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The oldest German polar research vessel is the GRÖNLAND. The one-master from 1867 is not only for history fans. It is the oldest polar research ship in Germany and has been on the water for more than 150 years: the GRÖNLAND. Never again has a sailing ship without an engine penetrated so far into the North Sea. The sailing ship was originally built for fishing in Norway in 1867. The ship type: Nordic hunting. When the ship left Bergen, Norway, in May 1868, the goals for the expedition were high. A way through the pack ice to the North Pole was to be found. The expedition was initiated by geographer August Petermann from Gotha.
Under the expedition leader Carl Koldewey the one-master was specially strengthened in the hull area. The oak wood should counter the pressure of the pack ice as much as possible. On September 15, 1868, after 3000 nautical miles, she became the first German polar research vessel - under the leadership of Captain Carl Koldewey - to reach the northernmost latitude (81° 4.5' N) off Greenland northwest of Spitsbergen, which can be proved to be the latitude of a sailing ship.
Obviously Koldewey had made a good choice with this ship. The 12-man crew had been travelling with the ship for more than three months without suffering any damage. The crew did not find the way to the North Pole. But when the ship arrived in Bremerhaven on 10 October 1868 to the cheers of the population, many new insights into the Arctic had been gained. "Ice strengths, ocean currents, weather conditions - much of what the Koldewey expedition brought back with it is still useful today," says Dr. Lars Kröger (Link), marine archaeologist at the German Maritime Museum.
The 29-metre-long one-master was sold to Norway after the expedition in 1871, where it served as a coastal freighter for around a hundred years before the maritime treasure was rediscovered in 1973 and, with the investment of DM 120,000, came back into German ownership and into the museum harbour of the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven.
© Archiv deutsche Polarforschung
Still on the road today, thanks to the crew's commitment to ship and sail
In Bremerhaven, the GRÖNLAND was repaired in accordance with the European guidelines for the conservation and restoration of active traditional ships (Barcelona Charter) from the time she was acquired in 1973. "For us, this historic polar research ship is an absolute stroke of luck," enthuses Lars Kröger. "Such wooden ships are normally only built for a maximum service life of 40 years." The good condition of the "Greenland" is mainly due to the volunteer crew. Today, the 30 or so members, 12 of whom are regular members, look after the ship in their free time and keep it going. Meanwhile the ship serves as a floating ambassador for the museum and for Bremerhaven. Thus, the exceptional ship has sailed as a climate ambassador as far as Berlin before the Bundestag. At the moment the sailor is moored at the quay in the New Port of Bremerhaven.
"Sailor's bride is the sea", already knew actor Hans Albers. With the polar research ship GRÖNLAND the case is different. In fact, it is more like "Seaman's Bride is the Ship" on board the GRÖNLAND. The crew takes care of the sailing ship as if it were the last sailing ship far and wide. But this intensive effort is also necessary, says Dr. Lars Kröger. The ship's archaeologist is himself a crew member. "The ship was built in 1867 and is made entirely of wood. Sanding, brushing, mending - there's always something to do." His crew colleague André Benthien is standing next to him at the stern. It is work duty - like every second Saturday of the month. "When you're done at the back, you can start again at the front," smiles the 36-year-old. He must know. André Benthien already stood on the wooden planks of the "Greenland" for the first time as a 5-year-old. "My father helped restore the ship when it arrived here in Bremerhaven from Norway. I've been on board since childhood."
More work than time on the water - but still fun
"That's right", his father Rüdiger calls over from the bow of the ship. He is still active in the crew and is currently folding a few lines. The age of the crew ranges from 30 years to 75 years. The men spend most of their leisure time on board the "Greenland", even outside of the regular work duties. All of them are good craftsmen. Below deck a new toilet including a mini cabin has just been installed. All done by themselves, of course. Besides the regular crew, who also sail the ship, there are a good 20 other helpers. There is a lot more time spent on maintaining the 150 year old sailing ship than the men can spend on the water. Sailing ten hours of work for one hour is the formula on the "Greenland". Why is this being done? "This is simply a very special ship," says André Benthin. He strokes his hand over the so-called tiller at the stern of the "Greenland". The wooden extension of the rudder at the stern is used to steer the "Greenland". André Benthin often sits here as helmsman during the exits of the "Greenland". "You can feel the long history of this ship." And: the intense smell of the kerosene lamps below deck mixes with the old oak wood smell. "My wife always smells at once when I was spontaneously on the ship for work." laughs André Benthin
The sailors of the "Greenland" are rewarded for all their efforts when they go out to sea. Mostly they sail down the Weser towards Helgoland, but they have also sailed to Norway to the shipyard of the "Greenland". "When the sail is up on the 28-metre-high mast, the sun is shining and the ship is running really well, then your heart opens". It's the reward for all the time they spend on care and an obviously intense connection. "Since 1973, a total of six marriages have been divorced in the crew's environment," says André Benthin. Seaman's bride is the ship!
Until today no sailing ship has sailed further towards the North Pole than the "Greenland".
Still in perfect shape after 150 years: the polar research vessel "Greenland".
Clearly: the home port at the stern of the ship.
Equipment like 150 years ago: the massive anchor.
Lots of rope, lots of wood and the fancy steering tiller of the "Greenland".
Impressive: the 28 meter high mast.
Rainer Mogel - Captain of a ship legend
74-year-old Rainer Mogel is the proud captain of the GRÖNLAND and therefore certainly not a landlubber. The sailor may have a wife and a house in Bremerhaven, but: "A bunk is a bunk", he says and there is a reason for that. He stood on deck planks for the first time when he was 15 years old. It should be a training as a captain for him. What could have been more suitable than the legendary North German Lloyd in Bremerhaven?
"It was on the first voyage with a ship to Wangerooge," remembers Rainer Mogel.
He sits in the captain's cabin on board the "Greenland" and looks pensive at the sea chart on the table. "For me it was like the Caribbean. An island, you didn't come there every day in those days." This was followed by legendary passenger ships like the "Bremen" and the "Berlin". He was so taken with seafaring that the next destination was immediately clear: New York. "We were able to choose from NDL where we wanted to go worldwide," says Rainer Mogel and still looks as enthusiastic today as he did then. The adventurous teenager didn't let himself be told twice. The next destination after New York was Australia. "A great time," enthuses the current captain of the "Greenland". He lets his eyes wander through the small, cosy wooden cabin with the two bunks. "But this here on the "Greenland", that's also something very special."
The handling of such a ship must be learned
Rainer Mogel must know. He was a skipper on the fire-fighting cruiser "Weser" for ten years and, in addition to his work with the fire brigade, he served as a volunteer helmsman on the legendary three-master "Alexander von Humboldt" for more than 20 years. Although the "Greenland" has only one mast, the oldest polar research ship in Germany has quite different qualities, he says. "With this ship the first German Arctic expedition sailed towards the North Pole 150 years ago. This is an incredible achievement and the 'Greenland' requires full commitment," says the captain. At least four people are needed to hoist the 100 square metre main sail. "Once this 'ship' is running properly on the wind, there's nothing stopping it," raves Mogel.
But simple, says the captain, is not the old polar research ship. "Ships of this kind are very susceptible to wind. Manoeuvring is difficult because of their design," says Rainer Mogel. Without a bow thruster and with tiller steering, he says that the ship needs a little experience to steer it. This is particularly noticeable when docking. You need a good hand for the "Greenland" and a little patience. "But it's better to take more time when docking than to spend four weeks in the shipyard", winks Rainer Mogel.
Outside it starts to rain easily. A few grey clouds hang in the sky. Time for the captain to make himself a coffee here below deck and leaf through the logbook? "No", Rainer Mogel shakes his head energetically and grabs his sailing jacket. "We are going upstairs now. The most beautiful place on the "Greenland" is always on deck - no matter if the sun is shining or if it's raining."
In May 1868 the ship GRÖNLAND set off north to explore a possible sea route to the North Pole. Today, the traditional ship is owned by the German Maritime Museum and is still kept in service.
After half a year on the southern hemisphere, the POLARSTERN - one of the most important research vessels in the world - has returned to her home port of Bremerhaven. The icebreaker of the Alfred Wegener Institute / Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) was welcomed by the GRÖNLAND off Wangerooge.