Lok Rhein: Germany’s oldest steam locomotive remains a treasure in the Rhine for the time being

Large-scale excavation work could not unearth the locomotive "Rhein"

Mainz/Germersheim, 2 October 2018. “I am dismayed and perplexed. I cannot explain what anomaly we have detected during our years of repeated measurement work on groyne 527 near Germersheim,” said Prof. Dr. Bernhard Forkmann late on Monday evening at a meeting of all project participants in the search for Germany’s oldest steam locomotive in Mainz. Wolfhard Neu from the salvage company OHF had previously announced that no Kessler locomotive “Rhein” could be found during the extensive search at the designated salvage site.

In the past few days, the river construction company had dredged an area of over 450 square metres to a depth of nine metres – without success. In addition to the exact location spotted by the treasure hunters, Neu’s company had also uncovered another suspected site. OHF, instead of dredging to the planned depth of five metres, dredged almost twice as deep due to the lack of emergence of the iron body they were looking for. Two independent companies were on site and searched the Rhine again and took measurements. The specialised companies and the explosive ordnance disposal experts brought in to assist were also unsuccessful.

Thus, the geophysicist Prof Dr Forkmann, who had carried out the measurements with the treasure hunters since the early 1990s, acknowledged on Monday evening: “There is no locomotive in the Rhine at groyne 527.” He said he himself could not carry out any measurements or checks other than those that had already taken place. He said he would pursue his scientific obligation and his personal motivation to try to clarify what had triggered the anomaly in the magnetic sensory measurements in different years, seasons and at different Rhine levels over the past decades. But the search had failed for the moment.

The reactions of treasure hunters Horst Müller, Uwe Breitmeier and Volker Jenderny were far more emotional. “Today our lifelong dream has been shattered. We have been searching for the locomotive ‘Rhein’ for 30, sometimes 25 years and were so sure that we had found it. This feeling that the treasure hunt has failed cannot yet be put into words. We still have to process this information,” said the treasure hunters. There was agreement that another search – whether at this site or another – was out of the question for the older gentlemen.

Site to be dismantled, salvage cancelled on 21 October 2018

For all those involved in the project, work now continues without the locomotive: the salvage company OHF will begin dismantling the site in the coming days and professionally rebuild the removed groyne. Prof. Dr. Forkmann will try to find out on site what had triggered the anomaly in his measurements. The project office “Hunters of the Sunken Locomotive” will cancel the salvage and talk to numerous parties involved, from fans to media to donors, sponsors and other supporters of the project. And the treasure hunters Horst Müller, Uwe Breitmeier and Volker Jenderny – like thousands of railway enthusiasts and fans who have been gripped by the project over the decades – will have to do one thing above all: digest the shock and disappointment.


It is the oldest monument to German railway history and a valuable asset of industrial culture – the steam locomotive “Rhein”. Built in 1852 at the Kessler works in Karlsruhe, it fell into the Rhine near Germersheim in the same year on its way to its place of use on the Düsseldorf-Elberfeld railway line. This “treasure” has now been buried there for 166 years. Previous attempts to recover the locomotive “Der Rhein” failed, then it fell into oblivion. Later attempts to locate it took decades. Now it was believed that the “treasure in the Rhine” had been rediscovered, and the recovery was to take place this year.

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