Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Kiel Canal

Map picture

I think we all know of the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal, and I can think of several others, but until today I had never heard of the Kiel Canal; yet, it is the busiest canal in the world. Not only is it the busiest, but it is also one of the oldest major canals in the world.

The German Kaiser Wilhelm I laid the foundation stone for the canal in 1887, but it took 8 years to fully construct the canal. Originally, the channel was called the Kaiser Canal. It is 61 miles in length, and connects the Baltic Sea with the North Sea. Prior to that, travel from the Baltic to the North Sea required a 280 nm trip around Denmark and Cape Skaw at its northernmost point. Today, ships using the canal can make the trip in only 7 hours. The canal has been enlarged many times over the years, and today it is transited by over 65,000 ships annually.

I guess I have never been on this canal before because a large cruise ship would not fit the locks.

Kiel Canal, GermanyHowever, our small ship can make the transit easily. Our journey today takes us across the very heartland of the German countryside. At times, I feel as if I can reach out and touch the trees as we glide on our magic water carpet. Both sides of the canal are lined with walkways and bike paths, and we literally cut right through the middle of some towns. From our vantage point, we have a fascinating look at everyday German life.

What is absolutely amazing to watch is the reaction of the people. I would think that with 65,000 ships going by each year, they would be pretty immune to our passage. Not so! The canal has been lined with people, some standing in pouring down rain, so that they can wave and cheer our passage. Someone said the reason for all the interest is that most ships using the canal are cargo vessels, and that most cruise ships are too large for the canal. So our journey is somewhat of a rarity. Anyway, it is very heartening to see the reaction. Entire families have lined the canal banks, and cars are pulled over, and all traffic is stopped as we go by.

We just passed under the largest highway bridge over the canal, and at the base of the bridge is a special restaurant which plays the national anthem for every ship that passes. When we reached the bridge, the restaurant and the surrounding area was full of people all cheering and waving as the restaurant loudly played the national anthem of the Bahamas. The Bahamas because that is where this ship is formally registered. As we passed, the Captain gave them a 3 horn blast salute, and the crowd went wild.

So with this shortcut, we will arrive tonight at 8:30 into Hamburg, Germany. The ship will spend the night there and tomorrow is a ‘turn around day” which means that technically our first cruise has ended, and many people will leave tomorrow and a new batch will arrive. Interestingly enough, there are a great many people onboard who, like ourselves, will remain until the ship reaches New York on September 21st. For those passengers “in transit” the ship offers a short tour of Hamburg tomorrow, and we will tag along to see what there is to see. After leaving Hamburg, we then have 9 straight days of new ports, one right after the other. I was able to keep up so far because we took some time off having been to some of these places before. But for the next leg of the cruise, it will be pretty much a new city each day, so without question I will fall behind. Just hang on, and I’ll try to keep you in the loop.

Take care,


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