Saarbrücken (bung of saggars)


As soon as we got up on Friday morning in Sarreguemines we knew we were on a river because the first birds we saw we were seven Canada geese swimming by.  We’re very lucky over here as they aren't very common and they don’t appear to be the pests that they are in the UK and neither of us could remember the last time we saw any.  Karen went for an early run before breakfast and as is becoming the norm, left Buddy behind because of the heat.    

Sarreguemines has been well known for its production of earthenware, ceramic tiles and other porcelain products since the end of the 18th century.  After breakfast we set off for the tourist office in the usual quest for self-guided tours.  There were two trails, an historic one and a pottery one; we covered most of each trail not bothering with a few things such as the station.

The pottery connection was evident from the start as many signs were made from ceramic tiles, and planters in the shopping streets had crockery hanging on upright rods within the plants and shrubs.  In fact, before we found the tourist office, we came across a bottle oven which was open for the public to wander around, so we had to go in.

A few bungs of saggars on display

We learnt a bit about the firing process when we cruised around the pottery town of Stoke-on-Trent and visited places such as the Middleport pottery which we were lucky enough to moor outside a few times.  Firing used to last for up to six days with temperatures of 950ºC for earthenware and 1200 ºC for porcelain, the process using about nine tons of coal for the bottle oven we visited.  The pottery to be fired is placed in clay baskets called saggars and a stack of them is called a bung of saggars – a great expression.

Bottle oven minus its chimney

The factory that the oven belonged to had 30 bottle kilns when it was built in the 1850s.  To put that in perspective, in its heyday, Stoke-on-Trent had over 2,000 bottle ovens of which only 47 remain today and, of course, they are all listed structures.

There was a real mixture of styles and ages of housing in Sarreguemines.  We’d rather expected to see very few older houses because of the devastation from the many wars that were waged in the area, but a few streets seemed to have a large proportion of 18th and 19th century housing. Apparently, there are still a couple of houses dating from the 1650s, but we didn’t see those, or at least we weren’t aware if we did.

One of the streets with older housing

The history trail made a big thing of the cornerstones or wheel guards on the corners of many streets to prevent carriage wheels damaging the houses and I suppose they also lessened the impact on the wheels.  I know most people are aware of them and they are found all over the world, but I’ve included one as I’ve never bothered taken a picture of one before.

Stone wheel guard

Here are a few more street views:

A street witmodern housing hosting a market

Two prominent figures in the ceramic industry lived on this street

A mixture of old and new

The history tour finished in the ruins of the castle at the top of a hill overlooking the town.  There was very little of it left as the walls and 10 towers were demolished in 1900 by the Alsace-Lorraine railway company.  There was also no view over the town below as the whole area was covered in large trees.  Back in the town, we’d rather hoped to buy a souvenir from the porcelain factory shop but as we should have guessed it wasn’t open when we arrived, so we ended up with a fridge magnet from somewhere else instead.

After lunch we set off downstream as we wanted to get to Saarbrücken sometime over the weekend.  With the expected heat we hoped one of a couple of the moorings on the way would offer some shade.  As in other countries, France’s first day this year of reaching 40ºC was the earliest on record.  Fortunately, it wasn’t where we were, but it’s only been two or three degrees cooler. 

We’d been moored outside the VNF yard between the upper and middle of the three ports in the town.  As we reached the middle port we could see alongside it what is now the casino restaurant with pretty tile motifs on the front.  The building had been constructed in 1878 as a leisure facility for the pottery factory workers.

The casino restaurant

The port office was based in a turquoise péniche:

Once we were out of Sarreguemines the river was quiet and we were cruising with France on one side and Germany on the other.  The river was in French jurisdiction for another 10 km or so, so we were still obliged to fly the French flag at the front.  We were reminded why we didn’t travel this route during the two Covid years because of each country’s different entry and exit rules during the various lockdowns.  We could have been in the ludicrous situation of mooring in Germany one night and not being able to moor on the other side of the river in France the next night without taking tests and completing relevant forms and possibly isolating and not moving.

As is pretty commonplace on French rivers the weirs were unprotected and completely lacked any warning signs.  The guidebook shows where the weirs and associated lock cuts are but if they are on a bend, it’s sometimes a bit disconcerting.  Approaching one such bend Karen and I were at odds.  She was convinced the lock cut entrance was to the left while I was convinced it was just a millstream as it looked so narrow and must be further on.  As it was, Karen was correct but, in my defence, she was using the binoculars.       

Heading to a lock cut with an unprotected weir to the right

We found the first mooring in the lock cut at Grosbliederstroff and part of it was already in the shade of a large tree, so we didn’t hesitate to pull up.  The staging was overhanging as well as high which called for some interesting use of our zigzag fenders by hanging them vertically to stop the gunwales going underneath the staging and thus damaging the side of the boat or, worse still, breaking a window.  

Friday night mooring

There was a canoe club just ahead of us and lots of kids were out having lessons and some were swimming alongside us.  At one point we heard a boat coming and could tell it was going very fast.  It was a small plastic boat with a massive outboard motor totally ignoring the speed restrictions of the lock cut, creating a massive wake as it came along.  Unbelievably it didn’t slow down when it saw us and fortunately the kayakers had all reached the river so were all out of the way.  German guys from the canoe club were standing on the bank shouting and getting angry at the couple to slow down but were totally ignored. 

We were very lucky that I’d just finished putting down the zigzag fenders otherwise a window or two would probably have gone.  Worse than that though was that there could have been a nasty accident if kayakers had been emerging from the canoe club.     

Our bedroom already in the shade in the early evening

On Friday we cruised seven km down two locks.  


Having stayed overnight in Grosbliederstroff we couldn’t leave before having a look around the village.  There wasn’t much to report but we did come across a lavoir that was locked up and from peering through some dirty glass we could tell that there was some sort of brewing going on inside.

Karen having a nose inside the lavoir

Between the church and the lock cut was a restaurant that looked very inviting, but as it wasn’t even 11 o’clock it felt a little early to be patronising it.  A footbridge from the restaurant ran over both the lock cut and the river into the German town of Kleinblittersdorf.   A sign at the start of the footbridge showed that Grosbliederstroff was twinned with Kleinblittersdorf making me wonder if this twinning is the shortest geographically.  

Closest ever twin towns?

We crossed to the other side and the German town was immediately busier than the French one we’d left behind, with plenty of shops and tourists.  Karen was trying to remember what German mairies are called just as we turned a corner and came face to face with a rathaus.

Kleinblittersdorf rathaus

We were desperate to keep the sun off the back of the boat so when we got back we took the broken parasol and some lengths of wire up to the park where we found some shade under some trees.  We took the parasol apart and managed to repair it - yet again!  Back at the boat we put it up and then attached a sheet between the two parasols this providing extra shade.

The rest of day was spent watching kayakers and paddleboarders in the lock cut as well as reading and very little else.  The only boats we saw all day had both come through at breakfast time; no one was mad enough to be cruising in the heat.


As soon as we’d had breakfast, we were planning to leave for our next stop which was Saarbrücken in Germany.  A welcome breeze had sprung up during the night; welcome because the temperature wasn’t due to drop below 25ºC overnight and welcome because it would feel cooler while cruising.  We were aware of the wind gusting strongly while we had breakfast, so much so that we started considering about whether we should go or not.  In the end we decided we’d go to the end of the lock cut and see what the conditions were like when we dropped onto the river as we didn’t want a repeat of the experience we’d had on the Saône three years ago when we should never have set off in the first place.

As we headed towards the end of the lock cut the gusts became fewer and by the time we’d gone through the lock, our last in France for a while, and dropped off our télécommande there was nothing but a gentle breeze. 

Leaving our last French lock for a while

We decided to carry on as it wasn’t far to our destination and there was only one more lock to go down before we reached Saabrücken.  As well as dropping off the télécommande we’d also had to change our courtesy flags as we were just about to cross the border.

Tatty French flag…

…and a nice new German one

The pk markers changed at the border and suddenly went from 75 to 94 which would be a little confusing to a boater who didn’t realise why.  It was because the French Sarre, including the canal de la Sarre, was 75 km long up to the border and the German Saar was 94 km long from the border down to the Mosel in Konz.  The German signs were enormous compared with the French ones and also smaller signs marked every 100 metres.

Pk 94

So now we didn’t have the wind to contend with, the only issue left was communicating on the radio with the first German lock.  Sophie had given us some phrases and words that we might be expected to use from our experience of using the radio in France and also a list of responses we may get.  We neared the lock and I dutifully radioed ahead saying we were a private boat less than 20 metres long, going downstream and were one km away.  The guy responded immediately and neither of us understood a word he said.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t interrupt him to say I didn’t speak German.  When I did manage to tell him, it didn’t make any difference and he carried on in German so I thought it would be best to continue and moor up just above the lock to see what was going on.

As we approached the lock cut, we could see two arrows in the distance pointing in opposite directions which was really confusing.  It wasn’t until we neared them that we realised that the arrow at the top was indicating which way the weir was and thus no entry was allowed.

You can probably imagine the confusion we had from a distance

We could see a red light on at the lock, so I pulled in and Karen walked down to see what was going on.  It transpired that there were two cruisers on their way up and it seemed they were having a bit of an altercation with the lock keeper.  He obviously wanted them to use two lines each and turn their engines off.  His monologue on the radio was probably him explaining what was happening and we'd have to wait. It took ages but at last they were leaving the lock and the green light came on for us to enter.  Although when we’re going down a lock without any other boats, we never switch our engine off nor use lines, we immediately decided to use two lines and turn our engine off, an action that seemed to please him.  He had to take a few details before we could go down, and he’d clearly understood that I’d said I only knew a little German as he spoke very slowly, and we muddled through OK.  Contrary to our initial worries he was quite pleasant and even said goodbye over the radio as we left.

We had to smile as we could tell we were in Germany as every metallic item in the lock was earthed.

Earthed bollard

Earthed ladder

There was also a display counting down the minutes to the end of the lock operation complete with spikes to prevent birds messing it up.

We knew we weren’t far from the large town of Saarbrücken when we started sharing the river with rowing boats and families out on little day boats.

Coming into Saarbrücken

There were a couple of large out of town ports, but we fancied staying in the centre even though Karen had read that the mooring was opposite an autobahn.  By all accounts many people find it too much to stay more than one night but we thought we’d just see how we got on.  The mooring was against a steep bank that was very overgrown, so it was difficult to see where the mooring rings were, but we eventually tied up okay.  The mooring was ideal in that it was next to a park and in the shade of an avenue of trees.  Not only that, but we found that free water and electricity were available, so we immediately got out the electric kettle and fans.

Saarbrücken mooring

Across the other side we could see some old fortifications with a large schloss at the top.  I’ve only recently got used to the fact that a château can be a grand house or a castle but now we had to get used to the word schloss which can also mean both.  A rock band was playing in the grounds and was almost drowning out the sound of the road traffic, so we set up camp under the trees to listen while we had lunch.  After lunch we crossed the river on a footbridge and walked up to the castle which also housed a tourist office where we picked up some leaflets of a couple of circular tours around town.

The schloss/château/castle/palace

The original rathaus stood on the other side of the castle square:

Looking down at our mooring from the top of the fortifications you can see how close to the autobahn we were and probably wouldn’t envy us trying to sleep opposite it:

The two carriageways closest to the river are the autobahn

It was so hot that we decided to give walking a miss for the rest of the day and leave exploring until Monday when the temperature was forecast to be more reasonable and dog friendly.  We crossed back to our side of the river and went into the old town to find a bar to relax in for an hour or two instead.  While there, we read through the town guides to work out our route for Monday. 


Back at the boat we sat out under the trees for most of the rest of the day people watching.  All the other boats on the mooring were German but a French couple pulled up later taking the last space which was just behind us.  I must admit that it was a relief to feel confident enough to be able to go over and have a chat with them albeit in very poor French.

On Saturday we cruised 10 km down two locks.


It was just as well I got up when I did on Monday morning as within minutes the threatening dark skies had opened, and there was very heavy rain for about ten minutes.  I madly dashed around the boat, closing up the doors and hatches and putting windows back in.  It was a welcome relief from the recent hot weather and although it was dry for the rest of the day, it was cloudy until later on in the afternoon and noticeably cooler.  People ask how Buddy copes in the heat on a steel boat and this picture explains it all:

Fast asleep with a soaking wet towel on his back

We took our time before setting off on a walk around Saarbrücken and climbed back up to the top of the old fortifications again to begin our little tour.  It seemed that most of the grand buildings in Saarbrücken were designed by an architect called Friedrich Stengel during the early 1700s including the palace and the original rathaus that we’d seen on Sunday and shown a few pictures back.  He designed several churches in the town, but the church by the palace was built before his time although he added the Baroque style crest.

The palace church

Ludwigskirche was the most dramatic of his churches, sitting in a square of grand houses.  The houses were also designed by Stengel as additional palace properties and residences for civil servants.

Ludwig’s church in the square of palatial houses

As we crossed over the river we looked down on a wooden crane, also designed by Stengel. It has nearly been restored and will be complete when the boom and winding mechanism are added.  The crane swivelled with the top floor and was wound up and down by men walking in a hamster wheel in the main body.

The old Saar crane built in 1761

With so much of the town designed by Stengel we’d begun to wonder if the town trail we were following was put together by one of his ancestors.

The modern square on the other side of the bridge contained 40 bronze tree trunks arranged randomly and called the Interrupted Forest.  Together with the live pagoda trees they form a memorial to the unknown number of Jews of Saarbrücken murdered by the Nazis.

The Interrupted Forest installed in 2013

The building that was originally the headquarters of the Royal Prussian Mining company was one of the impressive buildings not designed by Stengel.  It was constructed in 1880 and its façade now houses a modern shopping centre, although a cast iron staircase and stained-glass windows have also been retained.

The old mining headquarters

The cast iron staircase is still used

The current town hall was built in the neo-gothic style at the end of the 19th century and was quite stunning but standing in the narrow streets of the old town area it wasn’t really possible to get a picture of the whole building. 

The current rathouse

The clouds were beginning to break up as we walked back to the boat through the old town where the many bars and restaurants were already full.

Later in the afternoon we went down to see Thilo who lives on an old converted peniché.  He’d been standing outside admiring our boat yesterday and we couldn’t resist it when he’d invited us down for drinks and a tour of his boat as we’ve always wanted to see inside a converted commercial.  It was originally wooden hulled, built in the 1860s, and is now completely made from steel.  Extensive rebuilding was going on inside, but we could still appreciate the living accommodation available on a 39 x 5 metre barge.  We spent a pleasant few hours on one of his terraces (multiple outside areas are another advantage of a large boat) learning about the river Saar and local history.  Interestingly he is also one of the organisers of the annual dragon boat festival in the town and he keeps his own dragon boat alongside.

Being moored opposite the pk 88 sign means we still have 88 km to go until we join the Mosel and will probably continue our journey down the Saar on Tuesday.

1 comment:

T-Experiment said...

Hello Katrin, hello Neil,
Yes, it is not so often that a narrow boat passes through Saarbrücken and then such a beautiful one. I was very pleased about your visit. Thank you for the information about the technical details of a narrow boat.
We also used your feedback on the moorings and a short time later mowed the high grass in an area of 50m on our own initiative. Already two days later all boats were moored in this area. I also had a very constructive telephone conversation with the Waterways Shipping Authority later on. Now the whole shore is mown and the mooring rings are now clearly visible. These are only small improvements for now and we can't change anything about the noisy motorway in the near future, but they are improvements that will benefit all boaters. We look forward to seeing you again in Saarbrücken. I wish you many more pleasant encounters on your journey.