Photos: The Ems Barrier at Gandersum

Here is the second part of my photo post about my Ascension Day outing to East Frisia. Yesterday, we took a look at the town of Leer, today we visit the Ems Barrier at Gandersum a few kilometers downstream.

Gandersum is a tiny village on the River Ems, just a handful of houses and a medieval church, approximately 90 inhabitants all in all. And it’s very likely that no one would ever have heard of Gandersum, if it hadn’t been chosen as the location for the Ems Barrier in the 1990s.

As the name suggests, the Ems Barrier can shut off the river Ems, if necessary, keeping water in or out. The Ems Barrier was built between 1998 and 2002 and has a dual purpose.

The first purpose is flood protection, similar to the Thames Barrier in London (on which the design of the Ems Barrier is based) and the Deltawerken in the Netherlands. The idea is quite simple. In case of a massive storm surge in the North Sea, when winter storms press tidal waters into the river mouths, causing flooding and – in particularly bad cases like the 1953 and 1962 floods – heavy casualties inland, the river barriers are closed and keep the spring tides from flooding cities and farmland further upstream.

However, the Ems Barrier has another, more controversial purpose. For it cannot just be used to keep storm surges out, but also to keep the river waters in, causing the level of the Ems to rise. Now why would anybody want to raise the level of the river Ems? The answer lies 36 kilometers inland in the town of Papenburg, which also happens to be the location of the shipyard Meyer Werft, which specialises in building cruise liners.

Now anybody who has ever seen a modern cruise liner knows that those vessels are massive. And the river Ems is fairly shallow. And so, as the cruise liners built by the Meyer Werft became ever bigger, transferring those vessels the 36 kilometers down the river Ems to the North Sea became something of a problem. Because the last thing you want is a brand-new cruise liner getting stuck on the way to the sea. And this is where the Ems Barrier comes in. Because closing the Ems barrier raises the level of the river high enough to allow a cruise liner to pass through at high tide. As you can imagine, artificially damming up a river just to let giant cruise liner pass isn’t exactly good for the environment (and it is notable how muddy the Ems is compared to e.g. the Weser or the Elbe), which is why the Ems Barrier was controversial from the start. However, the Meyer Werft is the biggest employer and tax payer in the region, so their needs won out over environmental concerns.

A cruise liner transfer down the Ems is a sight to see BTW, because the giant vessels tower over everything in the area. It is also an enormous logistic undertaking, because first you have to wait for a suitably high tide, then Ems Barrier has to be closed to raise the level of the river even further and even then the vessel often only has centimetres to spare before running aground.

Here are some photos (not mine) of what a cruise liner transfer looks like: Here you can see a comparatively tiny tugboat towing a cruise liner along the river Ems, while people look on (cruise liner transfers are big tourist attractions), here we have the Star Virgo literally towering above farm houses, here we have the Aida Diva passing by overhead, while cars and trucks on the highway 31 drive into the Ems tunnel at Leer and here we have an aerial shot of a cruise liner passing through the Ems Barrier.

And now let’s see what it looks like from the ground and without a cruise liner:

Ems Barrier

A look at the Ems Barrier from the seaward side.

Ems Barrier

A look at the lifting gate from the seaward side. Here the gate is in raised position – it is lowered in order to damm up the river or in case of storm surges.

Ems Barrier

A side view of the lifting gate.

Ems Barrier

A view along the Ems Barrier on the inland side. The bollards mark the fairway.

Ems Barrier

A closer look at the main traffic gate of the Ems Barrier. The gate is 60 meters wide and equipped with a rolling gate similar to the ones used at the Thames Barrier.

Ems Barrier

The rolling main gate is operated via ballast water, which is stored in this basin, when the gate is closed.

River Ems

A look down the river Ems. Note the sailboats and the wind turbines in the distance. The righthand shore is Germany, the lefthand shore is the Netherlands.


A look across the Ems at the village of Dirzum on the far side of the river. Note the church and the windmill.

For more about the village of Dirzum, go here.

East Frisia sheep

Finally, here we have the famed East Frisian lawnmowers. Yes, those are sheep grazing on the dike next to the Ems Barrier.

Sheep may be found all over the North German coasts, grazing on dikes. The keep the grass on the dikes short and their hoofs compact the soil, which in turn strengthens the dike and helps it withstand floods and storm surges better.

East Frisia sheep

A group of sheep on top of the dike at Gandersum.

East Frisia sheep

More sheep at Gandersum. These sheep have an odd way of looking at you, as if they’ve seen it all before and weren’t impressed then either. It’s notable that they have been shorn recently, which is unusual, since sheep in North Germany normally aren’t shorn before mid May to early June.

East Frisia lamb

This little guy is a real cutie and also surprisingly trusting. The adults are a lot more wary.

Dalek restroom

This photo wasn’t taken at Gandersum, but at the highway rest stop Apen Remels. I simply like the idea that the operators of the rest stop were considerate enough to offer a separate toilet for Daleks.

Okay, so I know that it’s just a shower sign, but it looks suspiciously like a Dalek.

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3 Responses to Photos: The Ems Barrier at Gandersum

  1. Betsy says:

    Love the “Dalek” looking shower sign! (And the whole post, too! Thanks for sharing it.)

  2. Pingback: Steampunk in East Frisia: Steamfest Papenburg 2019 | Cora Buhlert

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