KIEL has always had a tradition of shipping and so is open to the world, and this shows in the slogan ‘Kiel – sailing city’ in English, not German. Kiel is the capital of Schleswig-Holstein, the northern part of Germany that is just below Denmark, and the Germans only took it off Denmark in 1867.
It is famous for the Kiel Canal, a broad waterway that cuts across the country to link the Baltic with the North Sea so that German ships can avoid going all round Denmark. Kiel developed into an important naval base and ship construction centre which, of course, led to severe bombing in the Second World War. The result was an incredible and frightening 95% damage and destruction, which is why there are very few historic buildings there. However, Kiel has grown again and today is a vibrant, dynamic and very interesting city, based around the harbour and waterway.
The city council runs a sailing centre, and while I was there I went out on a cutter, a two-masted boat that can carry a dozen people. It was tremendous fun, scudding across the broad waterway at what seemed a great rate of knots, heeling into the choppy water as the sails strained to fight against the strong wind as we tacked in a zig-zag, dodging the mighty ferry that was setting off for Oslo, admiring the vast sides of two huge cruise ships docked there. Passing the shipyard, we could see a ludicrously luxurious yacht being constructed for a suddenly rich Russian, and alongside it a brand new submarine, one of a fleet being built for the Israeli navy – what a contrast. And what a reflexion on our way of life. Engineering is important in Kiel, and there is also a large railway locomotive construction and repair factory.
Back on land it was time for lunch, and what better way to eat than at a typical Kiel small café on the long quayside promenade, eating fish and chips (the chips were black – not burnt but from black potatoes) with a local white wine, at open-air tables, watching the majestic tall sailing ships move with stately grace up the waterway. Later, at the old meat market which is now a museum, I saw a bust of Wilhelm Bauer (1822-1875) on a metal plinth shaped like a submarine. Herr Bauer developed the first German submarine, was a clever engineer but did not get very far at that time due to lack of funding. You can see in one of the photos here, his bust and behind it across the water one of the brand new Israeli submarines, which still works on the principles that he worked out.
The shipping theme dominates Kiel. There are 137 cruise ships docking there this year, ferries go daily to Oslo, Norway, Goteberg Sweden, St Petersburg Russia, and Klaipeda, Lithuania. There is also the Kiel Regatta in September, and Camp 24/7 which is for sea training children from aged six upwards with 30 courses available for all ages to experience. In 1882 there was the first Kiel Week, which has continued and today is the world’s biggest sailing festival.
However, don’t think that Kiel is only about the sea. The population of 237,000 people, plus 29,500 students, welcome 296,000 tourists (around 85% of whom are Germans, they know a good place to go when they see it) plus all the thousands of people from the various ships, so there is a lot to see and do. For example, shopping is a big thing, and Holstenstrasse was made a pedestrian shopping zone in 1953, one of the first in Europe. There are many, many cafes and restaurants, and also a great range of hotels of course, many offering packages such as "park and cruise" and "dine and cruise".
The tourist board is very active (www.kurskiel.de) and provide walking tours, self guided audio tours, and even Segway tours (50 Euros for 2 hours) and offer hotel and package holiday booking services. There are eight museums. The word "museum" does not really give the right image – they are certainly not dusty places full of relics; they include the important art gallery, the zoological museum and the ship museum, an aquarium and a medicine and pharmacy museum, information is available at (www.museen-am-meer.de) There is also the Spielbank casino and night club if you like some glamour.
For all that it is modern and bustling; Kiel still retains some of its old traditions. The town hall is a massive solid brick edifice, and you can visit the tower (67 metres – 220 feet high) on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 12.30, for 3.50 Euros per adult. While going there, I saw a man in a colourful hat and shorts with a small hand brush sweeping the town hall steps while he sat on them looking rather the worse for wear. A small group of people were standing in front of him encouraging him. The town hall guide explained that in Kiel, if you are a man and you are unmarried by the time of your 30th birthday, your friends take you to the town hall and you must sweep the steps. Of course, the friends had liberally covered the steps in sawdust and leaves and with more encouragement and beer the poor bachelor swept the steps.
Getting to Kiel for us is fairly easy, the nearest big airport is Hamburg, with trains running to the main station (Hauptbahnhof) from where there are many trains to Kiel, taking about one hour. The centre of Kiel around the waterway, is fairly compact but be prepared for some walking to reach all the attractions.
If you go to www.kiel-marketing.de or www.kiel-saling-city.de you can find out more about Kiel and the surrounding area (which is interesting to explore, full of thatched houses, towns and villages full of character, and thousands of wind turbines). The site has an English language option, a picture gallery and a live webcam so that you can see the weather there – the camera looks like it is on top of the town hall, so you get good views.
Kiel is an interesting place to visit, the closeness of the sandy beach, the shopping centre close to the railway station and the waterway so that as you walk along you glimpse masts and superstructure gliding past side roads, and all the time there is that freshness that you get when a city is spread around the water. Transport is easy too, with water taxis and a good tram system, as well as the usual buses and taxis and of course many bicycles.
Kiel manages to combine a city holiday with a beach holiday with an active outdoor holiday – and it is good fun!