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The Crossing to Remagen
Like the ancient Greeks who believed that Charon rowed the souls of the dead in a narrow boat over the Cocytus River to the underworld, many heathen tribes in Germany believed that the realm of the living and dead was separated by a body of water. The departed made a journey across this body of water to their final destination. Britannia was said to be this land of the dead and Frisian yeomen purportedly helped dead souls make this final crossing. Living among the Frisian nobility who made their home on the North Sea were farmers and fishermen, who had always been free from paying any tax for they performed a service that was valued more than money. These yeoman were entrusted with ferrying the dead to Britannia. The job always passed from one household to the next. At midnight the farmer or fisherman would hear a knocking on his door and then a muffled voice call out. He got up, went to the beach and there he saw what looked like an empty shallop. Boarding the heavy boat, he gripped the oar and immediately began the crossing. The oarsman would notice that the shallop seemed to be completely loaded down and barely remained one finger’s breadth above the water. But not a single passenger was ever seen. The crossing lasted only one hour but normally if they had been traveling in their own vessel it would have taken an entire night and a day. Once on shore in Britannia, the ghostly crowd disembarked and the shallop became so light that only the very bottom touched the water. The Frisians never saw anyone in the boat during the trip and when they arrived they never saw anyone disembark. But once on shore in the land of the dead they heard a voice call out the names and the tribes to which the dead belonged as they departed.
The nighttime crossing of gnomes over the Rhine River (described below) is reminiscent of the crossing of dead souls to Britannia. This tale may incorporate elements of the earlier pagan tradition:
The story was told in the beginning of the nineteenth century, that an oarsman living in Erpel on the Rhine River heard a knock at his door one night. Opening the door, an invisible presence asked for immediate passage across the river. As he climbed into the boat he noticed it sinking deeper and deeper into the water although he did not see anyone else boarding. When the vessel was only one finger’s breadth above the water’s surface, the ferryman was ordered to shove off. Upon landing on the bank of the Rhine River at Remagen, the boat immediately began to rise in the water and the oarsman could hear heavy footfalls as the boat emptied. His passengers were the gnomes who had lived in Glenberg near Linz from time immemorial. But they had been offended and that is why they were abandoning their ancestral home. They moved across the Rhine River, where -- nobody knows.