The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal: linking Europe sea-to-sea

When you are cruising the historic Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers on Vantage’s Grand European River Cruise: Rhine Valley to the Black Sea, the waterway your are on is the culmination of a desire to connect the North Sea to the Black Sea that dates all the way back to the 8th century. However, the goal of having one continuous waterway throughout Europe was only achieved recently in 1992 with the completion of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. Featuring a modern design and advanced lock system, the canal may be a new addition to the region, but it is quite the sight to see during your voyage.

A History of Uniting the North Sea and Black Sea

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal is not the first attempt to unite Europe’s waterways. The Emperor Charlemagne attempted the Fossa Carolina in the 8th century but never finished the project. King Ludwig I of Bavaria created The Ludwig Canal in the 19th century, but it was abandoned in the 1950s following water shortages and damage during World War II.

Initial plans for the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal were created in the early 1900s, but construction didn’t begin until the 1960s. The eventual driving force behind the formation of the canal extended beyond the need to create a single waterway across Europe. The new canal was also seen as an opportunity for unity between Germany and other European countries following World War II.

By 1992, the 171km Rhine-Main-Danube Canal was complete. Running between the German towns of Bamberg and Kelheim, the canal created an uninterrupted waterway of 3,503 km through 10 countries that finally linked the North Sea to the Black Sea.

The Use of Locks on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal

Rhine Main Danube Canal SchematicThe most interesting aspect of the canal that you will see is its use of specially constructed locks. Each lock, which acts like an elevator to help ships navigate the rivers’ extreme slopes, consists of a narrow water chamber with enough space for one or two ships. Once inside the lock’s chamber, the ships remain idle as they are guided straight up or down by water that is either pumped in or removed from the chamber.

This process, which can take up to 30 minutes, adjusts the ship to the canal’s new water level before letting it continue on its journey. The 16 locks located throughout the canal are each quite the spectacle in technical and aquatic engineering in their own unique ways.

Cruising on the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers is one of the greatest ways to experience Europe and all of its delights. While you are on Grand European River Cruise: Rhine Valley to the Black Sea, enjoy being part of the first generation to truly experience a river cruise across Europe because of the technological accomplishment that is the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.