Thursday, November 21, 1918, p. 7

A Journey on the Congo

In his interesting journey book entitled "In a Motorboat through Africa" the well-known German explorer of Africa, First Lieutenant Paul Grätz describes a river trip on the Congo he took the year before the outbreak of the World War:

On the 19th of June in the rays of the morning sun the "Bruxellesville" steered towards the palms on the small jut of land of Banana, circled the southern tip of Banc Stella, headed towards the flagged upper entrance to the creek and laid anchor in the city harbor.

Our steamer's signal sounded like a goodbye to the king of the African river through the quiet dawn. The rays of the sun barely pierced through the fog as the keel of the Bruxellsville sailed beyond the broad river. Unmeasurable quantities of water separated islands from islets! In spirit I stand before the shore of the Zambezi, the source of the Congo river in northern Rhodesia. All the struggles experienced on this wild journey are imbedded in my soul. Remembrances of the good Flere, whose eyes flashed so joyfully when thoughts and words concerning the far off home port of Banana ushered forth and returned us to our loved ones back home...My brave, slender little boat, "Sarotti," which found its grave in Luapula up in Kalonga. And my boys, the valient Simulenga, James and Jeremias, Levi and Tom, who rushed their way back to their boss in far off Katanga.

Like our beloved German forest with its blessed stillness, its spicy scented needles, its cool moss on crystal clear streams, its flowers and fruits, its beetles and birds, all of which dreamily and nostalgically sing to my huntsman soul, its magic drawing me to its tropical and primal woodlands with their abysmal shadows, its gigantic trees, its practically impenetrable canopy and its mysterious flora and fauna, which forever present a novelty to the northerner.

At full speed the Bruxellesville chugs along the green wall of the shore with its rushing waves, which shuttle through the water where palm fronds and bullrushes hang down. The view changes. The rich vegetation recedes into steppeland, on which soar, as though lost, a few borassus palms. Flat, grassy islets divide the current. Yellow sandy banks reflect the morning sun, which blinds me. The elongated islands of Monro and Otseaux have a harbor-like appearance. Both are the property of Portuguese Angola, which stretches down from the Congo in a southerly direction until it reaches German Southwest Africa. Here and there on small coves lie humble, four-sided African huts overgrown with vegetation. Steamers, tugboats, dredgers, and small watercraft inhabit the river. The government requires them to have flags in greeting and honor of our fellow passenger, Vice-Governor Henry. Roche Fetiche juts out of the river like a cap. The tiny ship must go around it at five miles per hour.

At the summit of Roche Fetiche we viewed Fort Shinkakasa, the guns of which protect the approach to the west and Boma, the capital city of the Congo. All eyes were pointed in that direction and the crew had already begun to clear off the landing boat. The large rescue boat was already at starboard with a handful of Africans on board when suddenly the mounting rig broke and all the boys jumped off the perpendicularly swaying boat into the water. One of them immediately smashed his skull on the iron ship's wall. Two were immediately drawn into the propeller and never seen again. The fourth, unable to swim, raised one of his arms then sank while the other arm flailed in the maelstrom. A fifth disappeared in the current. The wreckage drifted behind the Bruxellesville, which still traveled at full speed. Horrified and full of pity everyone looked behind at the ship's wake. There was no chance of rescue—jumping in the water to attempt rescue would have been useless and suicidal—No signal sounded. The ship remained at full speed. The intermittant booming of the engine sounded like a death knell and left us trembling. Was there no watch on board? Zinko dashed astern and pulled the signal for full halt. The bells rang. Full power astern. A rescue boat was launched.

Finally, oh finally the boat dislodged from the ship. Boma Fort, from which people observed the accident, finally launched a boat on course for the men still swimming. Nestled between the green hills of Boma, we awaited the return of the rescue boat. The exhausted survivors laid on the deck. All the Africans on board pushed to the railing to see if a brother, or a friend, or a fellow tribesman was among those who returned. A great droning of voices arose. Others stood silent and sadly shook their heads. The rescued were taken to the doctor in the ship's surgery. The quick signal, the two propellers push the ship slowly forward. All hands went back to their stations. Poor devils, those who layed below on the bottom of the Congo like pay for our passage. Would we get change back?

On the afternoon of June 22nd we sailed farther upstream to Ile du Prince with its thick crest of foliage suspended above the hilltops. Sumptuous overgrowth in some places, bald and dead in others, reminiscent of the wooded southern Italian mountains. The Portuguese town of Noki, nestled on a bend of the Congo halfway up the mountainous shore passes before us. A Belgian petroleum company built five giant reservoirs, each holding a thousand tons of raw oil with a pipeline leading to the railroad station at Stanley Pool where it will be pumped as fuel to railroad locomotives and the engines of the river steamers. Three more reservoirs are under construction. The Bay of Mayumba offers a picture perfect view of Matadi, built on a sharp incline of a grotesque mountainous mass, where the German flag on the stern of the freighter "Irmfried" greets us. The tracks of the narrow gauge railroad, which will take the expedition to Kinshasa, run directly from the landing bridge to the steamer so our motorboat "Hygiama" can be transported without difficulty.

After a day's layover in hot, dusty Matadi, where we send our luggage ahead to the East African coast, we board a reserved salon car of the "Chemin de fer du Congo" on the gray dawn of June 24th. The Hygiama lies suspended in the baggage car.

This railroad is a technological masterwork. It rides on a narrow, serpentine rail up the steep mountain wall. The Congo River flows down below. It's the most profitable line in Africa and it supplies the link between navigatable portions of the upper and lower Congo between Matadi and Stanley Pool. This stretch of the Congo contains waterfalls, rapids and cataracts as it flows from the Plateau of Gangila to Matadi with a relative altitude differential of 80 meters, thus making ship travel impossible. For a stretch of 20 kilometers the track winds up to a height of 245 meters and then transforms into a barren high plateau only scarcely broken up by parcels of primal forest. After 230 kilometers we arrived at the train station at Thysville, where we sought out the clean and palatial hotel, which made up for the dismal accommodation in Matadi.

On the afternoon of June 25th half an hour ahead of schedule we reached our goal of Kinshasa, 300 kilometers from Stanley Pool, which would mark the start of our motorboat journey on the Hygiama.

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The Baltic Polytechnical Institute in Riga

In the Baltics many news announcements for the reopening of the Baltic Polytechnical Institute have been distributed. It was announced that the Institute will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Professor Otto Hoffmann of Riga, the Institute's dean of the architecture department before and now after the war, was able to verify that the Institute will be rebuilt to a usable condition. The German citizens of Riga prompted the town fathers in 1857 to establish a college there to serve as a model for polytechnical schools in Germany and Switzerland. In 1896 the Russian government forced the use of Russian as the language of instruction and reorganized the Institute. In 1915 it was relocated to Moscow. In April of this year the faculty decided to reestablish instruction in Riga and brought back funding and inventory.

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A good Solinger pocket knife with three blades and a corkscrew is the result of 450 production steps.


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Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks