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Thursday, February 5, 2009

What’s in a Ship’s Name

‘The names of the cargo ships of Holland America Line all ended in ‘dijk’ (pronounced dike),’ explains Kees van Buren of Gemeente Rotterdam, the city archives. Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, the water is kept at bay by the use of dikes, or ‘dijken’. Therefore, cargo ships were named for certain dijken, like the Schiedijk or the Katsedijk. Passenger ships, on the other hand, were, and are, named after dams. Most of the major rivers in the Netherlands have dams to hold water for irrigation. Hence the Maasdam is named for the dam on the Maas River, the Nieuw Amsterdam for a dam on the Amster River (now called the Amstel). The Ryndam is named for one of the greatest rivers in all of Europe, the Rhine. Rhenus (ancient), Rhein (German), Rhin (French), or Rijn (Dutch), to most, it is the Rhine. Through recorded history, at least for 2,000 years, it has been the leading waterway of Europe. As the main artery between the heart of Europe and the North Sea, the Rhine fostered the growth of Rotterdam into one of the greatest seaports in the world. It is the ‘Vater Rhein’, affectionately called the ‘Father Rhine’, in much the same way that Americans refer to the Mississippi as ‘Old Man River’. The 840-miles from Lake Constance to Basel courses into Germany and through the Netherlands to Rotterdam. It is the natural boundary between Germany and France, where great cities - Strasbourg, Mainz, Köln and Düsseldorf - grew from Roman outposts.

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