Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stocherkahn Races of Tubingen

The beautiful town of Tübingen is host to one of Germany’s most renowned universities, which was founded as far back as 1477. Today the almost 30.000 students give the city a charme of it’s own. The stunningly pretty old town is dotted with organic and world shops and alternative cafes and even though the region is a rather hilly one most people will whisk by on their bicycles. Apart from the alternative student type there is also a strong backbone of fraternities some of which exist almost as long as the university itself. Their villas, many of which with spectacular locations overlooking the Neckar river, arouse the envy of many a passer by.

It’s also thanks to these fraternities that Tübingen’s most important event of the year came into being: The Stocherkahn races. A Stocherkahn (poking boat) is a long wooden boat that has been used for centuries to navigate in shallow, murky waters as their bottom is quite flat and a stick is used to accelerate the boat instead of paddles, which made for a calmer voyage with less dependency on deeper waters. In the 20th century students weren’t satisfied anymore with the slow pace and by then solely recreational use of these boats and came up with the idea of a contest where that kind of boat would be utilized for racing.

Now, there are many boat races in the world but this is special in so far as for one thing the rules allow the crew of a boat (9 people including the Stocherer, i.e. the one with the stick) to only speed up the boat with their bare hands and the one long stick. Secondly, and here comes the fun part, those hands may also be used to fight other competing ships in any way possible. The Neckar river isn’t a wide one in these parts and has quite some bottlenecks in store along the racecourse around one of it’s islands. There’s pushing and shoving and boats have even been flipped before. It truly does make sense for the participants to give it all they have though, as the losers of the race will have to drink half a litre of codliver oil – each!

Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt

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