This is a throwback article dating back to April 2011, when the author toured the bridges along the Grand Canal. Going in the opposite direction enroute to Kiel, this part focuses on the remnants of the Alt Eider Canal, which originally snaked its way across Schleswig-Holstein from Kiel to Tönning via Rendsburg and Friedrichstadt. While the western segment was converted into a river when the Baltic-North Sea Canal was built between 1890 and 1895, the eastern segment, running from Rendsburg to Kiel, was abandoned and as a consequence, many areas have become nothing more but ponds and small creeks with locks that no longer are in use. Using a map for this tour guide, here are some of the relicts worth visiting while on tour. 🙂
After an hour of lunch, combined with a trek combing up along the west end of the Kieler Fjorde, passing the university and the state parliamentary building along the way, I ended up in the northernmost suburb of Holtenau, the starting point of the Grand Canal. Measuring about 95 km long and approximately 60 meters wide in many areas, it resembled the Panama Canal, which slices through the isthmus connecting North and South America. The only difference between the two is the landscape, which the Grand Canal goes through mostly flat land. Before the trip to Kiel to start on the journey, I bought a magazine bearing the name “Nord-Ostsee-Kanal” 2011 version from a book store in Flensburg and while staying at the hotel on the city’s east end of Mürwik, I learned about the canal’s history, let alone the origins, and decided to make a parallel bike tour where I could find and photograph the bridges along both canals, although I would risk not getting from Kiel to Heide before sundown. While my prediction did come true, there was no regret doing what I did, for I would not have had the chance to share my experiences travelling along the Alte Eider and the Grand Canals at the same time.
The Alte Eider Canal had a width of about 30 meters and was 4 meters deep in many areas. While its starting point was in Kiel Holtenau, its path represented a long snake slithering quietly through the flat lands, as the canal made a lot of really sharp turns. Since many ships passing through the canal at the time of its completion had no engines (they would come in 1830s), most of them were pulled by horse and manpower to avoid any collisions with the banks. The canal swerved through many small present-day villages with many locks along the way. They include the villages of Knoop, Pojensdorf, Rathmannsdorf and Schinkel northeast of the present-day canal and Kluvensiek, Bovenau, and Klein Königsförde located to the south and west of the Grand Canal close to Rendsburg. And with each village, there were series of locks- more than that of the canal today in its entire length- many of whom are all but relicts today, where people can come and see what they looked like when the Alte Eider had its heyday.
Each canal lock consisted of a bridge, built using a bascule design which permitted traffic to horse and buggy and ships when necessary. There are many different types of bascule (or draw) bridges that were created and developed. The Scherzer rolling lift style was used on the Lindaunis Bridge over the Schlei. In Schleswig-Holstein, double leaf bascules were used most often to span narrow canals like the ones that existed along the Alte Eider. Originating from neighboring Holland (today known as The Netherlands), double leaf bascules consist of two half-bridge spans, each of them supported by cables or chains that are anchored by towers located on each end of the canal. For a textbook style, the cables or chains are connected to counterweight, located above each tower, which if lowered by manpower (or in today’s case machine), lifts the half-span to its vertical position to allow the ships to pass through. To lower the half-span, the weight is lifted up and back to its position above the tower, and the roadway is anchored down in a horizontal position, allowing horse and buggy to pass. An example of this bridge can be found in one of the pictures below. These types are still being used today in Schleswig-Holstein for small crossings including those along the Eider River in the western part of the state. More on that in the second segment. At least eight different locks had bridges of this type in service before the Alte Eider was made obsolete by the Grand Canal, one located in each village. This included the ones in Rendsburg, Kluvensiek and Klein Königsförde, which is profiled at the end of the column.
When the Grand Canal opened to traffic in 1895, the Alte Eider Canal lost its significance and was subsequentially put out of service. Much of the canal was filled up with silt, while other sections were dismantled and buried with dirt by farmers in an attempt to convert it into farmland. Some of the locks were dismantled with the bridges removed, while others were left as a landmark signaling the canal’s heyday. One can see some of these landmarks today when trekking along the remains of the Alte Eider Canal. This includes a Toll house in Pojensdorf, which has since been converted to a museum dedicated to the history of this architectural landmark. There is a restaurant in Rathmannsdorf, located in front of the lock, which serves local delicacies. In Schinkel, a mansion-style hotel built in the early 1800s still exists today, despite being privately owned. Mills can be found in places like Kluvensiek and Bovenau. Parts of the Alte Eider were converted to harbor for yachts in Rendsburg. And one can find bridge relicts in Klein Königsförde and Kluvensiek, the former being a replica of the one that existed before the Grand Canal opened, the other partially filled in but has a history of its own, when looking at the tower’s portal bracings.
Of the eight bridges that existed, four have been profiled here, although one of them no longer exists. They are arranged in the order of direction of the canal, from Kiel to Rendsburg, starting with the first bridge at Pojensdorf.
Pojensdorf Bridge: Spanning the Alte Eider Canal
Spanning the Alte Eider between Knoop and Pojensdorf, this steel stringer bridge may have replaced a lock and bridge that existed when the canal was in service. The bridge serves as the entrance to the village of Pojensdorf. While the bridge represents a typical short-span stringer bridge used on many roads in Germany, if one goes beyond the bridge and enters Pojensdorf, one will appreciate the landscape that was created by the old canal, let alone the Packhaus in Pojensdorf which was converted into a museum devoted explicitely to the history of this unique canal.
This (now former) drawbridge is probably the most ornamental of the bridges that spanned the Alte Eider Canal. The bridge was built in 1849/50 with the portal towers being designed by Carlshütte Iron Works in Rendsburg. Founded by Markus Hartwig Holler in 1827, the iron works company contributed a great deal with the construction of bridges and other forms of infrastructure along both the Alte Eider and the present Baltic-North Sea Canals up until the Grand Canal’s completion in 1895. However, the company’s heyday did not come until the Ahlmann family took over the business in 1909 and Kate Ahlmann took over the business when her husband Julius died in 1931. She had as many as 3000 workers at the iron works company by the 1950s and contributed a great deal to the economic growth in Rendsburg. Shortly before her death in 1963, a museum dedicated to the history of Carlshütte opened with numerous displays of artwork made of iron, which can be seen today. Sadly though, Carlshütte went into decline after her death and despite surviving one bankruptcy in 1974, the second one in 1997 led to the company’s liquidation. Carlshütte was named after Carl von Hessen, who governed Schleswig-Holstein at the time of the company’s founding.
When the canal was made obsolete by the Grand Canal, the lock was filled in with the exception of a small culvert to allow water to pass underneath. This included the bridge itself even though the two towers still remain standing and can be seen from the road heading to Kluvensiek from Bovenau and the Alte Eider bike trail.
Drawbridge at Klein Königsförde:
Coming up on Klein Königsförde, one will see a replica of a piece of history spanning the Alte Eider Canal on the old locks. Originally there was a bridge that was constructed in the mid-1800s using the double-leaf bascule design, and consisting of towers with an arch design. Yet before the Grand Canal was completed in 1895, the bridge was taken down and not replaced for over 100 years. In the early 1980s a replica of this bridge was constructed using mostly wood for the structure and steel chains for tower support as well as lifting the roadway, even though the crossing is in a fixed position. The purpose is to show the tourist what the bridge looked like during the days of the Alte Eider Canal. The bridge received the Europa Nostra award for its artwork in 1989 and is still in use for pedestrians and cyclists only. A park is located next to the structure on the west end to provide an opportunity to rest and view the village, located on the eastern side of the canal.
Subtracting the city of Lübeck, located on the border to Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, if there is a city that can be considered the one with the most number of bridges worth seeing and learning about in Schleswig-Holstein, Rendsburg would be the place to look at. The city can pride itself for its High Bridge (which will be mentioned in the later columns), but it can also pride itself on the history of bridges that spanned both the Alte Eider and Grand Canals. The Rendsburg Drawbridge is one of the bridges that made the city popular. While there were numerous bridges of this type that were built in and around Rendsburg, this one stands out as it served a main road connecting Hamburg and Flensburg. Furthermore it was one of a few built using iron and may be one of the structures built using the iron from its production facility Carlshütte. Sadly, when the new canal was completed in 1895, the bridge lost its importance and was subsequentially removed. The canal eventually was converted into a harbor, which is still in use today for smaller boats entering and exiting the Grand Canal. Interesting enough was the fact that before the canal was made obsolete, an arch bridge took its place for a while but it is unknown when it was built and when it was removed. Also worth noting is the fact that the drawbridge was overshadowed by bigger and longer bridges spanning the longer canal- one for the trains (High Bridge) and one for the road.
After a tour of the bridges along the Alte Eider Canal, the last segment of the revised tour guide series along the Grand Canal will focus on Kiel, its easternmost terminus. Apart from some neat bridges in the city center, there are some to the east of the city along the Schwentine that are worth noting and visiting. The Schwentine also empties into the Baltic Sea through the Kiel Fjorde but opposite the terminus of the Canal.