Water in Karstic Regions: An Adventurous Excursion across South-West Germany
Ajeesh Nellikunnel, student of Water Technology, reports on the exciting excursion of his course.
The past 4 to 5 months have been new to all of us, especially to those who travel a lot. This havoc has left many of us thinking about what the future of travel would look like. Cycle along bright wine fields of Rhineland Palatinate, hike in the Black Forest in search of nirvana or watch a spectacular star dance out of your hut somewhere in Brandenburg… Would it all be possible? What would be the new normal?
When thoughts start to clog your mind, all you need to do is travel – and this is what we, students from Water Technology (M.Eng.), did. Our professors Dr. Ulrike Gayh, Dr. Andreas Gerber and Dr. Thomas Sterr have all worked together to organize an unforgettable excursion from the 13th to 15th of July, 2020. The aim of this three-day trip was primarily to focus on water related challenges in Karstic Regions and to collect water samples for a subsequent scientific analysis later on.
Before the beginning of the trip, it was made clear that we would adhere to safe and responsible travelling all three days. We started at the famous Heidelberg Castle, the place that attracts tourists from all over the world with its own sumptuousness. This is where we learned how water played an important role in the building of this castle located between the banks of Neckar River and the hills behind it.
We then went up to Königstuhl, a.k.a. King’s Chair. This is the highest mountain in the Heidelberg Region with more than 560 m high. There, Dr. Sterr explained to us the hydrogeological situation of Heidelberg using a simplified geological cross section of the Upper Rhine Trench.
After this introduction to Heidelberg, we took the road to the Lake Constance and the Sipplinger Berg – about three hours away, during which our fellow student Ahmed played music on his speakers. We admired the crystal clear water reflecting the lush green surroundings and the boats sailing over. The panorama also offered us a stupendous portrait of the Alps and Switzerland. The Bodensee-Wasserversorgung (Lake Constance Water Supply) is the longest water supply network in Baden-Württemberg, collecting water from the lake and supplying to over 4 million people. After a short halt to collect a water sample combined with a swimming session in the Lake Constance, we were ready for the next adventure.
We were lucky enough to spend most of our time not surrounded by many people and I wondered if this would be the new normal of travelling. If yes, I like it!
Our next destination was Aachtopf, the biggest karst spring in Germany with a maximum discharge of 24 m³/s. However, when we arrived there, the discharge was much less, therefore we could not find any difference until a Frenchman who was there to dive into the spring, came to help us. Afterwards, we drove to the sinkholes of the Danube, which is the place where the river ends by losing all of its water to sinkholes in the riverbed after running more than 150 km.
It was already late by then and it was time to reach our overnight stay, Jägerhaus, that we had booked ourselves into. There was only one trail to this exquisite site located along the valley of the Danube and surrounded by huge mountains made of reefs. The hosts welcomed us with traditional German salad followed by vegetarian and non-vegetarian mouth-watering German cuisine. After a quick wrap-up of the first day we went to our beds waiting for the excitement of the coming days.
After a grand breakfast at Jägerhaus, we started the next day with collecting water samples from the Danube and a small hike to see the breath-taking view of the Danube valley from Knopfmacherfelsen. It was so hard to leave that mind-blowing and tranquil landscape, as if a kid had to leave his favourite candy half eaten, but little did we know that it was just a trailer to what was forthcoming!
Our next destination was the waterfall called Gütersteiner Wasserfall near Bad Urach – such a magical place! These are the times when we fall short of words to describe the natural beauty; it was a fantasy land for me. Even though the waterfall was narrow on the top of tufa due to the dry weather of the last weeks, it then emerged as a quiet flow of water all along a series of tufa basins, helping the creation of moss all the way down its path. Only five minutes of listening to nothing but the sound of small waves caressing moss while gently flowing down as well as the chirping of birds made me fall in love with that wonderful place.
It was late again, and it was the time to amuse our lecturers with our culinary skills. On the way to Gedächtnishütte where our overnight stay was arranged, we made a halt at one of the supermarkets to purchase ingredients for dinner. During nearly two hours of hard work we prepared different food items such as jollof rice from Nigeria, biriyani from India and vegetable salad from Egypt as a way of expressing our gratitude for organizing such a magnificent excursion.
The next morning after breakfast, we started with a visit of Schopflocher Torfmoor, one of the few swamps in Karstic Regions. We received a short lecture on the geological underground as well as the flora and fauna of that particular area. Most of us will never forget about this day!
At around 1:30 p.m. we started our journey to Falkensteiner Höhle (Falconstone Cave) – the highlight of our three-day excursion. This is a natural active water cave which was formed due to karstification thousands of years ago. We started to explore the cave at around 3:00 p.m. and made a small photo session at the entrance of the cave. We stopped at regular intervals to join to practise what we learned in the class room. We want to address a special thank you to Dr. Sterr, because he knew each and every corner of that cave and he explained everything we needed to know along with interesting history of the cave.
After about 460 m of walking and crawling in the cave, we reached the “Gold Diggers Hall”, close to the so-called “First Siphon”, which we passed in 9°C cold water with only 13 cm of air space to the ceiling of the cave to reach Reutlinger Halle as our final destination. The exploration of the cave lasted for approximately four hours in total and we were back at the entrance by 7 p.m. It was very easy to distinguish the difference in air quality in the first few seconds we reached the outside. After having snacks near the van, we started our return journey to university at around 8 p.m.
By the time we reached back at the university, we had water samples from seven different locations in south-west Germany. If only it would be possible to turn back time, most of us would love to live those moments once again! This shows how much it has touched us.
We cannot thank enough our professors and SRH University Heidelberg for arranging such an informative and well planned excursion from beginning to end. Moreover, this was a much-needed break for all of us, away from all the chaos a virus has caused and away from all other disturbances.
Yes, sometimes all you need to do is travel.
29. Juli 2020Ajeesh Jose
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