The 98.7 kilometres long Kiel-Canal was opened in 1895 – almost 125 years ago. It is the link between the North Sea at Brunsbüttel and the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau.




The Kiel-Canal was not the first connection between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea as Denmark’s King Christian VII (Schleswig and Holstein were then Danish) built the so-called ‘Eiderkanal’ – which used large stretches of the river Eider for the link between the two seas.

The 43 km long Eiderkanal was completed in 1784 and was part of a 175 km long waterway from Kiel to the Eider mouth at Tönning at the west coast. It was rather narrow and only 29m wide at the surface, the water depth was 3m, but it served its purpose as vessels up to 300 tons could transit and therefore proved to be an important shipping route.

Plans were made for a wider canal, but after decades of fruitless discussions, it took a commercial analysis by the Hamburg shipowner Hermann Dahlstroem to give the project the necessary momentum. Naval interests – the German navy wanted to link its bases in the Baltic and the North Sea without sailing around Denmark – played a key role, but it needed the commercial argument to start the ball rolling.

On 3rd June 1887 the Emperor Wilhelm I. laid the foundation stone in Holtenau near Kiel. It took eight years to build the Kiel-Canal. Up to 8.900 workers were employed in the project, with comparatively well-developed technology such as dredgers and railways they had to struggle with terrain, rivers and ground water as the canal’s route brings it to areas 25m above sea level, but also others 3m below.

In the early hours of the 20th June 1895 the German imperial yacht ‘Hohenzollern’ – on board the Emperor Wilhelm II. – slipped into the lock at Brunsbüttel, shortly afterwards cut a ribbon and officially opened the new waterway transitting to Holtenau. She was followed by a convoy of 24 ships, 14 of them representing other seafaring nations, nearly all naval vessels. On 21st June 1895 a ceremony was held in Holtenau where the Emperor Wilhelm II. laid the final stone and named it Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal.

In order to meet the increasing traffic and of course also the expanding German naval interests, the canal’s cross-section was considerably increased between 1907 and 1914. The enlargement projects were completed by the installation of each two larger locks in Brunsbüttel and Holtenau.

The waterway was always a political issue. After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles set out regulations that in effect internationalized the canal while leaving it under German administration.

Since the Second World War the canal is following the practice of being open to all traffic again.

On 20st June 1995 the 100th anniversary of the Kiel-Canal was celebrated. The highlight of the celebrations was again a convoy of ships travelling from Brunsbüttel to Holtenau now led by the German sail training ship ‘Gorch Fock’. She was followed by the British Royal yacht ‘Britannia’ and more than fifty ships of different types representing over 20 nations.

In the last decades the traffic and the amount of cargo transported through Kiel-Canal increased significantly – and will continue to grow.

Hence there are different ongoing projects such as the construction of a fifth lock chamber in Brunsbüttel, modification of the ‘Eastern Section’ between Kiel-Holtenau and siding Königsförde, refurbishment of the lock chambers in Brunsbüttel and Kiel-Holtenau… and more.

Some of the projects are in a planning stage, some in realisation. The aim is to keep the Kiel-Canal ready to meet future challenges.


Watch shipping traffic in the locks at Kiel-Holtenau and Brunsbüttel with our live webcams.


If you want us to keep you up to date about the latest news on the Kiel-Canal and the traffic situation, please sign up for our newsletter.


Do not hesitate to contact us, let us know what your requirements are.

…call us +49 431 30107-0 (Kiel), +49 4852 8309-0 (Brunsbüttel)

…or use our contact form.