The Kiel Canal: a project of the century
Today, the Kiel Canal is one of the most important artificial waterways in the world. Around 30.000 vessels pass it every year, including many feeder and cruise ships as well as barges. The canal has also become a popular destination for tourists and pleasure crafts. All of this was unimaginable just 125 years ago, when the so-called “Eider Canal” was still a labyrinth of various rivers and streams, making it unnavigable. In order to enable the imperial fleet to sail between North Sea and Baltic Sea without having to cross Danish territorial waters, German Emperor Wilhelm I and Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck first decided to break through the isthmus between Brunsbüttel and Kiel-Holtenau and finally gave the go-ahead for the construction of a canal on June 3, 1887.
As many as 9.000 workers from all over Europe completed construction within eight years, so that the canal could be opened on June 21, 1895. Emperor Wilhelm II, who was in office at the time, initially named it "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal" in honor of his grandfather. A good 10 years after completion, however, the vessels of the Imperial Navy had become too large for the canal that was only 67 meters wide. Consequently, the width of the fairway was adjusted between 1907 and 1914. After the Second World War, the canal quickly developed into a major international transport artery. In 1948 it was finally renamed “Kiel Canal”.
However, due to the increasing size of cargo and cruise ships, in 1966 the Kiel Canal faced the same problem as it had almost 50 years earlier - it was too small. The following second adjustment ultimately led to the canal we know now. The fairway was widened to 90 meters and the canal itself to 162 meters, making it about three times bigger than the original “Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal” 125 years prior.
Over the years, the Kiel Canal has adapted to changing circumstances and demands. This is one reason why – even 125 years after its construction – the Kiel Canal is still Germany’s most important artificial waterway and indispensable to the Port of Hamburg.