Back in the Ice Age, around 14,000 years ago, the people who lived along the Rhine would have had no idea just how important the river would be for their descendants. Trade was already blooming along the Rhine in Roman times, while Cologne, thanks mainly to staple right, became a European metropolis. For 600 years, all ships on the Rhine had to put their goods on sale in the cathedral city before they were allowed to continue. Free shipping along the Rhine has only been possible since 1868, when the Mannheim Act was signed, alongside the obligation from the neighboring countries to maintain the river. And this agreement is still valid to this day, with Baden, Bavaria, Hesse, France and the Netherlands all signatories of it, therefore providing the foundation for a free transport market on the Rhine as we know it.
However, numerous measures were required to ensure that shipping on the Rhine is possible at all times. Even in the middle of the 19th century, floods threatened residents and businesses along the river: Islands were created and disappeared again, settlements were built and destroyed. The constantly changing river bed also led to land disputes. Johann Gottfried Tulla came up with a solution to ensure both protection against flooding and land reclamation, namely by straightening the Rhine, a project which was completed in 1876. At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Honsell, an engineer, further refined Tulla’s previous work by narrowing the river and using the erosive force of the water to deepen the shipping lanes, therefore enabling large ships to travel along the river all the way to Strasbourg. Ever more people – and with them trade and industry – settled along the course of the Rhine, which promised work and prosperity.