"Three bitches and two sheep," a passenger calls out to me as I stand at the ticket counter of the ferry terminal. I am so hectic that I instinctively first look at the price list that hangs on the wall. My boss today, Benno Arndt, on the other hand, smiles at the passenger. Only after a few seconds do I realize that I've been taken for a ride. But during the one-and-a-half-minute crossing on the Saale from Wettin to Zaschwitz, I regularly get into a hectic rush when cashing up that day.
Actually I had hoped for a relaxed day on the small car ferry in Wettin. A little bit of sailing back and forth, directing cars, collecting money – that can't be that difficult. A fallacy. Because the ferry has quite its pitfalls. Benno Arndt lets me take the wheel myself – although wheel is a bit exaggerated. On the control panel of the ferry, which is operated exclusively by electricity, there is a toggle switch for the respective direction, a rotary knob for the speed and four buttons for the barriers.
Nevertheless, already my first crossing does not really want to succeed, although Benno, who has already offered me after few minutes the you, stands beside it and takes over the cashing. Because I am afraid that the ferry gets too fast and crashes onto the shore. So I slow down so much that we don't get close enough to the shore. "Step on the gas again, otherwise the cars won't get across," shouts Benno. Also the barrier opens only a short distance, because I forget to hold the button down. A problem I can't get to grips with until the end of the shift at 10 p.M. The annoyed looks of the drivers are certain to me then every time.
In Saxony-Anhalt, there are eleven passenger or car ferries across the Saale River. The ferry in Wettin is located at the Saale kilometer 71, 7. The special thing about the ferry is that it is attached to a high wire above the river Saale. As a result, unlike ferries, which are attached to a chain in the Saale, it can sail longer at high tide. The ferry usually runs on electricity. Alternatively, in case of a power failure, a diesel generator starts and secures operation. Every five years, the ferry has to be inspected for three weeks.
Around a ferry aloneTo be allowed to steer, you need a ferry license. You have to have been on a ferry for at least a year to qualify. After that, a theoretical. Be subjected to a practical test. In addition, a radio course must be attended.
For the next crossings, cashiering will be an additional task. This completely upsets me – especially since the ferry is often full with eight cars in the afternoon hours. Because while I am allowed to start only with half power, the first passengers come to pay. I'm happy when a ticket for ten is presented, I only have to validate it in the old-fashioned punching machine. But with single trips I always get confused with the cash register. What was the article number for a car? What did I have to enter for a child or or transport? While I am thinking about it, Benno is standing next to me smiling mildly. "If we keep going like this, we won't get there until tomorrow," he says. I have forgotten about the cashing to increase the speed. Therefore we sail in the minimum speed the 80 meters back to Wettin.
After an hour, I at least get the hang of not docking too slowly. Instead, the thing I was most afraid of happened to me in a careless moment. The ferry hits the concrete quay on the bank in Zaschwitz at a relatively high speed. The ship is shaken vigorously, the cars rock back and forth. "Don't panic, it happens to everyone, it's not that bad," Benno reassures me.
The composure of the ferryman, who has been commuting between Wettin and Zaschwitz for 22 years, is remarkable. But it also comes from the fact that Benno has already experienced much worse. Some years ago a truck slipped from the ferry into the water. "He had forgotten to put on the handbrake," Benno recounts. The towing vehicle went down in the Saale, only the trailer was still on the ferry. It took rescue workers a day to recover the truck with special equipment. "I think all of Wettin was on the shore that day – we should have been selling drinks and sausages," says Benno.
The longer I'm on the ferry, the more I notice how informal it is. Benno knows almost every passenger personally after 22 years of service. The minute and a half is always enough for a short conversation about the most important news – work, family, soccer. "I hardly need the newspaper, I get everything here anyway," he says. And no clock. Benno can estimate the time based on the regular passengers.
From 6 p.M. It gets quieter. Only a few cars want to cross. The waving is omitted, and it remains also times for a small break. "You can't stay long on the Zaschwitz side in the evening – otherwise the mosquitoes will bite you," says Benno. One of the last consequences of the flood.
The small ferry has been hit hard by the water. Service had to be suspended for three weeks in June. "I've never experienced it as bad as this time before," says Benno. The water was two meters high in the small ferry house. Worse still, the flotsam damaged the ferry's gearbox. The boss Reinhard Zametschnik estimates the total damage at 30,000 euros.
He makes the last crossing at 10 p.M. After dropping Benno off on the Zaschwitz side. When we docked, Wolfgang, the fat ferry cat, was already waiting for us at the quay. When I want to head for the car, Zametschnik holds me back. "It doesn't work like that: you can't finish work as a ferryman without a beer at Silvano's," says the 70-year-old, who will be handing over the ferry business to his daughter in a few months' time. Silvano's is a snack bar right by the ferry. As we enter, I meet the passenger with the fictional bitches and sheep again.