The Ludwig Canal is the original canal that connected the Danube and the Main rivers on the 19th century, now replaced for a wider modern connection, the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal.
Both old and new, start in Bamberg and cut the german mountains all the way to Kelheim, reaching the european summit point that divides the watersheds between the North and the Black Seas 400m above sea level. This is the highest point on Earth that is currently reached by commercial watercraft from the sea.
The Ludwig is the canal taken by “Flame”on the book “Sailing Across Europe” that we read before starting our journey. On the book, only one chapter is dedicated to this stretch of water, that connects the Rhine Basin with the Danube Basin, but the description is so fantastic, the pace is so slow, the landscape so beautiful, that we were curious to see how much of it was left, if any at all.
To our surprise, there is still about 60km left of the original channel, out of the 177km, some of the locks still work, but it is not navigable, and only possible to reach by bike.
While cruising down the new Main-Donau-Canal one can see parts of the original canal alongside the new one. The lock-keepers houses are now being refurbished to serve as infrastructure to a new bike route that will take bikers along the old canal.
The original 177km length narrow canal had 101 locks, 100 bridges, 10 aqueducts, 63 lockkeeper’s houses and 500.000 fruit trees planted at regular intervals, boats had to be towed part of the journey, but due to the lack of water and heavy damages suffered during WWII, it ended up being closed. It was replaced in 1992 by a new bigger infrastructure,the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal that connects the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, providing a navigable artery between the Rhine delta and the Danube Delta, to where we’re heading.
The new Canal has 16 locks, the deepest one being 24m deep. Boats are not suppose to stop along the way, but we’re slow and have to ask the lock-keepers permission to stop for the night close to the locks. They do complain a bit, but they always end up allowing us to stay.
It takes us 8 days from Bamberg to Kelheim, with a stop for a couple of days in Nuremberg, to do the 171km long canal. We’ve reached the Danube!