Shiplifting in Scharnebeck: Where ships take the elevator

Scharnebeck shiplifting facility

In the sleepy village of Scharnebeck in Niedersachsen, one of the world’s largest shiplifts moves up to 100 m long ships over a vertical height of 35 meters. The Scharnebeck Shiplifting information center explains how it works.

The road passes below a high, bridge-like construction. From the sidewalk we can look down into an empty concrete basin with technical and nautical equipment of unclear purpose: gates, steel cables, cranes, and bollards. A sheet of water rains down from above although the weather has been friendly for several days. Tourists are standing about, and the nearby pizzeria and ice-cream parlour is doing a good business.

Elbeseitenkanal

Lifting ships to a higher level

A trail leads up to the top of the construction, which is in fact the end of a water canal crossing the countryside well above the ground. On a small watch tower, families, passing cyclists and gangs of motorcyclists in full gear look excitedly down at MS Sabrina just entering the peculiar building. The high-level part of the Elbeseitenkanal (Elbe connection canal) ends here, and the canal continues 35 meters deeper on the regular level of the surrounding land.

Two huge concrete towers hold a pair of oversized bathtubs that can be moved up and down with the help of counterweights. Every time the watergates open to let ships in and out of the basins, some water drips out, but on the whole, the elevator seems to run quite smoothly.

It takes a while to fit the larger transport barges into the trough, and small sport boats always go in last. Unlike the kids on the watch tower, they can’t skip the elevator and rush down the stairs towards the ice-cream parlour.

NB: Our travels to Scharnebeck were not sponsored in any way. We paid all travel expenses ourselves.

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