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The history of the Kiel Canal

Passing under the Levensau high bridge in 1911
Passing under the Levensau high bridge in 1911

The Kiel Canal had a predecessor even in the late 18th century, the Schleswig-Holstein Canal, built by the Danish king Christian VIII, who ruled the country at the time. This canal met the river Eider at Rendsburg, thus creating a link between the North Sea and the Baltic via Tönning harbour. The freighters were towed through the canal, and the passage took up to four days. Three historical pack houses in Holtenau, Rendsburg and Tönning still show what a lively trade was conducted via this waterway.

Eider Canal at the Knoop lock, 1805
Eider Canal at the Knoop lock, 1805

The opening of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Canal, 1895
The opening of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Canal, 1895

After the German Reich was founded and had built up its own navy, strategic considerations led to the construction of a modern canal, including part of the old bed. Kaiser Wilhelm I laid the foundation stone in the Kiel district of Holtenau in 1887. Kaiser Wilhelm II opened the canal eight years later - about 9,000 workers had shifted about 80 million cubic metres of soil in the mean time - in summer 1895 with elaborate celebrations and an international naval review. Further developments in large warship building meant that the Kaiser-Wilhelm Canal was soon no longer adequate, and it was further extended from 1907 to 1914, to a width of 102 metres and a depth of 11 metres.

At the end of the First World War the waterway was internationalized under the Treaty of Versailles. The canal was largely undamaged in the Second World War, and was rechristened the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal - Kiel Canal - in 1948. It is still the busiest artificial waterway in the world.

Pictorial material: Landeshauptstadt Kiel, Behrenbruch, Kieler Stadtarchiv,
Stadt- und Schifffahrtsmuseum

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Link to the city map