It’s the Kiel Canal (Nord-Ostsee-Kanal in German, NOK for short), the busiest artificial waterway in the world.
I’m not just saying that (they’re not my words) — that’s according to the Canal itself. I guess with some 40,000 commercial vessels passing to and from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, that would be about right. Heck, that’s not even including all the leisure ships that have a go at it.
Just one thing: you can’t be a sailboat without a motor. Sorry, plain old sailboats aren’t allowed to cross this 98km (61mi) waterway, that was once called the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal. Not only was it built to save time (ships no longer have to go across the Jutland Peninsula), but it’s also a safety precaution. The seas are notoriously famous for harsh weather, so the Kiel Canal is a much safer option.
Interesting, considering the canal was built because the Imperial Navy wanted to hook up its fleet between the two seas — avoiding Denmark. Now, the canal hooks up with 14 ferry lines, has a pedestrian tunnel, and has a number of bridges crossing it — including the A7 and A23 Autobahns. Oh yeah, you can see it if you’re crossing the Kiel-Flensburg Railway too.
A couple of other rules gotta be followed if you’re going to cross the canal instead of over it.
- No smoking while going over the canal.
- You better know your “flag alphabet” (this way you can signal Man Overboard, Tugboat Required, you get the point). And…
- No ships over 772 feet long. The rules don’t end here, there’s a whole slew of ’em — but I won’t bore you with them.
Traffic goes both ways, so if you’re on the Baltic Side you’re right at Kiel-Holtenau.
Kiel is a fun, sea-loving town that hosts Kiel Week on the last week of June every year. That certainly increases the traffic along the Kiel Canal, since as much as 3 million people make their way to all the festivities. A long way from the Imperial War Harbor it once was, don’t ya think?
It gets cold up here in this part of Germany, and a good way to warm up is to try Fliederbeersuppe (Elderberry Soup), a nice treat on a cold Autumn or Winter night. Don’t let the mercury stop you from visiting Kiel’s Old Botanical Gardens, the St. Nicolas Church (the oldest building in town), and the Olympic Village.
Sorry, the concerts for the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival are only held in the Summer. ;-)
Oh, I only glossed over Brunsbüttel, didn’t I? I’m surprised I didn’t just jump right out to tell you about the free ferry service that rides the Kiel Canal from here, or the Schleusenmuseum Atrium, a Sluices Museum — sluices/locks help the ships get across the Kiel Canal.
Also, Brunsbüttel lies along the North Sea Cycle Route, the German Cabbage Route (Europe’s largest cabbage-growing area), and the German Ferries Route. Befitting since traveling this route ensures you’ll the best of what the Kiel Canal has to offer.
This town also hosts a number of concerts for the annual Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. One fun activity here is mudflat hiking — you gotta wait for low tide, though.
Even though there are a number of rules to follow to cross the Kiel Canal, and it’ll cost you money to take your boat (ferries are free though) — it’s still an awesome feat of German engineering, and the towns alongside are totally amazing.