The World’s Most Heavily Used Artificial Seaway Opened Its Gates

June 20, 1895

The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal, which has been known as the Kiel Canal since 1948, was officially opened in what was then the German Empire (now part of the Federal Republic of Germany). This 61-mile (98-kilometer)-long canal, located at the base of Northern Europe’s Jutland Peninsula in the present-day German state of Schleswig-Holstein, connects the North Sea at the town of Brunsbüttel with the Baltic Sea at the city of Kiel and nearby borough of Holtenau.

The people who use this canal, rather than travel around the Jutland Peninsula, customarily reduce trips by 250 nautical miles (460 kilometers) and also avoid the potentially stormy and dangerous seas in the region. The canal also has the distinction of being the world’s most heavily used artificial seaway. In 2016 alone, for example, a daily average of 80 ships passed through it.

Construction on what became the Kiel Canal began in June 1887. It was an ambitious project which ultimately took eight years and more than 9,000 workers to complete. The festivities to mark the grand opening began very early on the morning of June 20, 1895, when the German imperial yacht Hohenzollern transported Kaiser Wilhelm II and others on board with him into the locks at Brunsbüttel. (The Hohenzollern was preceded by the small dispatch boat Grille.)

That day’s edition of the Evening Star in Washington, D.C., reported, “The gate was magnificently decorated, and the Hohenzollern passed through amid ringing cheers from the military associations, students, delegations and masses of the populace, the bands playing the national anthem, and accompanying the music were the voices of the crowds assembled, who joined heartily in the chorus. His majesty stood on the deck of his yacht and bowed his thanks, with visible emotion, on all sides.”

The Evening Star also reported that at four o’clock on Thursday morning, “the Hohenzollern severed the thread stretched across the canal and commenced the passage of the new waterway.” The yacht was followed into the canal by a convoy of 24 ships; a total of 14 represented various other nations. The following day, a dedication ceremony for the canal took place in Holtenau. During this ceremony, Wilhelm II formally named the canal after his grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I and laid the final stone.

On June 20, 1995, the centennial of the canal’s opening was celebrated with a procession of 50 ships traveling through the waterway from Brunsbüttel to Holtenau. Various music bands along the route serenaded the maritime parade, which was led by German ships, and commemorative festivals were held that day in many of the surrounding communities.

For more information on the Kiel Canal and its history, please check out http://www.kiel-canal.de/.

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