“Not houses finely roofed or the stones of walls well builded,
nay nor canals and dockyards make the city,
but men able to use their opportunity.”
Our recent river cruise included an engineering wonder of the 20th century, the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, also known as the Europa Canal. This 106 mile stretch of canal and locks makes it possible to travel or to ship goods by water from the Netherlands on the North Sea along the Rhine and Main rivers to connect with the Danube to go on to Romania on the Black Sea. The project was imagined as early as 793 C.E. by Charlemagne. Neither he nor Ludwig I of Bavaria was able to complete the project, but recent construction technology has brought their dreams to life. Completed in 1992, the system is a monument to imagination, perseverance and hard work.
Every once in a while the latent Engineer in me perks up and gets really excited about how things work. That was the case when we passed through this lock approaching Nuremberg. We were on the downhill stretch, heading into the Main River. This was one of the locks with the greatest drop. (It also happened during the daytime so I could take pictures!)
One of the problems which prevented success for Ludwig I was lack of water to refill the locks. Current engineering reserves water beside the locks, using water from one ship’s drop to raise the next ship.
Traffic through the locks is tightly scheduled for optimum use of the facilities. Some locks were very large, able to manage four riverboats or barges at once (two across, in two rows). Other locks accommodated only one at a time; it was clear that the boats had been built to meet the smaller locks’ allowances.
I had expected the gates of each lock to look like swinging doors, meeting at the center (Panama Canal style). But the lock I observed had a drop-down gate, clearly up to the task.
Passing from the Danube river basin to the Main watershed entails crossing the continental divide of Europe. All passengers on the ship got a certificate confirming our “accomplishment.” I didn’t feel the exertion at all!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
2 January 2014