The new elevator for ships: Germany’s superlift

by time news

Dhe local tourism experts overshot their goal in their enthusiasm. “Mountains are moved here”, they proudly report in publications about their number one technical attraction, the new Niederfinow ship lift not far from the town of Eberswalde. Despite all the euphoria, the system, which is currently going through a month-long trial run, cannot do that after all. It does not move mountains, but barges: 36 meters down when they are traveling east, mostly with the destination of the Polish Baltic Sea port of Szczecin, 36 meters up in the opposite direction, which extends to Berlin and further into the Ruhr area and the Rhine. The Havel-Oder waterway is the only trans-European transport route for inland waterways in northern Central Europe as part of the connection from Rotterdam to Klaipeda in Lithuania. It has been in operation for centuries in various stages of expansion.

The central event in the new Niederfinow ship lift is the “trough trip”, and it takes just under three minutes. The gigantic freight elevator for transporting watercraft moves up or down at 30 centimeters per second. The journey goes almost silently, gently and without jolts. Firmly held on a vertical track without fluctuations by more than 220 steel ropes as thick as an arm, each weighing over 40 tons, wound and unwound on pulleys – rope sheaves with a diameter of four meters. Add to that the optical illusion when you ride: Apparently the trough is not moving up or down, but the pillars of the tall, slender structure themselves The Federal Shipping Directorate is practically the builder, on pillars of a cathedral. Dietrich has the nearby hall church of the Chorin monastery in mind. It was the genius loci of the architect Udo Beuke, who was responsible for the structural design of the complex – as one of the greatest testimonies to the north German brick Gothic.

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Nothing during the short elevator journey reveals the gigantic performance behind it: here, almost exactly 9850 tonnes are transported vertically. The trough is a kind of mobile lock basin with a water depth of four meters. The proud weight of this superlift results from the mass of its steel construction plus the amount of water. Then an old, wise Greek comes into play: Archimedes. He found out the Archimedean principle named after him – allegedly in a self-experiment in a bathtub full to the brim – and published it in his work “About the floating bodies”. Basically like this: A ship always displaces an amount of water that is exactly as heavy as the watercraft itself. An insight that is used pragmatically in Niederfinow, as in all other lifts around the world, for vertical up and downhill travel . Regardless of whether a sport boat, a light cruiser or a heavily loaded inland ship enters the trough, the load on the elevator always remains the same.

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