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Introductory Facts

The Rhine River begins in the Rheinwaldhorn Glacier of Switzerland and flows north and east approximately 820 miles (1,320 km). It is navigable from the North Sea to Basel, Switzerland. Even though it passes through or borders on Liechtenstein,. Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands,. 80 percent of it's ship carrying waters pass through Germany. The entire distance can not support ocean going vessels, they must end their journey in Cologne, Germany. Cologne is located between Koln and Bonn. From there cargo must go by barges pushed by smaller ships until the Rhine reaches the three point intersection of the borders of France, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland.

Because of the multi countries and languages, the river has three names. They are: Rhein, Germany; Rhine, France; and Rijn, Netherlands (Dutch). There are many other important tributaries that flow into the Rhine, in fact the Rhine splits into two tributaries near Emmerich, Germany and Zevenaar, Netherlands. Those are the Lek on the north and the Waal on the south. Some of the main tributaries are: the Mosselle (Mosel), that runs south west bordering Luxembourg and on into France; the Neckar that flows south east at Manneheim on through Heidelburg, Germany; the Main, flowing east and south from Mainz through Frankfurt, Germany. East of Frankfurt is where The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal links the Rhine with the Danube providing a transcontinental route from the North Sea to the Black Sea.

Historical Data

During early historic times Germanic tribes settled on either side of the lower Rhine and Celts alongside its upper sides. Julius Caesar bridged and crossed it in 53 and 55 BC. The Germanias were formed on the north and the Roman empire to the south and east. When the Western Roman Empire disintegrated around 400 AD, the Rhine was crossed along its entire length by Germanic tribes and formed the central backbone first of the kingdom of the Franks and then of the Carolingian empire. In 870 the Rhine again became the central axis of a political unit, the Holy Roman Empire. Over time fighting and political events disintegrated this empire along the Rhine. Even with the fighting and changing hands of frontiers, a goal to connect the North Sea to the Black Sea had existed. It was first put into action by Charlemagne in 793 but it was never a success.

The Thirty Years' War 1618 through 1648 ended with the final separation of the Rhine headwaters and delta area from Germany. This territory would later become Holland. Louis XIV acquired Alsace for France along the eastern border and in 1660, the European continent was at peace for a while. The borders of countries along the Rhine were just about formed as we know them today, but not exactly and not permanently. The French Revolution. in the late 1700's through the early 1800's shows how borders were still changing. The pink area on the map is French occupied territory. Notice where Brussels is, and look at Cologne, you can see how one can be confused.

In 1832 the first steam boat came from the North Sea all the way to Basel, but this was not regular. Mannheim was an established port by 1840, and heavily travelled during the industrial revolution. This was the beginning of pollution for the Rhine as well as other rivers. Not only from river boats, but also factory and human waste disposal. In 1846 the Ludwig-Donau-Canal was completed after 9 years of work. It was named after King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

The Prussian armies in the Franco-German War of 1870-71 took Alsace from France and thus its Rhine frontier was gone. France regained it after World War I and built the fortified defensive system of the Maginot Line 1927 through 1936. It adjoined the French bank of the Rhine from the Swiss border at Lauterbourg. The opposing Siegfried Line was built on the German bank from the Swiss border to near Karlsruhe in 1936 through 1939. Then came World War II and mass destruction of bridges, trains, and ships caused additional pollution and flooding because of spillage and blockades.

After World War II the struggle for possession of the Rhine had been superseded by a trend toward economic and even political union of the rival countries. In addition, the increased pollution of the Rhine had caused more international co-operation. The Ludwig-Donau-Canal was also destroyed during World War II. It would become the and be opened to Nuremburg in 1972 after being completely closed in the 1950's. A passage from Nuremburg to Kelheim was opened in 1992. Although the name is Rhine-Main-Danube, the primary canal work was done on the Main.

Vineyard Agriculture

Most of Germany's vineyards owe their existence to the Rhine river. It flows past a wide fertile valley past the Baden vineyards. The Pfalz , on the east facing slopes on the Haardt mountains is the most southerly of these Rhine wine regions. Next comes the Rheinhessen with it's finest vineyard sites around the Neirstein on the so-called Rheinfront or Rheinterrasse. North of Mainz, the Rhine meets the mass of the Taunus mountains and is forced west a long a short stretch between Weisbaden and Assmannshausen, this area is called the Rheingau . At Bingen, the Nahe river flows in and along it's banks are some of the most perfect south facing vineyards. North of Bingen is a beautiful stretch of the Rhine valley, complete with fairy tale castles and vineyards snuggling into the overhanging rock face, known as the Mittelrhein. North of Bonn is the tiny river Ahr, which is a tourist spot with it's own vineyards.

All of these German regions produce different styles of wine, but in general Rhine wine is fuller and richer the Mosel wines. As in the Mosel, the primary grape is the Reisling, but there are other varieties of grapes too. There are a little Weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and some Chardonnay. The German wine research at Geisenheim have created many new vine hybrids such as Ehrenfelser, Scheurebe, and Kerner. They are not as popular as the Rheingau native.

The Alsace region of France that borders the Rhine is a long strip of land centered south of Strasbourg and around the town of Colmar. The prosperous plain backs up to the Vosges mountains where they are protected from strong westerly winds. Unlike other French wines, those from the Alsace tell which grape variety they are pressed from. The Alsace region is primarily white wine country. The Sylvaner is the most widely grown grape and produces a light and sparkling wine. Pinot Blanc, also known as Klevner accounts for about 10 percent of the area vines. Only about 1 percent grows Pinot Noir which is the only rose' of the area. Other varieties include: Muscat, drier in this region; Chasselas Blanc, grown in the Haut-Rhin, a pale greenish wine; Tokay, imported in the 16th century from Hungary. This area is sometimes known as the Route du Vin.

Switzerland along the Rhine produces some wines too, mostly reds that can be compared to those of Baden, Germany. The primary types are Schaffhausen, Mariafeld, and Blauburgunder. Most of the Swiss wine is produced along the Rhone valley between the Bernese and Valais Alps. Syrah is a well known red grape from the Rhone on over into southeast France. It cost four times as much to produce wine in Switzerland than it does in France, so it is not commonly exported. As the Rhine flows over into Austria, no information was found on wine in the area. Most Austrian wine is produced on the eastern side from north of the Danube to the southern border.


As mentioned above in the historical section, pollution of various types has been studied and monitored a lot more and with international cooperation since the end of World War II. There are lots of reclamation projects in progress and planned for future of the Rhine. At IRMA ,you can read about the 153 projects from Netherlands all the way to Austria. These projects include: Erosion from wind and flooding caused by snow melt offs in the Alps, Preservation of Weir Island for a fish and nature sanctuary, A rentention area in the Overijssel province to control drainage discharge, creating more room in the lower Rhine and Lek river area for better ferry access and flood control, development of a fresh water reed and rush tidal basins and marshs in the Noordwaard Biesbosch, and in accordance with the IKSR concept, 11 areas in the Northrhine / Westphalia area have been selected for feasability studies on high water protection, shipping and ecological balancing. The IRMA site was up when last checked on Sunday, April 16th 2000. The IKSR site was down on that date.

At www.library.com , (a membership and pay to view site) I learned about the salmon 2000 project. The article was available as of April 18th 2000. It is in the Seig area, which is one of the most challenging because of the high pollution. It is thought that if the program can be successful here, it will succeed more easily in other areas of the Rhine. This reclaimation has been going on since 1975 when biologists could find only 29 species of fish left in the Rhine. The salmon had been completely gone since 1958 and at the time of the start of salmon 2000, the Rhine was pronounced and dubbed the sewer of Europe. Salmon 2000 involves Rhine tributaries as well, and promising results have been seen in recent years. In some places, oxygen levels have increased back to 100 percent from the 20 percent measured 10 years ago. The greatest news in 1999 was when French researchers collected adult salmon near Strasbourg, some 100 miles north of Basel, Switzerland where the Sandoz warehouse fire and chemical spill in 1986 wiped out the bulk of the work accomplished since 1975.

Another conservation project that has been shared by colleges in Holland and Germany since 1993. The site www.fh-koblenz.de/koblenz/remstecken/rhine.htm is where I found out about all their student projects. Along The Route du Vin as mentioned above in the Vineyard Agriculture section, you might see some storks thanks to the rescue programme at Hunawihr.


The castles are an unmistakable feature of the Rhine landscape. Their founders were feudal overloards, who built them to protect their lands from marauders. They were far from thinking of any romantic notions as we do today. Besides the warlike function for which they were built, think about the back-breaking labor of the feudal serfs, whom must have been forcibly employed in quarring the huge stone blocks and dragging them up the mountain slopes.

The mid-Rhine is also known for its German legends. One of the best known is the story of the Lorelei. As the story goes, a nymph lived in the Lorelei rock high above the Rhine. She is said to have lured fishermen to their destruction with her singing until she was overcome with love and plunged to her own death. A bronze statue of the nymph overlooks the river.

Along the Rhine, particularly in the narrow gorge connecting Bingen and Koblenz , which has a length of only thirty-five miles, there are more castles than in any other river valley in the world. Many are ruins, but some have been restored as hotels and are open for tours. They stand like sentinels on the cliffs above river side villages and others stand alone surrounded by vineyards.

In the French regions of Alsace and Lorraine there are quite a few castles too. One of those is the one in Kayersberg built in the early 1200's. Another is the Mont Sainte Odile, founded by St Odile in the 7th century, is said to have over a million visitors a year. The most visited and well known is the Haut-Koenigsbourg. It rises out of the forest of Selestat and was in ruins in the 1890's. It was fully restored by Bodo Ebhardt after the ruins were given to the Kaiser when the Alsace was in German possession.

Sidi Goutam
Thomas Hernandez
Josh Kuproski
Clint Hill


This page was last updated on Saturday June 28, 2008

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