We admire Brühl’s Terrace which fronts directly onto the river, with Frauenkirche and Art Academy, Residenzschloss (Royal Palace), Hofkirche and Semperoper some way further back. From the water, the city looks even more impressive. One might think that Augustus the Strong had planned the reconstruction of his city at that time entirely for our benefit. The prince-elector can still be encountered in the form of a paddle steamer. August der Starke and his famous mistress, Gräfin Cosel, together with the other boats of the Saxon Steamship Company, are especially active on this stretch of water where there is so much for tourists to explore and discover. We were told during the briefing that canoeists must be extra careful when manoeuvring close to commercial vessels, which always have priority because the waves they generate can cause difficulties for small craft. But on this particularly hot day, there is hardly any traffic on the Elbe. As a mark of deference, we lift our paddles out of the water and let ourselves drift in the current, which saves on arm power and allows us to enjoy the picture postcard view for longer.
The river carries us through the wine country of Saxony
We now see the Yenidze, the former cigarette factory built to resemble a mosque, which signifies that we have left the bustling centre of Dresden behind us. The river now flows past industrial buildings which eventually peter out. We pass by the mouth of the Weisseritz which joins the great Elbe at such a gentle pace that our canoe does not even wobble. It seems unimaginable that this tributary overflowed its concrete banks in 2002 and flooded Dresden’s main railway station. We are now almost alone on the river, with only birds for company. A captivating tranquillity hangs over the meadow landscape.
If the peace and quiet gets too much, we have the option of stopping off at the historic town of Altkötzschenbroda or at the Lügenmuseum (Museum of Untruths) curated by artist Reinhard Zabka. But we proceed on our way, silently paddling in ever more synchronised rhythm along the Elbe. The river now carries us past some of the most notable wine estates in Saxony. Staatsweingut Schloss Wackerbarth is situated relatively high on a hillside amidst carefully cultivated steep slopes. Shortly before Meissen, the geology changes noticeably, with the grey sandstone, so characteristic of Saxon Switzerland, giving way to the rust-red rocks of the Spaargebirge, the smallest of Saxony’s ranges of hills. From time to time, the water swirls ahead us, indicating a small gust of headwind obliging us to paddle a little harder.
Quarters for the night are abundant near the shore
We have now covered a distance of nearly 40 kilometres. The arms of this keyboard worker are beginning to tire, but the skipper in the stern laughs merrily – he is happy to paddle on. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s high time that we sought out accommodation for the night. There are riverside hostels as well as special boarding houses for canoeists, and also guest rooms made available by canoe and rowing clubs. Various wine estates (including Schuh and Vincenz Richter) along the Elbe have their own wine shops and restaurants where river users can tie up and spend a few happy hours. Alternatively, you can treat those sore muscles to a very comfortable bed at the Dorint Parkhotel. So we haul the boat up through the high grass on the embankment and, because we are not enthusiastic about carrying it all the way to the underground car park of the hotel, we chain it to a road sign, putting our trust in the locals and the combination lock supplied by the canoe rental company.
A new breathtaking view comes into sight around every bend
The next morning, fortified by an excellent breakfast in the hotel dining room with its fine view of the Albrechtsburg castle, our journey continues. The muscular stiffness I was fearing has failed to materialise and the paddling goes well. The air is still, and the scenery as we approach Meissen seems even lovelier. But maybe that’s because every stroke on this final stretch of our journey is feeling like far less of a physical effort. The Elbe meanders, and a new breathtaking view comes into sight around every bend. We repeatedly encounter herons standing in the shallow water, contemplating us and our canoe with interest. We see cormorants and lapwings, and is that bird of prey possibly a marsh harrier?
Diesbar-Seusslitz is just up the road, and we’re in Lehmanns Weinstuben next to the river. Having tied up our canoe and called the pick-up service, we are now sipping a glass of gleaming Müller-Thurgau. A perfect end to a journey with many perfect moments.