Just popping down to the shops is out of the question. The family is much too tied up. The man of the house has several professions: pilot, engineer, sailor, accountant – all at the same time. The same goes for the woman of the house – but she has to cook as well. The children spend most of the year away at boarding school. Only the toddlers run about on board – as far as it’s safe to, that is. Life on the water is one of the main themes tackled by the German Inland Waterways Museum in the Duisburg suburb of Ruhrort, directly next to the largest inland harbour in the world. That fits. Even the splendid “Jugendstil” building which houses the museum has been perfectly chosen. It was built in 1908 as a public baths and has now been carefully restored and redesigned down to the last detail. The first thing you notice is that the two swimming baths – the men and women’s baths were separated – contain no water. In its place are two star exhibits which visitors can examine at close quarters without getting their feet wet: an original freight sailing boat dating back to 1913 and a life-size replica of a typical river barge jam-packed with things to discover. And all around on the surrounding arcades and galleries the museum presents the complete world of inland waterways from a stone age boat hollowed out of a tree trunk to a highly modern barge and push tug assembly, from a sack of coal to a container and from a towing lad to a barge captain. The view from the pilot’s bridge onto a large film projection of a river flowing by beneath the boat is particularly impressive. You get the impression that you are holding the rudder in your hand yourself. This can only be beaten by a trip on the Oscar Huber, the last remaining steam barge on the Rhine, which was built in 1921. Visitors can go aboard the boat on the Rhine promenade in Ruhrort and enjoy a memorable trip back in time.
The trip also takes us back to the history of the museum. For the Oscar Huber was the first location in Duisburg for the permanent exhibition on inland waterways. Some time afterwards, when the museum moved to the old Ruhrort town hall, the German Inland Waterways Museum was born. And in 1998 the historic baths celebrated a brilliant new opening – as Germany’s most complete collection of exhibits on inland waterways.