUM RITTER (Vordergasse 65) → flat
2km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ MUENSTER ALLERHEILIGEN 10 m
2km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ KLOSTER ALLERHEILIGEN → flat
2km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ BIBLIOTHEK AM MUNSTERPLATZ → flat
2km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ RESTAURANT GERBERSTUBE (Bachstrasse 8) → flat
3km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ MUNOT 40 m
3km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ RESTAURANT FISCHERZUNFT (Fischerstubengässchen 2) 40 m
3km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN URh → flat
3km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN ~ GRUBENMAN BRUCKE → flat
6km ~ FLURLINGEN 5 m 10 m
8km ~ SCHLOSS LAUFEN AM RHINEFALL 30 m 5 m (NB, leave bike here)
8km ~ RHINEFALL SCHLOESSLI WOERTH → ferry
If necessary, return to collect bike via bridge and cross back over to right side of Rhine
11km ~ NEUHAUSEN 60 m 30 m
13km ~ SCHAFFHAUSEN → flat