The idea of constructing ship canals across narrow strips of land, for promoting commerce, is not new. From a work of Antonio Galvao, entitled “Tratado dos Descubrirnentos,” we note the fact that the opening of a ship canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans—” the mightiest event, probably, in favor of the peaceful intercourse of nations which the physical circumstances of the globe present to the enterprise of man"—was proposed to Charles the Fifth in 1528. And, strange as it may seem, the inquiries, instituted at that time, led to the recommendation of the same lines that were planned in 1825. Still older is the project of the opening of ship canal across the Isthmus of Corinth in the Mediterranean. It engaged the attention of Periander, Demetrius, Julius Cresar, Caligula, Herodes, and Atticus, but it was reserved for Nero to take the first active step toward the accomplishment of this end. He completed a canal half way, as lately ascertained by the explorations of the learned Frenchman, Mons. Grimaud de Caux. This isthmus connects the peninsula of Morea with the province of Attica, in Greece. By means of a canal cutting through this narrow strip of land, the route from the Ionian Sea to the Archipelago would be considerably shortened. Such a canal would be of great importance, as enormous quantities of grain are exported from the borders of the Black Sea to the seaports of the Adriatic. The project of uniting the Baltic with the North Sea by a navigable ship canal dates from the zenith of Lubeck's commercial prosperity, and was suggested first as early as October 23s 1869.] Jritttiifit JlwmcM 261 1390. This project occupies at the present moment the attention of the North German Parliament, and, being one that may s afely be ranked among the gigantic e ngin e ering enterprises of the present age, we have endeavored to collect such accurate knowledge with regard thereto as existing sources admit. WHY THE PROJECT WAS STARTED. Two reasons call peremptorily for the accomplishm ent o f a navigable route between the North Sea and the Baltic, to wit: gain in time and safety. The distance between the English canal to the open Baltic Sea around the promontory of Skagen is about 880 miles. It would be shortened for two fifths of its whole length if a straight route from one shore of Holstein to the other could be chosen. Steamers would thus be enabled to make the voyage from London to St. Petersburgh in five days, instead of seven, while “\:!ailing vessels would gain from one week to one month, according to circumstances. The second reason for the building of a ship, canal is still more important. According to even very incomplete statistical data, the annual number of losses of vessels in that portion of the sea is greater than that of any other equally large portion of the globe. This is the more to be deplored as the route around Cape Skagen is the only one from the North Sea to the coasts of Sweden and Finland, as well as to the very heart of Russia. Indeed, it has been ascertained that the yearly loss experienced on the old sea way amounts to three millions rix dollars, or about two million dollars in gold. This sum is certainly a large one, but it must be remembered that the cargoes of many vessels are exceedingly valuable. For instance, the cargoes of the American bark Joseph Clark and the English steamer Arctic amounted to half a million dollars in gold ; the former vessel was ship- wrecked in 1857, and the latter in 1860. These accidents mainly occur on the western coast, especially on the sand banks of Skagen, which, for this reason has been denominated “ the graveyard of ships.” Indeed, small and large wrecks are seen there in every condition and at every time of the year. It may be remarked that * there are now two channels across the isthmus of Holstein ; they are, ho wever, altogether inadequate to the existing demands of navigation. The one is the so-called Strekenitz canal, begun in 1390 and completed in 1398. It is one of the oldest in Europe, and connects the river Elbe with the Trave, uniting with the former just above Lauenburg, and with the latter above Lubeck. The second artificial water communication is known under the name of the Schleswich-Holstein, or Eyder Canal, and may be found on any good map. The Proposed Line This has been submitted to the world in the form of an anonymously published pamphlet, entitled, “ The Cutting of of the Isthmus of Holstein between the Baltic and the North Sea.” Lubeck is proposed as the eastern terminus of this route, while it is thought that the most feasible point for the western terminus would be Glu^stadt upon the Elbe. This line, as shown by accurate and reliable surveys, would require no locks. It is proposed to follow the river Trave from Lubeck to a point where it approaches the Hemmels- dorf Lake. This lake belongs to the most remarkable water reservoirs of the Baltic count ries; o rigi nally an inl et, as most of the other lakes of the Baltic, it is now sep arated from t he sea by a narrow strip of maritime deposits. Hills of about one hundred feet in high t protect it a gainst all winds in such a manner that Napoleon 1. designated it for a winter harbor for his Baltic fleet, when, by the cat a stroph e of 1813, the whole project fell into oblivion. Moreover, this natural harbor is situated in the m id st of one of the most populous, prosperous, and best cultivated districts ; it is surrounded by a circle of charming villages, and only awaits the completion of the projected canal to become an excellent seaport. The length of the section from this lake to Gluck- stadt is forty-eight miles; adding thereto the distances through the lake and from Lubeck to the Baltic, we have a total length of fifty-three miles, or over half the length of the Suez Canal. The cost of the execution of this work, in- cl uding the construction of harbors at Gluckstadt and Lubeck, has been estimated at $23,720,930, in gold. Should a work of this kind be executed, a yearly passage of from twenty to thirty thousand vessels through the canal might safely be predicted. Such a strait would open to th e ocean the immense territory in Russia; and, besides this, the Prussian coast, which is over half the length of that of France would b e made directly accessible to the open sea. Taken all in all, the cutting of the isthmus of Holstein may safely be contrasted with that of Suez. In shortening an old way of traffic it will contribute of transforming the slow march of civilization in the northern European countries into one worthy of this century of steam.
This article was originally published with the title "The Holstein Intermaritime Canal" in Scientific American 21, 17, 260-261 (October 1869)