System of Ditches

We've got to get the water out! Dig, dig, dig!

A ditch. We see a ditch.  And are waiting for the punchline. There isn't one - other than at this point we can see what hard work it must have been to force today's cultivated landscape from the wild, untamed Rhine. One first means of doing this would be drainage ditches; rather like this one here. They did not prevent the flooding of the Rhine meadows, but they did ensure that the water did not stand around for months at a time but rather flowed away again quickly. This increased the length of time for which the land could be used. This ditch was part of an entire drainage system that started to change the face of the region in the Middle Ages. As we can see here, this does not seem particularly remarkable to us today - this channel could have been dug in a few days with a dredger. When our ancestors started this work, however, they couldn't even begin to imagine dredgers. If someone were to press a shovel into your hand now and tell you to dig out this inconspicuous ditch, you would be in a similar situation to those pioneers of several hundred years ago. And probably not very happy about it. But you would be the luxury version of a ditch digger - with steel tools and probably with work boots. However, until well into the modern era shoes and shovels were made of wood and work was thus much harder. Once you had nevertheless laboriously completed a ditch, the Rhine could completely change its meadows with a single winter flood. The hard slog would then have to start again! But the continuous digging of ditches allowed ever more people to earn their livelihoods in the previously wild Rhine meadows. Ever more people were able to dig more and bigger ditches. Then build up dwelling mounds and the first embankments. Until we finally achieved the Lower Rhine landscape in which we are currently standing looking at a ditch, which is where it all started.

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