From sea to shining sea. Making ends meet on European rivers

Nil/Cornelis Disco

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This hopeful remark, written in 1920 by the German social critic Alfons Paquet, suggests that a ‘common spirit in Europe’ could ‘take the offensive’ in realizing waterways over both of Europe’s continental divides. As a German, Paquet conceived of these as extensions of the Rhine — via watershed-spanning canals into the basins of the Rhone and of the Danube. In this chapter I want to take a closer look at this ‘common spirit,’ particularly at whether it was merely an ideological pose to cloak what were essentially local or national projects in transcontinental European grandeur, or whether it was in fact a material force in promoting visions of such waterways and the projects to realize them. I will address this question by considering two visions of a waterway spanning the continental divide between the Rhine and Rhone basins. The first is the actually accomplished French Canal du Rhône au Rhin connecting the Rhine via the so-called ‘Burgundian Gate’ to the Rhone basin. The second is the envisioned, but never built, German–French–Swiss ‘transhelvetique’ over the Hochrhein via the River Aare and Geneva and on to the Haut Rhône. Both projects penetrate the ’European’ watershed dividing the Rhine and the Rhone, which can be held to ‘connect’ the North and Mediterranean Seas via a trans-European waterway, and thus provide an interesting comparison (See Figure 9.1). One was accomplished as an explicitly national project (though with European overtones) while the other was steeped in transnational imaginings from the first; one was a more or less routine challenge in hydraulic and political engineering while the other was dauntingly innovative in both respects.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaterializing Europe: Transnational infrastructures and the project of Europe
EditorsAlexander Badenoch, Andreas Fickers
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
ISBN (Print)978-1-349-31313-6
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd


  • IR-102600
  • METIS-303251


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