The Rhine; Backbone of Dutch-German Economic Interdependence 1918-1933
|For a long time, it has been said that Rhine transport plays an important role in Dutch-German economic ties. Nevertheless, this has never been the subject of statistical research. This essay aims to fill this gap for the period 1919-1933. To do so, it charts Dutch, German, Belgian and French freight traffic, both by Rhine barge and by train. Statistical data shows that on the lower Rhine, Dutch ships were in the majority from 1925-on, while on the middle and upper Rhine – where German ships were in the majority – the Dutch share increased significantly as the 1920s progressed. By the end of the decade, Dutch barges were in the majority in overall Rhine shipping. Throughout the period, Belgian and French Rhine shipping was – in comparison – negligible. However, given that – for various reasons – by the end of the 1920s at least 39% of the Dutch Rhine fleet was actually owned by Germans, the ‘Dutch’ superiority in numbers is more a sign of how the Dutch and German economies were interwoven than anything else.
Rhine shipping concentrated on the Ruhr. The image of the Ruhr as centre of German economic activity is confirmed by German internal transport, where both inland shipping as well as rail freight was focused on the Ruhr. The majority of German exports that was sent by railroad transport also originated in the Ruhr, with only German imports by rail freight being less oriented on the Ruhr itself, and more on the extended Ruhr area, which in addition to the Ruhr consisted of the Rheinprovinz and Westphalia. Although transport between the Netherlands and Germany was almost entirely over the Rhine, the Dutch had an important share in rail freight, alternating with France for first place while Belgian railroad transport was consistently less than Dutch railroad freight.
This essay therefore concludes that the economic structure and international economic ties of Germany find a strong expression in the transport sector, with Germany’s economic heartland clearly being the Ruhr area. Although transport to and from Belgium and France was also concentrated on the (extended) Ruhr area, for both Germany as a whole and the Ruhr area in particular it was transport to and from the Netherlands that was – by a large margin – the most important. Of all this transport, the vast majority was via Rhine shipping, making the Rhine truly the backbone of Dutch-German economic relations.
|The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.|