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Transport: Charlemagne to Adolf

3 minute read

Father to Reichsführer Adolf Hitler’s thoughts of Drang nach Osten was Charlemagne, who late in the 8th Century had his eye on the throne of the Byzantine Empire. Charlemagne planned an arterial waterway from the North Sea to the Black Sea via the Rhine and the Danube, thence to the Eastern capital, Constantinople. But when his engineers tried to link up the Rhine and the Danube, rains and mountains stymied them.

One hundred years ago, Charlemagne’s dream was realized by Ludwig I of Bavaria, who joined the Rhine’s branch, the Main, with the Danube. It was Germany’s first canal of any consequence, a 107-mile stretch between Bamberg and Kelheim.

Since then Germany has been threaded by a vast system of canals and waterways, linking its many rivers, providing cheap transportation in peace time and invaluable aid in war, when railroads are occupied with troop and munition movements. Last week the Baltic Sea was joined to this system. A 1,200-ton lighter could have come in off the Baltic, down the Oder past Stettin, by canal through the centre of Berlin to Magdeburg on the Elbe, to Brunswick, to Hanover to Minden on the Weser, to Munster on the Ems, and down into Dortmund in the heart of the rich mining and industrial valley of the Ruhr, a tributary of the Rhine. Thus provided was a cheap route to the Ruhr from Sweden for the high grade ores so necessary for munitions manufacture.

All through the last 50 years such a Mittelland waterway has been dreamed of by pan-Germans, opposed by jealous pre-War German States. But last week when the last ditch, connecting Brunswick and Magdeburg, was officially opened up, no German raised his voice against it. Fear that Ruhr coal might start moving into markets supplied by Upper Silesia was quelled by a pfennig-per-ton-per-kilometer extra canal fee between Magdeburg and Hanover.

With the Rhine thus linked to the Baltic, next job will be to bring Ludwig’s Rhine-Main-Danube canal up to date. Now it is used chiefly by canoeists, but by 1945 it is expected to be able to accommodate 1,200-ton lighters. Moving cheaply from Greater Germany down into the Danube and Balkan countries, these are expected to extend German influence and manufactured goods markets, return laden with ore, cereals and oil to fill the German need for raw materials.

Briskly talked of last week, too, was still another canal, this one linking the Baltic and Berlin directly with the Danube via the Oder and the Elbe across Czechoslovakia. Suggested by Dr. Walther Funk, German Minister of Economic Affairs, was the plan that Germany pay the costs, Czechoslovakia do the work. Virtually certain of adoption, this plan would complete the economic subjugation of Czechoslovakia, insure Germany doubly against a trade blockade in the future, and, by thus binding ancient Bohemia all round with Reich boundaries, put the final proof to Bismarck’s theory that whoever rules Bohemia is master of Europe.

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