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Kiel 1243 - 1945

The History of the City of Kiel 1243 - 1945

   The city of Kiel lies on the Baltic coast of Schleswig-Holstein at the southern end of a fjord which provides an outstanding natural harbour about 9 kms long and, between Möltenort and Holtenau, 3kms wide. The narrows at Friedrichsort provide protection from wind and weather for ships lying in the inner fjord.

   The city was founded in the early part of the 13th century by Duke Adolf IV of Schauenburg and was granted a charter in 1242. The old walled city was built on a peninsular connected to the mainland on the northern side - the outline of which can still be seen if one links the three lakes in the centre of the modern city into the harbour at Schwedenkai. The Schloß protected the access across the northern neck of land.  From the very beginning, Kiel was a trading town with links to Scandinavia and for many years it was a Member of the Hanseatic League. The city has long been internationally known as a central market for goods and financial transactions and has played an important part in the economic life of Holstein since the 16th century.  It suffered severely during the Thirty Years War but shortly after that, in 1663, Christian Albrecht established the University and the money which this attracted revitalised the area.  The physicist Max Planck was born in Kiel and was a professor of its University when he was having first thoughts about the Quantum Theory which is a basis for all modern theoretical Physics.  Hans Geiger, of geiger-counter fame, was also a professor at the University.

   The opening of the Eider Canal in 1784 connected the Baltic with the North Sea and so established a waterborne commercial link with the western sea coast and the states that bordered it.  The canal made use of the River Eider from the North Sea to Rendsburg and then followed the contours and entered the Kieler Förde at Holtenau. A small part of the Canal has been refurbished and can be seen near Knoop about 1 km to the west of Holtenau and there is a rather longer section still in existence near Rendsburg.

   At the start of the Thirty Years War the Danes had built a fortress on the west bank of the narrows which they called Christianspries.  These defences were dismantled in 1645 after the Danes had been defeated by the Swedes. Later that century a new fortress was built and named Friedrichsort after the Danish King Frederick IV.  The Friedrichsort lighthouse (known to everyone in the BKYC as "Freddy" light) stands on foundations that were part of that fortress.

   After the German-Danish war of 1864 the Danes lost the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg.  Holstein went to the Austrians and the others to the Prussians. Kiel was in the peculiar position of being administered by the Austrians whilst the Prussians controlled the harbour, the waterway and Friedrichsort Castle.  At that time Kiel was still a small university and trading town of about 20.000 inhabitants. Under the "Garsteiner Convention" of 1865 the Prussians were formally granted Kiel as a naval base and on the 24th June that year, Admiral Jackmann brought the Prussian fleet from Danzig and established the Baltic Naval Base in Kiel.  Following the Austrian-Prussian War of 1870 the North German Federation Navy became the Kaiser's Navy and Kiel was declared a State Naval Harbour.  This caused the base to be expanded and marked a considerable change in the economic fortunes of the city. The fortifications at the entrance to the fjord were later strengthened and new forts were built on the eastern bank.  There is, however, little evidence of these defences now as they were demolished as part of the de-militarisation process following Word War 1.

   From 1853 the Prussians had also maintained a fleet in the North Sea and in 1869 the naval support base of Williamshaven was completed. However earlier experience had shown how easily the passage though the Danish archipelago could be blocked in time of war and the Kaiser's Navy now faced the problem of maintaining powerful fleets in both the Baltic and the North Sea. These would either have to be able to operate independently of each other or a safe passage would have to be provided so that they could reinforce each other. There was thus a clear strategic and economic requirement for a canal, suitable for warships, to link the two naval bases.  Kiel was of course already linked to the North Sea by the Eider Canals but that was limited in capacity to ships of 35m x 7.8m x 3.5m and 400 tonnes. It was thus far too small for the envisaged naval usage.

   On 3rd July 1887 Kaiser Wilhelm I laid the foundation stone of the new canal and eight years later, on 21st June 1985, Kaiser Wilhelm II opened the canal which bore his name.  (To the British it has always been called the Kiel Canal!). However it was soon clear that even this new canal was too small to carry the traffic required and work was put in hand to improve the line and cross-section of the canal and to build larger locks.  The opening event of Kieler Woche 1914 was the inauguration by Kaiser Wilhelm II of the bigger and better canal.

   Yachting had been an important part of the life of some of the inhabitants of Kiel since the early part of the 19th Century but the first official sailing competition, which gave birth to the now world famous Kieler Wochen (or Kiel Weeks), did not take place until 23rd July 1882. In 1887 the Kaiserlicher (or 'Imperial') Yacht Club (which we now know as the Kieler Yacht Club) was founded.

   From 4th to 14th August 1936, Kiel was the venue for the Olympic sailing events.  The courses for the smaller boats were set in the inner fjord and the Kiel canal was closed for the duration so that commercial traffic would not interfere with the competitions. (It was not possible to do this when the Olympics returned to Kiel in 1972.  On this occasion, all the courses and the supporting organization were moved north of Kiel to Strande).  Just before the 1936 Olympics, on 31st May, the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Jütland, the Naval Memorial at Laboe was opened.  The monument, which had first been conceived in 1925, commemorates all those lost at sea and particularly those lost in war.  (Following World War II serious consideration was given to destroying the monument but the argument that it commemorated the dead and did not glorify war prevailed and it was saved).

   After World War I a severe blow was struck to the economy of Kiel by the Treaty of Versailles which limited the size of the German Navy. Kiel, now with a population of almost 250,000, depended heavily upon the work provided in the Germania, Howaldt and Deutsche Werft shipyards.  Prosperity did not return until the 1930s when the navy began to expand again.  The Kiel shipyards built vessels of all classes from battleships to fast patrol boats and submarines.  (The largest battleship built in Kiel was the 'Gneisenau', 32,000 tons, launched by the Deutsche Werft yard on 8th December 1936).  The world's first usable submarine had been built at the Germania yard in 1906. During World War II the existence of these strategically important yards made Kiel an important target and the city suffered 36 major air raids.  The heaviest damage was inflicted in two raids in 1945 when the yards were destroyed and many ships were sunk, including the pocket battleship 'Admiral Scheer'. By the end of the war about 80% of Kiel had been destroyed.

   In January 1945, in preparation for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany, HQ 21 Army Group published 'Operation Eclipse' which contained plans for the occupation of Germany. Schleswig-Holstein was to be a Corps District and when victory came in May 1945 the 'Land' was in the operational area of 8 Corps.

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