June 17, 2014

Kaiser's Kiel Canal


David Ellis

GERMANY'S Kaiser Wilhelm II reckoned his official opening in 1895 of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal across the Jutland Peninsula and connecting the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, would be pretty good reason to celebrate.

After all, the dream of just such a canal that would save a journey of over 450km in often storm-tossed seas around Denmark, had been pondered-over since as early as the 16th century. With it now becoming a reality, here was every reason for celebrations that would long remember his involvement in such a grand scheme.

A canal of sorts had actually been created in 1784 when the area now known as Germany's Schleswig-Holstein was ruled jointly by Denmark and Norway, but it simply joined up sections of the Eider River via a series of cuttings over a rambling 175km between the two seas.

And with limited depth and width, this canal was of use only to small vessels under 300 tonnes, so when in 1864 Prussia (later the German Empire) won Schleswig-Holstein as a spoil of the Second Schleswig War, thought was finally directed towards a real canal linking the two seas.

Hamburg shipowner and businessman, Hermann Dahlstrom put forth the first concrete plans and possible route, designing it not only for commercial shipping traffic, but for the German Navy that had made it known it wanted quick access between its bases in the Baltic and North Seas, and without that lengthy and potentially dangerous 450km traipse around Denmark.

Finally in 1887 work began in the south on a route from Brunsbuttel on the North Sea, to Holtenau at Kiel on the Baltic in the north – an extraordinary task that would take 8,900 workers eight years to remove 100-million cubic metres of earth, and to then line the whole 98kms with concrete.

Finally on the morning of June 20 1895, 119 years ago this month, the German Imperial Yacht Hohenzollern with the Kaiser and an official party aboard entered the lock at Brunsbuttel. The Kaiser cut a ribbon to declare that end of the canal officially opened, then lead a 24-ship convoy of mostly naval vessels from Germany and fourteen other nations the 98km to Holtenau, with Champers and Schnapps a-plenty for their 8-hour journey.

And in the lock at Holtenau next day, the Kaiser laid the final stone commemorating the official opening of the canal, which he named the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal, not after himself, but after Germany's Kaiser I. Grandstands of-near football stadium proportions were built for the thousands of official guests from Germany and neighbouring countries invited to the ceremony, with hundreds of them being further invited to two more days of partying to follow…

Between 1907 and 1914 Wilhelm had the canal widened to 102.5m to allow Germany's massive Dreadnought class battleships to pass quickly through from their base in the Baltic to the North Sea.

It was an ominous sign, and as we now know, the Kaiser went on to become possibly the most instrumental individual leading to the outbreak of WWI, while the Canal – today known simply as the Kiel Canal – is the busiest man-made waterway in the world, with an average 35,000 cargo, passenger, naval and pleasure vessels passing along it annually.

And every year the 13km-long Canal Cup rowing race, considered the world's toughest rowing event, is held on the canal at Rendsburg, the only town of any size along its route – tough not just because of its 13km length, but because race competitors have to avoid shipping traffic and cross-canal ferries, neither of which give ground for the event, and to plough through their dangerous wash.

Over 100,000 spectators line the canal for the race, which has included teams from Australia at least twice; this year's 14th annual race will be held as part of a 3-day regatta at Rendsburg from September 12 to 14.

Although eleven bridges that span the canal limit the height of vessels, a number of cruise lines still have medium-size ships use the waterway regularly – and this year, SeaDream Yacht Club will join them as part of the company's first-ever sailing from the UK, when its boutique 112-passenger SeaDream I journeys from Dover to Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and 2-nights in St Petersburg, and including transiting the Kiel Canal twice. Details www.seadream.com



[] PARADE of ships on Germany's Kiel Canal – 35,000 vessels transit this busiest  man-made waterway in the world annually. (WikiTravel)

[] OFFICIAL opening of the Canal in June 1895, grandstands were built for the thousands of official visitors. (Wikimedia)

[] A CRUISE ship on the canal gives the appearance of gliding through the countryside. (Wikimedia)

[] ONE ship enters as another leaves the lock at Kiel. (HMS Providores)

[] PICTURESQUE community on the banks of the canal under snow in Winter. (Robert Cutts)

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