National Geographic : 1992 Aug
kilometers an hour. It will take on average 23 to 30 days to get from the North Sea to the Black Sea by inland waterway, against just six days by sea. Where is the economic sense in that?" RMD counters that the canal was built to expand inland trade, not to compete for sea to-sea traffic. Wirth estimates that in order to be profitable the Main-Danube Canal would need to see trade of 22 million to 27 million tons a year-far beyond even RMD's most optimistic forecasts. In the mid-1980s RMD was predicting as much as 11 million tons of traffic -Wirth believes three million tons is a more likely figure-but now declines to offer even informal forecasts. The company argues that political changes in Eastern Europe have made projections impossible but that trade along the canal will almost cer tainly boom as a result. Wirth thinks not. "The economies of East ern Europe are in disarray, and it is unlikely that they will be significant customers of Western bulk goods for many years. At the same time, we in Western Europe have chronic surpluses of grain and other agricul tural produce and don't need what they have to offer. So I ask you: Where will the trade come from?" MANY ENVIRONMENTALISTS are equally unconvinced of the canal's merits. "Mere landscape cosmet ics" is how Klaus Giessner, a pro fessor of physical geography at the Catholic University of Eichstatt, character izes RMD's efforts in the Altmiihl Valley. "Superficially it may look attractive, but the natural dynamism is being destroyed and that cannot be replaced." Nor does Giessner accept many of the arguments concerning the canal's incidental benefits. "The transfer of water to the north could have been achieved with a small pipe line. You don't need a large canal for that. As to pollution in the Main, surely it would Water over the bridge carries traffic high above the Zenn River (top). Headed back to their Romanian home with a cargo of German logs, the Mihalcea family turns barge decks into a make-do playground. The used car they bought in Germany gains in value with every mile it floats down the Danube River.