I live 100 meters away from the Rhine, that famous European river. Romans in their empire used it for transport. It was then considered a border between civilisation and savage tribes. Wars were fought around this second largest European river. The Rhine inspired composers to write operas and songs.

Only where I live it’s a canal, the Leidsche Rijn. Simple, straigtht, no castles on hill tops. In the Netherlands that mighty river which flows from Switzerland through Germany has different names. This blog made me go out on a little quest for the Rhine (or Rijn) in the Netherlands.

Different names and streams

When what’s called the Niederrhein in Germany crosses the border, the name changes into Bovenrijn in the Netherlands. The Rhine disappears into the Pannerdensch canal. The bulk of Rhine water flows to sea in the river Waal. After the Pannerdensch canal the name ‘Rhine’ pops up again. Near Arnhem it’s called the Nederrijn. The name stays the same till the city of Wijk bij Duurstede, 50 kilometers westwards. In history this city is known for the Vikings who in the 9th century first came to trade but more and more began to loot the city.

Around 700 the river Lek which begins at Wijk bij Duurstede became bigger than the Rhine. The bulk of water left flows through the Lek to the sea. The Rhine becomes the river Oude Kromme Rijn which flows to Utrecht. It flows into the city canals dug around the centre of Utrecht.

Connection to the sea is lost

Then the connection to the sea is lost. In the sixties of the 20th century it was thought a good idea to get rid of a part of a canal and replace it for a highway. Cars should get easy access to the shopping centre of Utrecht. This piece of highway was seldom used. Luckily the water is brought back in the center, so in a few years the connection with the sea is restored. Next to the train station, begins the  Leidsche Rijn ,  a small canal without natural borders.

From Utrecht to Katwijk

Around 700 the first canal was dug from Utrecht to Vleuten and in the 14th and the 17th century they did that again. The landscape was so flat that the Rhine meandered through it and silted many times. From Utrecht to Harmelen a canal was therefore necessary. It’s now called the Leidsche Rijn. After the village of Harmelen, when it becomes more riverlike it’s called the Oude Rijn. And it flows to Leiden. In Leiden it’s split up again in Oude Rijn and Nieuwe Rijn. But that’s only for a short moment. When they come together again it gets its original short Dutch name Rijn. It flows into the sea through a canal in Katwijk.

The length of the river Rhine

Until 1932 the generally accepted length of the Rhine was 1,230 kilometres (764 miles). In 1932 the German encyclopedia Knaurs Lexikon stated the length as 1,320 kilometres (820 miles), presumably a printers error. The authoritative Brockhaus Enzyklopädie took over this figure. That’s why it became generally accepted. The error was discovered in 2010, and the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat now confirms the length at 1,232. It’s an error generally made. But with so many name changes a mistake is easily made.