Susan Vaughan here. We made friends and enjoyed the sights on our recent Viking Cruise on the Danube River from Germany to Austria. What happened, both good and bad, keeps turning over in my mind, so I felt I needed to write about it.
The cruise did not turn out as planned, except for the excellent weather—warm, even hot, and sunny the entire week. On the first night aboard the Viking Freya, at about one thirty, I felt a huge shudder and heard splashing as the ship suddenly stopped. At three o’clock, the public address system announced the ship had had an accident and all passengers were to go to the dining room. Police and emergency responders filled the near shore and the bridge above us. We could see that in the headlights of the ambulances and fire trucks that the Freya had hit a railroad bridge.
There was much grumbling and complaining and joking about someone losing his job over this, but the grim faces around us told another story. The ship was disabled from the impact, but we had to wait until a gangplank could be set up and transportation provided. At daylight we abandoned the Freya, aided by our crew and volunteer Red Cross, over two hundred people, from Erlangen. This is not a huge town, but their support and caring were wonderful, so many people in such a short time, to help us strangers.
Later that morning everyone was booked into hotels in central Nuremberg. We didn’t learn until later more details at a meeting called by a Viking executive. He shared news that sobered everyone. Apparently the wheelhouse didn’t lower as it was supposed to for traveling below bridges. The accident smashed the wheelhouse, and the Freya captain and a crew member were killed.
Such a terrible outcome, beyond what I’d imagined or guessed. I still don’t know whether it was hydraulics failure or human error or a combination. The Viking rep offered to send anyone home who wished, but most of us remained, making the best of the situation. Viking as a company and our crew as a team seemed intent on carrying on.
The group had lunch at a Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square) restaurant, with traditional Bavarian fare that included beer and bratwurst. Afterward, Torstein Hagen, the chairman and CEO of Viking Cruises, greeted us. Having arrived to support his grieving crew, he expressed his deep regrets for the accident that marred our trip. Other Viking ships had had mishaps, but these were the first deaths.
Then, although it seemed inappropriate under the circumstances, we proceeded with our tour of Nuremberg. You may recognize the city name from the Nuremberg Trials after WWII. The trials were located there because the city had been Hitler’s headquarters. Nuremberg’s Zeppelin Field was the stadium where he staged some of his fiery speeches and paraded his troops. The stadium belongs to the town, which uses it for performances and sporting events.
Nuremberg is a sprawling modern city, but also boasts an imperial palace and a medieval section behind a fortress wall. Another ship had to be outfitted and brought to meet us, so for next three days we traveled by motor coach and spent two nights in a golf resort hotel. The coach trip included our regular scheduled visits—the medieval town of Regensburg, the city of Passau on the German-Austria border, and Gottweig Abbey. After the visit to that 900-year-old working monastery, we boarded the Viking Bestla, happy to be reunited with the Viking Freya crew.
Our cruise concluded with two days in Vienna, home to the Hapsburg dynasty, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire for generations. Also the city of many famous artists and composers, Vienna juxtaposes contemporary life and imperial majesty. The fabulous facades of ancient palaces must be maintained by law, but inside many are modern offices or apartments.
We missed some tours and cruising, but overall, we enjoyed the trip and made new friends, bonded by this shared experience.
For me, the deaths were shocking and sad but not personal, partly because neither man was introduced to the passengers. On our Rhine cruise two years ago and when we boarded the Bestla, the captains welcomed everyone at the first evening’s briefing. I wonder still if the mechanical issue that led to the Freya’s accident had kept the captain from joining us that night.
I cannot end without stressing that Viking as a company and the Freya crew were outstanding in their handling of the situation. And before you ask, yes, we’ll do another Viking cruise, where TBD. If you would like to see more of this cruise, you can find pictures and a day-by-day log on Facebook (Susan H. Vaughan).