Kiel Canal

Kiel Canal

Kiel Canal, artificial waterway, 61 mi (98 km) long, in Schleswig-Holstein, N central Germany, connecting the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. At sea level, the canal extends from Kiel on the Baltic to Brunsbüttelkoog at the mouth of the Elbe River. Locks at each end of the canal minimize tidal variation. Built (1887-95) to facilitate movement of the German fleet, the Kiel Canal was widened and deepened from 1905 to 1914. Large oceangoing ships can pass through the canal. Because of its great military and commercial importance the canal was internationalized by the Treaty of Versailles (1919), though its direct administration was left with the Germans. Hitler repudiated its international status in 1936, but free navigation in the canal was returned after World War II. The canal is also known as the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, for William II of Germany, and as the North Sea-Baltic Canal (Ger. Nord-Ostsee-Kanal). Today the canal is a major passage for shipping in the Baltic region.
The Kiel Canal (Nord-Ostsee-Kanal), until 1948 known as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal, is a 61 miles (98 kilometres) long canal in the German Bundesland Schleswig-Holstein that links the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. An average of 280 nautical miles (519 kilometers) is saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula. This not only saves time but also avoids potentially dangerous storm-prone seas. According to the canal's website, it is the most heavily used artificial seaway in the world; over 43,000 ships passed through in 2007, excluding small craft.


The first connection between the North and Baltic Seas was the Eider Canal, which used stretches of the Eider River for the link between the two seas. The Eiderkanal was completed in 1784 and was a 27 mile (43 kilometre) part of a 109 mile (175 kilometre) long waterway from Kiel to the Eider River's mouth at Tönning on the west coast. It was only 29 metres (32 yards) wide with a depth of three metres (3.25 yards), which limited the vessels that could use the canal to 300 tonnes displacement.

A combination of naval interests—the German navy wanted to link its bases in the Baltic and the North Sea without sailing around Denmark—and commercial pressure encouraged the development of a new canal.

In June 1887, construction works started at Holtenau near Kiel. It took the 9,000 workers eight years to build. On June 21, 1895 the canal was officially opened by Kaiser Wilhelm II for transiting from Brunsbüttel to Holtenau. A ceremony was held in Holtenau where Wilhelm II named it the Kaiser Wilhelm Kanal, and laid the final stone. The opening of the canal was filmed by British director Birt Acres and surviving footage of this early film is preserved in the Science Museum in London.

In order to meet the increasing traffic and the demands of the German Navy, between 1907 and 1914 the canal width was increased. The widening of the canal allowed the passage of a Dreadnought-sized battleship. This meant that these battleships could travel from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to go around Denmark. The enlargement projects were completed by the installation of two larger canal locks in Brunsbüttel and Holtenau.

After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles internationalised the canal while leaving it under German administration. Adolf Hitler repudiated its international status in 1936. After the end of World War II the canal returned to being open to all traffic again.


There are detailed traffic rules for the canal. Each vessel in passage is classified in one of six traffic groups according to its dimensions. Depending on their classification, ships may be obliged to accept assistance of a tugboat, or to accept pilots or specialised canal helmsmen. Furthermore, there are regulations regarding the passing of oncoming ships. In some cases a ship is required to moor at the bollards provided at intervals along the canal to allow the passage of oncoming vessels. Special rules apply to pleasure craft.

While most large, modern cruise ships cannot pass through this canal due to clearance limits under bridges, one medium sized ship, the M. S. Norwegian Dream has special funnels and masts that can be lowered for passage, and is used to make Baltic cruises from Dover, passing through the Kiel canal one way and round the north of Denmark the other. This route was discontinued in 2007, but Swan Hellenic's Minerva is able to pass through the canal and in 2008 is making Baltic cruises which include a transit. Fred Olsen Cruises new ship Balmoral, 43,000 tonnes, began a series of cruises to the Baltic using the Canal in 2008 under the title Gardens and Palaces.Oceania Cruises' Regatta now also uses the Kiel canal for at least two itineraries.


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