"That was a lucky year"

For two Corona summers it remained quiet on the Isar canal between Wolfratshausen and Thalkirchen, where the rafts usually follow the course of the river towards Munich for the pleasure of the passengers. The fun on the water had to pause. In April of this year, the corona-related restrictions on the traditional regional trade, which has also been part of Bavaria’s intangible cultural heritage since 2020, were lifted: the rafts were allowed to be launched again. The crowd was great and the mood was good. Recently, the raftsmen finally heralded the end of the season with the traditional ice trip.

The hard times of the pandemic are clearly over for the three family businesses in early autumn of this year – at least if you ask the raftsmen personally. For example Josef Seitner. When asked about this summer, the raft master can’t stop raving. “It was a lucky year. We haven’t had a summer like this in 15 years. Sun, sun, sun,” says the 72-year-old, who is the fifth generation to run the traditional company and, even after more than 50 years of service, occasionally goes to the stake himself grabs. Because of the nice weather, the raftsmen were never forced to put up the roof on the raft and they only had to contend with the flood once. In the worst case, the water level was lower. This reduced the flow rate. As a result, many rafts had to slow down and reached the raft landings in Thalkirchen up to an hour late. Josef Seitner takes it easy: “Then the guests just enjoyed more time on the raft. They all raved about the good weather,” he says.

Most of the rides are rented out to groups of up to 60 people, and all three family businesses were already almost fully booked in the spring: the two Seitners and Michael Angermeier in Arzbach, who is on vacation after the season and is therefore not available. This was also due to the fact that many bookings from the past two years could only be made up for this summer. The pandemic had forced rafting families into turbulent waters: After two seasons of total failure, the rafters fell through the grid of Corona economic aid due to their seasonal offer and ran into financial difficulties. Only after a hefty fire letter from the raftsmen and probably also through the intervention of the former Bavarian Prime Minister and Wolfratshauser Edmund Stoiber were the Corona funds for the three companies improved again. The Wolfratshausen raftsmen were just able to keep their heads above water during the pandemic.

Because the rafts were so well booked, this year’s season compensated the previous two to their full satisfaction, confirms Monika Heidl-Seitner, daughter of Franz Seitner. She works in her father’s company as managing director and in accounting. However, new difficulties arose because the water level dropped sharply due to the heat, she continues. “The journeys took a long time. We had to constantly drive to attention so that we didn’t run aground or drive onto a sandbar. That was very tiring for my men.”

Now it’s time for the companies to close the season, tackle the personnel planning for the coming year and sell the trunks of the rafts – they have served their purpose after a summer of continuous use. As early as November, Heidl-Seitner estimates, she can accept reservations for the next season. However, there is another challenge for the rafting companies: the increasing costs and economic turbulence will not stop at an intangible cultural heritage.

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