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Rhine River 90km shorter than everyone thinks

Published: 27 Mar 2010 12:35 GMT+01:00

Schoolchildren across Germany and the world have learned since the 1930s that the Rhine is 1,320 km long– but it seems that was wrong according to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung paper on Saturday.

“We also have the number 1,320 in our publications, although we put a big question mark against that internally,” Alfred Hommes, spokesman for the federal institute for hydrology, told the paper.

He said a meeting of the commission for the hydrology of the Rhine area would meet next month and commission a check of the real length – and then probably make an official apology.

The error was uncovered by Bruno Kremer who told the Süddeutsche Zeitung he had been working on a report on the ecological aspects of Germany’s most famous river when he realised the length he had learned at school, was wrong.

“To make my report complete, I wanted to mention the length of the river,” he said.

“I noticed that in books from the first half of the 20th century, the Rhine was said to be shorter than it is now – its length was then given as around 1,230 kilometres. Modern lexicons and many publications of governmental authorities now say it is 1,320 kilometres.

“So I kept looking and checked more than 50 different references. They were split between these two lengths. I could not accept that.”

He said he then went to the source of the problem and checked that in Koblenz there is the kilometre stone 0, and then west of the Hook of Holland, where the Rhine enters the sea, there is the stone 1036.

He then added the length of Lake Constance and the Swiss share of the river, examining the newest maps he could find. His total came to 1,233 kilometres, which would seem to be pretty close.

“We checked it out and came to 1,232 kilometres,” said Ankie Pannekoek, spokeswoman for the Dutch government hydrology office.

“Until now we have concentrated on the Rhine between Lake Constance and the estuary which must be why the mistake was not noticed.”

It seems a simple mistake swapping numbers around was made during the 1930s, the Süddeutsche Zeitung suggests – noting that the lexica Brockhaus of 1903, Herder of 1907 and Meyer of 1909 all have 1,230 kilometres.

But in the Knaurs lexicon of 1932 the numbers are turned around making the river 1,320 kilometres long - and that number was taken by the Brockhaus book of 1933, and accepted ever since.

The Rhine Museum in Koblenz has corrected its numbers, said museum head Rainer Doetsch, while Brockhaus publishers has said it will alter its entry on the Rhine length in the next edition. School books will also be changed, the paper says.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

15:02 March 27, 2010 by gtappend
I bet this will be a question on WWM in a few weeks!
16:58 March 27, 2010 by Prufrock2010
And this factoid is important because...?

I wonder how much money the government spent on the research to arrive at this stunning conclusion.

Peschvogel will tell you that it's irrelevant because in a couple of generations there won't be a Rhine River, so who cares?
18:41 March 27, 2010 by wood artist
Wait! Somebody stole 90km of the Rhine? Jeebus, is nothing safe anymore? Where were the security people? These guys were apparently more skilled than the gang that did the poker tournament heist. Imagine stealing that much river and nobody noticed. Wouldn't some barge tug have run aground when they went too far?

Seriously, I'll bet there's a lot of these things around. Somebody published a number and, right or wrong, that became THE number that everyone uses. GPS units regularly send you to streets that don't exist, simply because somebody planned a right-of-way there but never built anything.

wa
21:33 March 27, 2010 by dbert4
The Rhein used to snake throught Germany, one can still see the former route with Google Earth. Thorugh and nature and mans efforts it is none essentially a straight river.

Although this is an interesting fact......so what, it's not really news.
23:33 March 27, 2010 by William Thirteen
size doesn't matter...
00:48 March 28, 2010 by Davey-jo
Apparently the more accurately you measure something the longer it gets. So the answer to this is to measure the river with a school ruler and hey presto you get your 90k back!
01:24 March 28, 2010 by peschvogel
Typisch...Just like the German man who thinks his is longer but its actually shorter....Sclimm
05:14 March 28, 2010 by piper1
Global Warming has shrung the thing!..

No other explanation !
05:40 March 28, 2010 by Eagle1
Slow day at the Local.
07:15 March 28, 2010 by wood artist
peschvogel

Usually I think you're a bit off the wall, but this time? That's really pretty good.

wa
15:29 March 29, 2010 by binthere222
I will give back the 90 KM now.

What is the geophysical definition of a river? It is a flowing body of water which is not subject to intermittent or seasonal disappearance. Intervening bodies of water, such as lake Konstanz, only add to the length as the river continues to it's origin. Commercial navigability is only one of the indicators of the presence of a river, not the sole definition.

Using this definition, the origin of the Rhein extends approximately 90 KM further to the Southwest of Lake Konstanz to the small town at the foot of the Austrian Alps, "Schroken".

It is also worthwhile noting that to that point, the river is used as a geopolitical border between states, is the main tributary to lake Konstanz and is also a geophysical barrier, three other characteristics of a river. It is as well the southwestern continuation of the Rhein river from lake Zonstanz to it's riparian origin.

Therefore, if the proper definition is observed, approximately 90 KM is further added to the length of the Rhein river.
16:35 March 29, 2010 by chimpansi
Could this be bcz of CERN?? Probably few mini-black holes were formed when they ran it first time. May be the planet is shrinking due to that!! 90Km loss is significant. Remember reading a petition to CERN named "Honey I shrunk the earth".

Guess at this rate Earth will shrink to size of a moon soon!!

Oh my, I'm scared!! :)
20:41 April 1, 2010 by nickel
Is it possible that this somehow could be caused by the Bush administration? Obama tells me that everything is George Bush's fault so I was just wondering maybe he had something to do with this obvious shrinkage of your vital national waterway.
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