The 10th October 2003 was a very special day for the residents of Magdeburg and the surrounding region. They flocked in droves to the opening of the longest canal bridge in Europe directly in front of the city gates. The all-steel trough which takes the water from the Mittelland canal across the Elbe measures 918 metres in length. A little further away you can find the modern Hohenwarthe double sluice which takes boats up and down to the Elbe-Havel canal, a good 18 metres below.
The Magdeburg water crossing was the culmination of decades of efforts to create a direct canal connection between the Ruhrgebiet and Berlin. The first outlines for a navigable crossing of the Elbe go back to the year 1877. In 1934 work began on a canal bridge with a twin ship lift, but this was never completed because of the Second World War. By contrast, the Rothensee ship lift went into operation in 1938. The size of its movable trough, resting on two floats, was something completely new to the world at the time. Originally the site was simply planned to act as an axis between the Mittelland canal and Magdeburg harbour. But because the bridge over the Elbe was never completed all the waterway traffic was forced to take a 12 kilometre diversion. Starting at the Rothensee ship lift, boats had to go down to the Elbe and follow the river north via the Niegripp sluice before reaching the Elbe-Havel canal. Boats longer than 85 metres were unable to travel any further because the Rothensee ship lift was too short.
This has all become a part of the past since the opening of the new water crossing. Every year tens of thousands of travellers and water tourists visit Magdeburg in order to experience the new water junction in action. Visitors are also interested in the up-to-date sluice equipment which replaced the Rothensee ship lift in May 2001. But many people in Magdeburg still refuse to write off the old lift completely. The whole city is united in its protest against the threat of closure. Whether the residents will be successful in preserving the historic ship lift as a fully working industrial monument remains to be seen.