The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal (RMD Canal), connects the Main and Danube rivers between Kelheim and Bamberg, Germany, and runs through Nuremberg, our destination for Wednesday July 10th. Without the RMD, a river cruise like the one we embarked on in Budapest, would not be possible.

The canal connects the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, providing a navigable artery between the Rhine Delta (at Rotterdam in the Netherlands), and the Danube Delta in south-eastern Romania.

It was fascinating to listen to Program Director Leonard relate the history of the canal, starting with the fact that more than 1200 years ago, Charles the Great, better known as Charlemagne was dreaming of connecting the Rhine with the Danube to establish a major waterway crossing Europe.

Later, Napoleon Bonaparte had a similar dream, albeit on a much larger scale, but his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 put an end to Napoleon’s ambitions.

Some 10 years later, King Ludwig I of Bavaria, again raised the idea of creating a navigable link between the two great rivers, and starting in 1835, more than 9,000 workers were employed in building 100 bridges, and an incredible 101 canal locks. Upon completion, passage of the entire canal required six days, and along the way, 63 identical lock-keeper’s houses were built, so the locks could be continuously staffed and maintained.

The canal had a very narrow channel, and a shortage of water in the peak section, so the operation of the waterway soon became uneconomic — especially given the rapidly advancing construction of the railway network in the southern German countryside. The canal was finally abandoned in 1950, rather than repair the damage suffered during World War II.

The first file picture below, shows one of the lock-keeper’s homes, and the adjacent lock, at Bamberg, Germany, and, in the picture immediately below it, you can see how narrow the Ludwig canal was in many places. The second picture is taken at Nuremberg.

Construction of the roughly parallel and modern Rhine-Main-Danube Canal was started in 1921, but was not completed until 1992. It is 171 kilometres (106 miles) long, and it includes 16 locks along the way with perhaps the most awe-inspiring one located at Hilpoltstein, where the Lif would be lowered a remarkable 81 feet from the highest point of our voyage.

Just before arriving at Hilpoltstein, Leonard advised us that we were approaching the continental divide of Europe – that point where a drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side, feeds into a different ocean or sea (note: every continent on earth except Antarctica has at least one continental divide…..I paid attention in Geography classes!).

He warned us not to be expecting something spectacular as far as a monument marking the spot was concerned. This in spite of the fact that there had been an open competition inviting submissions from various highly-respected artists and sculptors. The winning piece by German artist Hanns Jörg Voth can at best be described as “simple”. See for yourself, below.

For Mary and I this would be the second continental divide we had crossed (outside of Canada and the U.S.A.), for back in 2005 while travelling through the Panama Canal, we crossed over the point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are separated by the western tip of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The centennial bridge that you can see in the picture (below) opened the year before we went through the canal and it marked the 100th anniversary of Panama, rather than the 100th anniversary of the first sailing – in August of 1914.

Circling back to Germany now, and let me share with you our experience at the Hilpoltsein Lock, the point where we were at the top of the European Watershed, and one could say we were “sailing across the roof of Europe”.

It was shortly before noon on Wednesday July 10th that we got the word from Leonard that we were approaching Hilpoltsein, and this is the view of the lock from the front of the ship as we approached it.

This lock along with several others along the canal, is operated using man-made reservoirs which fill with water pumped up from the Danube by reversing the turbines at the lock. The water feeds back from the reservoir into the canal and keeps it full for the next ship that comes along (don’t be too impressed by my technical explanation. I don’t have a mechanical bone in my body, but that’s how Leonard explained it and it sure sounded impressive to me, so I wrote it down verbatim).

Mary and I took up position in two separate vantage points to record the experience of going through the particular lock. I ventured out to the front of the ship along with many other passengers to watch the lock gate come into view as the water receded. Mary set herself up on our cabin balcony, and took a series of progressive photographs, as the Lif was lowered down.

First up is the view from the front of the ship, as we started to descend.

And here’s the view from Mary’s perspective, and remember, she was shooting her pictures straight up the side of the lock wall, toward the sky as the ship descended.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, the Lif reached the point in the lock where the giant gate in front of us, began to open…..

And one more time from Mary’s perspective, click on the button below to watch as the Lif begins to exit the lock, and make sure you watch until the very end. Note how the water is dripping from the open gate above, and I can attest to the fact that for those of us who stayed out of the front deck as we exited the lock, we took a bit of a Danube shower. The video also provides a great perspective of just how narrow some of these locks are. There is literally just six to eight inches of clearance on each side of the ship in many of them.

With the morning’s excitement out of the way, Mary and I rendezvoused in the dining room for an early (and quick) lunch, and chatted about the afternoon’s excursion ahead of us, a visit to historic Nuremberg – a city that had been an unfortunate accomplice to much of Hitler’s Nazi rallying before and during World War II.

I’ll tell you all about that visit in my next journal entry – “The Beauty and Infamy of Nuremberg”


One Comment Add yours

  1. Barbara Higgs says:

    Great pictures and description of the lock system. The Rideau/Cataraqui system also has a “divide” and I want to say it’s where the two rivers are joined. The Cataraqui levels climb until it reaches the Rideau and then the canal’ s levels drop again until they reach Ottawa. I took many pics as well and it was interesting to think we were going down, not up.


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