Station: [4] The Development of Shipping on the Rhine – from Dugout Canoe to Container Ship

From prehistoric dugout canoes via Roman trading ships, Viking long ships, the sailing ships of the modern period, all the way to the development of steam-powered ships – different types of vessel have developed and diversified over thousands of years. Vessels grew larger, the methods of construction more complex. In this room, the display cases along the walls convey an impression of this process. If you start on your left and move around the room in a clockwise direction, you can trace the history of boats and ships on the Rhine.

The glass case in the centre illustrates three types of mass transport by water: the historic raft, the pushed train and the train of barges.

The raft – on the long side on the left – transported timber from the Black Forest down the Rhine. At its destination, the raft was disassembled and the wood sold for use in construction.

When towage by motorised tugs emerged in the mid-19th century, it sparked a rapid process of rationalisation that is still ongoing. These days, the standard push boats with up to six unpowered barges can transport up to 16 thousand metric tons of cargo. That’s the equivalent of 10 freight trains with 40 goods wagons each.

And depending on the water level, modern container ships travelling along the Rhine may carry up to 400 containers. If you consider that a single container can hold 10,000 pairs of jeans, it gives you an idea of the staggering quantity of goods transported on waterways. For example, shipping a flat screen monitor to Europe from a factory in Asia costs around 36 eurocents – roughly forty pence. If you were to send a simple postcard on the same journey, you’d pay much more than that in postage.

But all this coming and going of goods and cargo ships has to be controlled and monitored – that’s obvious. At our next stop, we’ll be hearing about the special-purpose vessels that operate on the Rhine. Please retrace your steps, back into the previous room. To the left of the figure of St. Christopher, you’ll find the entrance to a room with a large wall painting on the wall opposite.


Foto: © Claudia Klein