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The history of shipping in the Kiel Firth

Evening in Kiel harbour c. 1929
Evening in Kiel harbour c. 1929

Kiel’s geographical site on the Kiel Firth, an inlet about 17 kilometres long, made ferry connections between the provostry villages and the city essential at an early stage. So Beeke Sellmer, a fisherman’s wife from Laboe, set up a first regular freight and passenger service in 1857.

As Kiel expanded in the second half of the 19th century and the great ship yards sprang up on the eastern shore, more and more and larger ferries were needed for commuters, but also for tourists. Various steamer lines - called Blue, Green, White or Black Line according to the colour of their paint - provided a frequent service to and between Friedrichsort, Kiel and Laboe up to the First World War. Traffic was suspended only when their was ice on the waterway in winter.

Crossing on the “Lorelei” ferry from Gaarden to the city centre, 1867
Crossing on the “Lorelei” ferry from
Gaarden to the city centre, 1867

Tours on the firth steamers in the early 1950s
Tours on the firth steamers in the early 1950s

The crises of the Weimar period meant that lines went out of business, fares rose and ships were sold. Shipping on the firth did not recover later either, because other means of transport became increasingly important for passenger business. Trams, buses and ferries were combined as the Kieler Verkehrs AG in the 1930s.

Later the firth boats were increasingly used for tourism. They experienced another minor boom in the 1960s, before private cars started to push the ferries further into the background. The firth steamers, which carry visitors to resorts along the firth in summer, are now one of Kiel’s tourist attractions. 

Pictorial material: Kieler Stadtarchiv, Stadt-und Schifffahrtsmuseum

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