Watertravel & Waterside Destinations A skein of geese fly over die Schwanenburg at dawn.

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Kleve, one-time home of Anne of Cleves

Kleve means ‘cliff’ and its castle, die Schwanenburg, sits atop that cliff.

It rises majestically above the surrounding land on a ridge which was pushed The Schanenburg at sunset, the lighted towers reflect in the Spoykanal.up by glacial movement during the Ice Age. Actually, in comparison to the Alps, Rockies, Sierra, Himalayas or other ranges of serious mountains, the rise would not be called majestic. The castle is, though. And the elevation is certainly higher than the flatlands to the north and west that extend through Dutch and German Frieslands to the North Sea.

The name ‘Schwanenburg’ — Swan Castle — dates only from the 19th century. The castle was previously known by its Dutch name, ‘het Slot van Cleef,’ or the Castle of Cleves. Its smaller tower has been known as Schwanenturm since the Middle Ages.

The story of Percival’s son, Lohengrin — the mysterious knight who arrived in a swan-drawn boat to defend a noble damsel and later to become her husband — is centered here according to local legend. Accordingly, there are lots of local references to swans and the swan knight. As in olden times and apparently aloof to it all, real swans paddle around the Spoykanal.

Kleve is farther from the Rhine than it was in the Middle Ages, before the river changed its course. There is today a spur off the current riverbed known as the Altrhein, or Old Rhine, which goes as far as Griethausen. At least one small passenger ship — De Duffelt from Millingen aan de Rijn — comes up the Altrhein and turns through a lock into the Spoykanal, which leads to Kleve.

Kleve is very Dutch, as German cities go, and in mentality one could say it is still the independent Duchy of Kleve. Walking down the main street, Großestraße, Dutch and the closely related local Plattdeutsch are heard as much as is High German. The Queen’s birthday (April 30) and other Dutch festivities are enthusiastically celebrated. And on those occasions, unlike Holland, all the stores are open.

Festive flags fly on die Schwanenburg, the Swan Castle.
Copyright © Don Douglas