The Port of Duisburg lies at the junction of the Ruhr and Rhine rivers about 190 kilometers from the North Sea in western Germany just 37 kilometers east of the country's border with The Netherlands. About 160 kilometers southeast of the Port of Amsterdam and 16 kilometers north of Germany's Port of Dusseldorf, the Port of Duisburg is the world's biggest inland port with connections to the country's North Sea ports through the Rhine-Herne Canal and the Dortmund-Ems Canal. In 2003, over 506 thousand people lived in the Port of Duisburg.
Even though it is so far inland, the Port of Duisburg is considered a seaport because it serves ocean-going vessels that travel to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The local economy is largely dependent on the Port of Duisburg, but it has also become a center for commerce and the production of steel. The Port of Duisburg is home to all of the blast furnaces in Ruhr, and the Port of Duisburg produces 34% of Germany's pig iron and 49% of the country's hot metal.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Port of Duisburg has been inhabited since the 1st Century AD, and it was already an important trading center in the 5th Century. The Romans called it Castrum Deutonis, and Frankish kings who took over the Roman settlement in 420 AD called it Diuspargum. In 883, the Normans invaded the Port of Duisburg area, staying there for the winter. It was at this time the name Duisburg was first recorded.
When the course of the Rhine moved to the west in the 11th Century, the city's growth slowed to a near-stop, and it remained a small rural town for a time. However, the Port of Duisburg held a strategic geographic location, and the town that grew up there was granted a royal charter as a free city in the early 1279 by King Lothar III. It soon joined the Hanseatic League. In 1666, the Port of Duisburg was part of the Duchy of Cleves, and the area became part of Brandenburg-Prussia.
In the 18th Century, the Port of Duisburg became an industrial center based on the textile and tobacco industries. Companies that produced iron and steel were established in the Prussian Rhine Province, and big housing developments were created for the workers and their families.
In 1716, the silted-over Ruhr River was dredged to create a port basin. Covering about seven thousand square meters, the port was used primarily for moving coal mined inland from barges to ships traveling the Rhine. The Kingdom of Prussia took the port over in 1756 and continued to expand it for several decades. In the early 1800s, the Port of Duisburg's inner and outer harbors were completed. In 1889, the City of Duisburg purchased the ports and continued to expand them.
The Industrial Age came to the Port of Duisburg in 1824 when a sulfuric acid factory was built there. In 1828, Franz Haniel (German) built a dockyard in the Port of Duisburg to serve steamships. A railroad line to Dusseldorf was completed in 1846. In 1873, the Port of Duisburg became an independent city. The Port of Duisburg's one-hundred-thousandth resident was born in 1904.
The city undertook construction of the Rheinau port in the first years of the 20th Century. Three big new port basins were added on the Rhine, and fears grew that competition for trade dominance would create an over-capacity situation in the Port of Duisburg. To settle the issue, a joint venture between the City of Duisburg and the Ruhr Fiscal Authority was formed in 1905. Eventually, the two cities were merged, ending the rivalry and leaving the Port of Duisburg the only port in the city.
In 1914, the Port of Duisburg was connected to other ports in West Germany with the completion of the Rhine-Herne Canal. The coming of World War I, however, interrupted port development until about 1924. In 1921, French forces occupied the Port of Duisburg to get payments for war reparations for World War I damages.
In 1926, Prussia's parliament enacted a law to transfer the Port of Duisburg facilities to a joint stock company, setting the stage for further port development and expansion. The Prussian state owned 66% of the stock, and the City of Duisburg owned the remaining third.
In 1938, the Nazis destroyed the Port of Duisburg's synagogue, and the city was embroiled in World War II. Because it was an important center for the iron and steel and chemical industries, the Port of Duisburg was an important target for Allied bombs. Some historians think it was the most heavily-bombed city in Germany during World War II. On one night in 1941, British bombers dropped 445 tons of bombs on and around the city. During the Battle of the Ruhr, 557 British bombers destroyed the old city, dropping about 1600 bombs. In 1944, another two thousand tons of bombs fell on the Port of Duisburg in May. Operation Hurricane in October brought about nine thousand tons of bombs in one day, and the attacks continued through the end of the year.
In 1945, the Port of Duisburg was the target of a vicious artillery barrage before the US Army entered the city. World War II brought almost 300 bombing raids on the Port of Duisburg, and the whole city had been near destroyed. Only 20% of the homes in the city remained, and most historic landmarks were gone. World War II devastated the Port of Duisburg and its facilities. Over 300 ships had been sunk in the port's basins, 96 ships had been abandoned at the Rhine docks, and nine shipwrecks blocked the mouth of the Ruhr. Commercial traffic was impossible. Port development had to be postponed while supplies were delivered to the local population, many of whom were homeless. It took another five years to position the port for commercial business and development.
By 1950, the economy of the German state was recovering, and cargo volume passing through the Port of Duisburg began to increase. By this time, infrastructure changes became necessary to meet the new generations of vessels and the changing nature of cargoes. Oil was replacing coal as the most important source of energy for Germany. Pipelines were constructed to move oil from the port to refineries.
Ore was the most important cargo in the Port of Duisburg in 1965, and oil followed closely. Other important cargoes included iron and steel, sand and gravel, scrap, and cereals. In 1968, new areas were filled to create room for expansion of port facilities.
By 1980, the old lock connecting the Rhine-Herne Canal to other German ports was no longer adequate for modern vessels and cargoes. A new lock was built in Meiderich. In 1983, the Vincke Canal was extended to open waterborne travel between Rotterdam and the Port of Duisburg. At this time, short-sea vessels were carrying increasing volumes of general cargoes, trailers, and containers. By the middle 1980s, container cargoes were becoming more important to port operations, and the first container terminal and roll-on/roll-off facility was opened in 1984.
The coal and iron and steel industries faced crisis, and the Ruhr Conference of 1988 approved the investment of more than a million Deutschmarks were invested. The Port of Duisburg was a major beneficiary of this decision, and the city sought approval for a free port. The foundation stone for the free port was laid in 1989, and a new rail station was opened.
The 1990s were an important decade for the Port of Duisburg. A new covered warehouse facility was opened and new rail tracks were laid in 1990. The following year, the free port began operations and a new heavy cargo loading facility opened. In 1991, the Port of Duisburg celebrated its 275th Anniversary with many festive events. The new combined transport rail terminal was inaugurated in 1992 to integrate water, rail, and highway transport. Today, that station serves about 50 German and non-German inland destinations. Between 1993 and 1996, enhancements were made that allowed more efficient ship-to-shore transfers of containers.
Also in the decade of the 1990s, plans for development began to shift from a focus on novel trends and inner city renewal to creating a better quality of life and improving social and environmental standards. The regional planning effort involved 17 cities and two counties. Old industrial facilities were converted for modern use, and the Eurogate building designed by Sir Norman Foster became a symbol of the modern Port of Duisburg.
In 1996, the Port of Duisburg acquired a 210 thousand square meter site that had been a copper mill to build a new coal-receiving facility. In 1997, the Duisburg-Ruhrorter Hafen AG created the Port Agency Duisburg GmbH to market the Port of Duisburg. In 1997, the Port of Duisburg was awarded the "Inland Port of the Year" by the Binnenschiffahrt journal.
In 1998, the PCD Packing-Center-Duisburg facility opened to pack high-grade goods. At the end of the 1990s, the trend away from bulk cargoes to high-grade general cargoes necessitated a new strategy for the Port of Duisburg. The port developed plans to make the Port of Duisburg a major transportation and distribution hub for central Europe, particularly for containers and imports of coal.
When the closure of the Krupp Steel mill was announced, the Port of Duisburg purchased the land to expand the free port. This was the first time the port would have facilities on the western shores of the Rhine. The site was destined to become Logport Logistic-Center Duisburg, but planners knew it would take as long as 15 years to develop the site. Investors were identified, including a major Japanese shipping line, the British P&O logistics group, and the German Interspe Hamann. Backfilling operations created new 50-hectare tracts next to the container terminal and combined transportation rail station. The Port of Duisburg continued to add new sister ports to its list of assets and strengthened its relationships with other German ports.