Amsel Falls

Amsel Falls

Germany

The tiny Amsel Falls in Saxon Switzerland, near the stunning Elbe sandstone mountains of Eastern Germany, must be one of the most unique falls anywhere on earth. Contained by the steep, sandstone gorge of the Amselgrund valley, this channel falls a full 10 metres through a narrow and man-made weir to give the waterfall a stunning, rapid-like quality. Yet what really makes this waterfall stand out is the fact it is entirely artificial, and is even coin operated! Before the early 19th century, the waterfall made its way down to the Elbe River far below through a series of underground caves, tunnels, potholes, and cascades.  But, in order to capitalise on the amount of tourists visiting this mountainous landscape, the underground stream was diverted overland through a narrow gap in the rocks, resulting in the waterfall we see today. Yet for much of the day this waterfall does not flow, and is instead barricaded behind a barrier that holds back the stream. Amazingly, tourists line up at a nearby wooden booth to pay the 30 cents required to release the barrier and open up this torrential waterfall. Crowds gather on a raised platform overlooking the Amsel Falls to watch the dripping cliffside turn into a rush of white, foaming water. Also occupying the modest raised platform is an outdoor restaurant, where tourists can stop for coffee and cake. In fact, the entire reason the stop-start waterfall was devised was in order to boost custom for this al fresco dining establishment!

Despite the obvious artificiality, the falls have been visited by many great artists and writers over the years, including Adrian Zwingg, whose copper-plated capriccios depicted a fantasy wilderness often at odds with a more subdued, and more cynical, reality.

When travelling to the Amsel Falls you will also have a chance to tour the charming chocolate-box architecture of the Amselfallbaude, an historic hunting lodge built in a traditional German style. Tour guides located inside are on hand to give you information about the Amsel Falls, as well as the surrounding flora and fauna of the Saxon Switzerland National Park (in particular the spruce and beech trees that cling precipitously to the mountain sides). While there, make sure not to miss the opportunity to arrange a walking tour of the world famous Bastei crags just a mile or so away, which are jagged rock formations that reach up in the air some 305 metres above sea level, and were most famously depicted in art by the romantic 19th century painter Caspar David Friedrich. Walk over the historic Bastei Bridge, that seemingly hovers in the air from peak to peak, for incredible views over the wider Elbe valley.

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