She has the longest Dahabeya on the Nile: Katharina Németh from Basel.
Katja RichardEditor society
The longing for the Orient slumbered in Katharina Németh (56) early on. At the age of twenty she sang in the band Touch El Arab and landed in the top ten of the Swiss hit parade in 1988 with the song “Muhammar”. Blick described the young people from Basel as “the craziest band in Switzerland”. Németh laughs: “But nothing came of the dream of becoming a rock star.” Instead, she studied psychology, something “crazy and unconventional” was her life. She was drawn to Egypt again and again, first as a diving instructor, then for love. Today she is the owner of the longest Dahabeya on the Nile, a traditional sailing ship for luxurious cruises between Luxor and Aswan.
Comfortably along the water vein of Africa past 4000 years of history: cruise on the Dahabeya.
longing for Egypt
Németh first traveled to the Red Sea in 1999 for a diving holiday in Sinai and fell in love with the country and people. She feels it to this day, every time she gets off the plane: “In the first hour on Egyptian soil, I laugh more than in Switzerland in a whole week.” Instead of listening to the concerns of her patients, Németh dives into silence as a diving instructor, not only in Egypt but also in Southeast Asia. For half a year she works on a diving ship in Micronesia. Then she is drawn back to the land of the pharaohs, falls in love and gets married. The marriage fails, the love for the country remains. She learns Arabic, buys an apartment in Hurghada in the Beduin district and commutes back and forth from Allschwil BL. “Once, when I came back, sheep were quartered with me, and that on the fourth floor.” Because no matter how friendly the people there are, the coin has a downside: “There are a lot of rascals. Finding reliable friends isn’t easy.”
For pharaohs, kings and tourists
In Mohamed Youssef (50) she has found a business partner whom she fully trusts. “Coming from a respected family of sheiks, he learned English in England and lived and worked in Europe for several years,” says Németh. At the age of 15 he saved up his own felucca and sailed from Luxor to Aswan with tourists.
His big dream was to one day own his own dahabeya. The sleek, flat-bottomed, twin-sailed boats were built first for pharaohs, then for Egyptian celebrities and royal families who liked to cruise the Nile for recreation. Sailing trips were also popular with Europeans in the 19th century. For Németh, there is still no better way than to discover ancient Egypt on the water vein of Africa: “You glide past 4,000 years of history in absolute silence,” she says. The advantage of a Dahabeya: It stops at places where the larger cruise ships cannot anchor.
The flat sailing ship can anchor almost anywhere – especially where larger steamships cannot reach.
Bath and bed for Swiss
Today, slow travel, i.e. decelerated travel, is gaining popularity again. There are about 160 dahabeyas in various classes on the Nile. So there is enough competition, but according to Katharina, the standard that is particularly important to Swiss audiences is usually lacking. “It starts with the bathroom and the beds,” says Katharina. «Quality, design, hygiene and service have to be right.» When she decided in 2018 to build her own Dahabeya together with Mohamed, she had high goals: “I wanted the most beautiful and best ship on the Nile.” While Mohamed took care of the building permit and everything technical, Katharina was completely absorbed in the design. «I drew the plans of the rooms inside the ship and designed all the furniture in the cabins and on the sun deck.» From the pergola to the bar, from the cushions to the curtain fabric – everything is designed by her.
Suite with every comfort and its own small balcony – no expense was spared when it came to furnishing.
Only the best is good enough
She didn’t skimp on furnishing the “Queeny of the Nile”: the construction of the boutique ship cost over 1 million Swiss francs. Whether it is the most beautiful is in the eye of the beholder: at 56 meters long, it is the longest dahabeya on the Nile. The woman from Basel was able to afford the dream ship thanks to an inheritance. “My banker shook his head at the time, it wasn’t exactly the safest investment.” But she wanted to create something of her own. Something from which she has an income and where she can travel a lot herself instead of sitting in her practice. But as soon as the proud barge went on its maiden voyage in autumn 2019, the pandemic hit. Katharina: “At first I thought it was the biggest mistake of my life, now I’ve wasted my dad’s money.”
The bathroom like at home – standard for Swiss travelers.
In the meantime, the desire to travel has increased again, and according to various tour operators, Egypt is also one of the popular destinations. Because there are many package deals and flights, the journey is short and the formalities are uncomplicated. And if you’re going on a cruise, since Corona, you’d rather be on a small ship with a lot of comfort: The Queeny has ten spacious cabins with panoramic windows plus two suites with their own small balcony. On the deck there are sun loungers, a bar and lounge with plenty of space, 15 employees take care of the well-being of the guests. Katharina is confident about the season and already has new ideas in mind: «A second Dahabeya. Or a yacht for divers in the Red Sea. But first the Queeny needs to get some steam going.”