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Visiting the Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt', Lübeck, Germany: historic, maritime variable geometaries and constants

Updated on March 15, 2017
Flag of Germany
Flag of Germany | Source
Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt'
Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt' | Source
The 'Fehmarnbelt' seen in Travemuende
The 'Fehmarnbelt' seen in Travemuende | Source
Siegfried Lenz, Bonn, 1969
Siegfried Lenz, Bonn, 1969 | Source

A wholesome German maritime humanitarian tradition

At moorings adjacent to the Music and Congress Hall (German:Musik- und Kongresshalle) at Lübeck, Germany, on the Trave River, the now decommissioned Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt' is often stationed, with members of the public sometimes able to go on board this museum ship.

Built from 1906 to 1908, the 45.44 metre length vessel saw active service for decades in the Baltic (German: Ostsee). Its light, powered by gas until 1928 and thereafter by electricity, was visible to shipping over a distance of up to 20 kilometres.

However, to the casual visitor, these facts alone do not explain why its presence can stir such interest among German people and others.

Lübeck, among all the port cities of the historic Hanseatic League, is known as the Queen of the Hanse, and its role in stimulating especially seaborne trade and by extension its interest in the welfare of shipping has been a constant for centuries. It may be said that the Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt' fulfilled such a role during the in many ways painful, bewildering and tumultuous 20th century history of Germany.

When I saw the Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt' moored at Lübeck, I thought of a story by the German writer Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014) (1). Entitled 'The Lightship' (German: 'Das Feuerschiff'), and issued in 1960 by Hoffmann & Campe, it is ostensibly an adventure story set on events on a vessel rather similar to the 'Fehmarnbelt'. But its interest to readers goes beyond that associated with the suspense of accomplished storytelling. Siegfried Lenz himself indicated that the story is about the conflict between armed and unarmed might, in addition to the abiding existence of boundaries.

I was later interested to learn that the vessel 'Fehmarnbelt' was actually used on location in producing a film version of Siegfried Lenz's 'The Lightship' in 1986.

Twice in the course of the 20th century, Germany's naval forces were severely restricted by the international community. But the historic and benign role for shipping played by the Lightship 'Fehmarnbelt' — now over 100 years old — is thus something of which Germans can be proud, with no fear of contradiction.

I think that Siegfried Lenz's 'The Lightship' has probably and very broadly played a role among a German readership which is in some ways similar to that of Heinrich Heine's sea poems written in the 19th century. Like the museum ship 'Fehmarnbelt', they are both reminders of a wholesome German seagoing tradition.

March 15, 2017


(1) Born in East Prussia in 1926, Siegfried Lenz served as a naval cadet at the close of World War Two, and later took up residence in what became the German Federal Republic. Another widely read work by Siegfried Lenz is 'Deutschstunde' (The German Lesson). He was also known for holding wide-ranging and longstanding discussions with former Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (1918-2015), in the context of which Mr. Schmidt once memorably quoted: 'The secret of fellow-feeling is for it to remain a secret' (German: 'das Geheimnis der Sympathie ein Geheimnis bleibt'. Qu. in: )


Re. spelling: some of this site's applications do not support all of German's diacritical marks; hence the city described here is spelt variously 'Lübeck' (the usual spelling) and 'Luebeck'.

Music and Congress Hall, Luebeck
Music and Congress Hall, Luebeck | Source
Map of the Luebeck - Puttgarden area
Map of the Luebeck - Puttgarden area | Source

Also worth seeing

Among Lübeck's major landmarks are: The Holsten Gate (das Holstentor), completed in 1478; the spired Cathedral (Luebecker Dom), built mainly in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries; the Marienkirche, in Gothic brick style, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, with twin spires each nearly 125 metres high; and many others.


How to get there: Lufthansa flies from New York Newark airport to Hamburg Airport (Flughafen Hamburg), where car hire is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their base, Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport to Luebeck Airport (Flughafen Luebeck), where care hire is available. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Of interest

Das Feuerschiff: Ab 9./10. Schuljahr by Siegfried Lenz (2007-08-06)
Das Feuerschiff: Ab 9./10. Schuljahr by Siegfried Lenz (2007-08-06)

For those who read German or are learning the language, Siegfried Lenz's descriptions of life on board ship in the Baltic convey a realistic atmosphere.



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