Thursday 13 March 2008

The Tuebingen Stocherkahn

The Stocherkahn is a punt native to Tuebingen, a university town on the River Neckar south of Stuttgart. It is much more pointy than Oxford or Cambridge punts, and has curious seat backs that slot in next to each thwart, between the side of the boat and the gunwale. Passengers can then lean back in comfort, as long as they do so in tandem with someone of similar weight on the other side of the boat. This being Germany, there is a large space for storing beer, which is cooled in the river. Some Stocherkahns even have barbeques.
Stockerkahns are about 10m long by 1.5m beam, made sturdily of oak and pine, and are steered from the stern using a Stocherstange or punt pole.
Every year, in June, there is a Stocherkahn race over a figure-of-eight course formed by an island and the central pier of a bridge. The gap between bridge and island is very narrow, leading to complete chaos.
To race, the back rests are removed and the crew assist the punter by paddling with their hands. They can also grab opposing boats and push them out of the way. In fact, it seems that almost anything goes short of actual armed combat. Apparently the back rests used to be carried in the race until they began to be used as weapons, when they were banned.The race only goes back to the 1950s but already a tradition of dressing up in silly clothes has grown up. The winners get beer (this is, I remind you, Germany) and the last crew back has to drink half a litre of cod liver oil each.
See this web page for details of this rather lovely boat (if you don't speak German, use Google to translate it - you'll be little the wiser). The pictures come from Robert Mackenzie and Otto Buchegger, to whom much thanks.

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