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Cruise Diary: Kiel Canal

Thanks to guest Wendy London for letting us join in on her vacation aboard Prinsendam. This post is out of order but too good not to share. Some of the details found below were taken from the ship’s daily program.

Let’s face it. Transiting a canal can be like watching paint dry. A couple of locks may spice it up a bit, but hey…you’re on the flat and narrow water, just waiting to go from A to B. For sure, the Panama Canal throws in some mules and I guess others have their own quirks as well. Well, if you believe that transiting a canal is dull, you are sadly mistaken, especially if you are transitting the Kiel Canal on a warm, sunny, summer’s day. I have to admit that I didn’t listen to all the commentary or spend the entire day peering over the balcony rail but there is certainly some history, and some impressions to talk about.

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First, we were “short” enough to make the 61 mile (98 km) transit – short enough to slip under the nine bridges which span the waterway, saving a full day’s sail aroud the Jutland Peninsula. Bridges carrying cars, trains, bicycles and people. Modern bridges of concrete, older bridges of lattice ironwork. Also crossing the canal were a variety of small ferries, transport for local residents to get across the canal and back, and pedestrian/bicycle tunnels allowing people and their bicycles easy passage underneath. We started our journey at around 10 a.m. at Brunsbüttel where our entry lock was situated, and exited at Holtenau at our final lock, just as Terry and I sat down for our dinner in the Pinnacle (no, I won’t subject you to any puns involving locks and lox).

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We had 10 hours to reflect on the significance of this historical waterway and surrounding region. Its origins go back to the nomads who wandered the Schleswig-Holstein Region 2,500 years ago, but the reality of needing an avenue, a highway across the Jutland peninsula became apparent around the 9th Century when Charlemagne chose Hamburg to be his strategic outpost on the Elbe River. At the eastern end of the Canal is Kiel which survived the plague, although 20% of its population was lost. In 1871, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered construction of the Nord-Ostee-Kanal and at the same time, the Imperial Dockyard was built in Kiel so with the construction of the locks we passed through today, a good harbour was created. However, also during the 19th Century, nationalistic fervour swept through Europe, followed by the outbreak of WWI. Fearing jobs and economic hardship, protests and mutinies broke out, including a sailors’ mutiny at Kiel which exploded int a German socialist revolution. Hitler seized control at the time, and selected Kiel as the main supply base for the German navy. As a result of its importance to the Nazis, the port was heavily bombed by the Allies, leaving nothing of the port. However, in the decade following the war, the port was rebuilt, with Kiel becoming one of Germany’s largest and most prosperous ports, as it is today.

The Canal itself has its origins in the Eider Canal which was built in the 18th Century to extend the Eider River to the Kiel Fjord. The 110 mile long waterway made it possible to avoid the high taxes imposed by the Danish King for passage through the Øresund Strait at Cophenhagen, but it also benefited local agriculture and commerce. However, at only 10 feet deep and 95 feet wide, it became obsolete all-too-quickly. As such, the construction of a new canal started in 1887, bypassing the Eider River and linking Holtenau to Brunsbuttel (at the mouth of the larger Elbe River). It took 9,000 workers just 8 years to build the canal. But even that new build wouldn’t last long as modern ships were too big to use the (new) canal, so it was widened between 1907 and 1914, with new locks being installed at both ends. All traffic was suspended by Hitler in 1936, but after WWII, it was opened to traffic once again.

It is extremely difficult to transit the Canal without thinking about its role in and importance to Europe, many times divided, but today, united. However, there is also the today of the Canal, a today of a very normal existence. We saw lots of people on bikes, biking for pleasure, to ‘walk’ their dogs, to spend time with their families, to go about their business.

pedestrians and bikers waiting for the lift to access the tunnel under the canal

Pedestrians and bikers waiting for the lift to access the tunnel under the canal.

We saw many local residents on the banks, extending a friendly, vigourous wave to their maritime guest. We saw many people coming out of canal-side cafes and restaurants, also to welcome us during our transit.

Canal Café, with people coming out to wave at the ship

Canal Café, with people coming out to wave at the ship.

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What we saw was a moving tableau of life along the Canal, of villages lining its banks. In one village, we spotted the cable TV van, in other villages we saw average suburban homes, while in still others, patrician homes.

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At either end were forests of wind turbines, omnipresent in the northern European landscape. At one point, near the base of one of the bridges, we saw an enclosure with the bases for wind turbines, waiting to be shipped to and installed on their new sites.

The bases for wind turbines

The bases for wind turbines.

We knew that we were privileged to have an opportunity to reflect on a not-too-distant tragic past as well as on the peaceful life that the region enjoys today.

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ferry

ferry

3 Comments
  • Noel & Pat Bell

    Just fantastic pics….cannot wait to do this cruise!!

  • Kerry & Judy Foster

    Thanks for the great post. Well documented !!

  • Patricia Epperly

    Thanks for the photos and comments, my friend and I leave for April 20014 trip. So excited to see all this up close and personal!!

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