The first "Gierponte" or "flying bridge" on the Rhine was used in the 1680s. It was actually a ferry which moved across the river without man or animal power!

Here’s how it worked: A strong rope was anchored in the middle of the river. This rope, about 400m long, was tied to the mast of the ferry, at a height of about 7m. It was held out of the water by several small hulls, which also kept it from wearing out. The ferry started from one bank by taking a diagonal yaw position. The rudder maintained an angle such that the current would push the ferry sideways. The necessary resistance was provided by the double-anchored rope.

The trip across the river took only 19 minutes.
The first "Gierponte" or "flying bridge" on the Rhine was used in the 1680s. It was actually a ferry which moved across the river without man or animal power!

Here’s how it worked: A strong rope was anchored in the middle of the river. This rope, about 400m long, was tied to the mast of the ferry, at a height of about 7m. It was held out of the water by several small hulls, which also kept it from wearing out. The ferry started from one bank by taking a diagonal yaw position. The rudder maintained an angle such that the current would push the ferry sideways. The necessary resistance was provided by the double-anchored rope.

The trip across the river took only 19 minutes.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Ferry

The "flying bridge" between Bonn and Beuel, 1785

Artist: Kupferstich von Christoph Wilhelm Bock d'après Charles Dupuis
Geschichte der Stadt Bonn, Band 3: Bonn als kurlölnische Haupt- und Residenzstadt 1574-1794, Norbert Schloßmacher, ed.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Freighters and other ships on the Rhine still make use of the fast current to travel downstream quickly. But how did they get back upstream - from Bonn to Mainz for example - in the days before motors, especially when conditions were not good for sailing?

Something physically stronger than the river, which could tow a boat, was required. Mighty horses were harnessed to the ships and pulled them along the bank. To keep the boat from being drawn to the bank, a special rudder was used. It made the ship turn diagonally toward the centre of the river. The force of the current against the side of the boat kept it away from the shore.
Freighters and other ships on the Rhine still make use of the fast current to travel downstream quickly. But how did they get back upstream - from Bonn to Mainz for example - in the days before motors, especially when conditions were not good for sailing?

Something physically stronger than the river, which could tow a boat, was required. Mighty horses were harnessed to the ships and pulled them along the bank. To keep the boat from being drawn to the bank, a special rudder was used. It made the ship turn diagonally toward the centre of the river. The force of the current against the side of the boat kept it away from the shore.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Moving Upstream

Horses pull a ship upstream toward Cologne, 1840

Artist: Philipp Herrlich, Johann Jakob Siegmund
Album der schönsten Ansichten des Rheins, von P. Herrlich und J. J. Siegmund. 1840. Tiré de : Die illustrierten Rhein-Beschreibungen von Michael Schmitt; Köln: Weimar; Wien: Böhlau; 1996.
c. 1840
© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Workhorses on the Rhine

Workhorses on the path along the Rhine, 1844

Artist: J. F. Dielmann
Rhein-Album, de J. F. Dielmann. Frankfurt: Verlag Carl Jügel 1844. Taken from: Die illustrierten Rhein-Beschreibungen von Michael Schmitt; Köln: Weimar; Wien: Böhlau; 1996.
c. 1844
© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


The men who led the animals along the bank were rough guys who did not shrink back from encouraging the horses with a whip. When they took a break in a pub, they were welcomed by the locals because of the many stories they had to tell about their experiences on the way upstream.
The men who led the animals along the bank were rough guys who did not shrink back from encouraging the horses with a whip. When they took a break in a pub, they were welcomed by the locals because of the many stories they had to tell about their experiences on the way upstream.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

woodcut

Horses pull a boat against the current in this 1596 woodcut

Artist: Unknown
Von Ufer zu Ufer, par Ferdinand Clausen. Ludwig Röhrscheid Verlag, Bonn 1987.
c. 1596
© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Wood from the Black Forest, especially masts and other special pieces for shipbuilding, had a ready market in the Netherlands. The wood was floated down the Rhine in rafts. Some of these rafts were as long as 300m (1000 feet), with buildings to accommodate the 500 people required to manage and steer the raft. There was even a slaughterhouse to feed everyone for the several weeks the trip would take.

The rafts were articulated to help them manage curves in the river. As many as 27 rudders on the front and back, each powered by several men, were needed to keep the raft away from the riverbanks. Anchors could be dropped to slow the raft down.

Other goods could be transported on the rafts. Sometimes emigrants worked their passage downriver on the rafts.
Wood from the Black Forest, especially masts and other special pieces for shipbuilding, had a ready market in the Netherlands. The wood was floated down the Rhine in rafts. Some of these rafts were as long as 300m (1000 feet), with buildings to accommodate the 500 people required to manage and steer the raft. There was even a slaughterhouse to feed everyone for the several weeks the trip would take.

The rafts were articulated to help them manage curves in the river. As many as 27 rudders on the front and back, each powered by several men, were needed to keep the raft away from the riverbanks. Anchors could be dropped to slow the raft down.

Other goods could be transported on the rafts. Sometimes emigrants worked their passage downriver on the rafts.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Raft of Logs on the Rhine

A raft of wood from the Black Forest, destined for Dutch shipyards, floats down the Rhine in 1820.

Artist: Christian Georg Schütz
Gerning, Johann Isaak von; Plack, John, et Schültz, Christian Georg. Une intéressante croisière sur le Rhin..., 1820. Tiré de : Der Lauf des Rheines; W. Schäfke und Ingrid Bodsch, eds., Kölnisches Stadtmuseum, Köln 1993.

© Kölnisches Stadtmuseum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe how goods were transported up and down the Rhine;
  • Identify and describe several ingenious technologies to travel the Rhine;
  • Relate technology to necessity and culture.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans