A raft named Schaluppe

Arts and culture on Hamburg's rivers

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Things are happening on the Elbe river and the Bille river: armed with boats, rafts and floating platforms, arts and culture projects are taking over Hamburg's waters. Author Lena Frommeyer met with Christian Willert, who's currently building the giant raft Schaluppe with the Verein für mobile Machenschaften.


Lena Frommeyer

Lena Frommeyer is a journalist by trade. She searches for topics in the niches of society and surveys the cultural landscape.

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Photos: Claudius Schulze

Christian Willert is surrounded by rocking boats of every kind: little yachts with cabins, fast day cruisers and a tugboat that's been converted to make a weekend home. But the tug isn't the most exotic vessel in the marina of east Hamburg's Billwerder bay. Right beside it lies a gigantic raft by the name of Schaluppe, just short of 15 metres long and 5 metres wide. This floating space for arts and culture is being built by the association Verein für mobile Machenschaften. It will be used for film screenings in Hamburg's canals, live theatre on the southern branches of the Elbe, regional cruises and parties on the water. Those are just a few ideas for a raft that will be accessible to all – the one problem being that there's still quite a lot to do before the maiden voyage in early May.

“We've been working on it for ten months now,” says Christian, showing his technical drawings on the laptop. A native of the city, he has just completed his Master's degree in civil engineering at the Technical University of Hamburg. Together with navigator Nils Moje, he designed the Schaluppe's hydraulic upper deck – it needs to be retractable so as to pass under low bridges on Hamburg's canals. The friends are working in a diverse team: “We have outdoor trainers, marine engineers, social workers, carpenters and event managers on board,” says Christian – “And they all love to work hands-on”.

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Christian made the technical drawings of the culture-raft. They've been working on the floating cultural space for ten months now.

Ideas made in the sauna

The project has its roots on the green island of Wilhelmsburg in the Elbe, in the south of Hamburg. A lot of the people involved live there, and the collective is now looking for a permanent mooring locally. Wilhelmsburg has been home to a series of creative projects in the last few years. There are community workshops in the honey factory, and the green outdoor setting for the Dockville Festival, still in hibernation at this season. Journalists, film-makers and craftsmen now work in the former pewter factory, once a month Wilhelmsburg locals and visitors are to be seen rummaging around Flohzinn, the flea market for culture vultures. And for three years now, the island in the Elbe has also been an excellent place to sweat it out – in the just-under nine-metre mobile sauna answering to the name of Zunderbüchse, or “tinderbox”.

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"They all love to work hands-on".

That was where Christian first heard of the raft-building scheme, the Schaluppe's original shipyard was in an industrial zone not far away. It sparked his enthusiasm straight away, and he helped to make a crowdfunding video. The association amassed 20,000 euros in no time. Metal and wood chips have been flying ever since. The champagne bottle finally broke on the Schaluppe's red floats in the late summer of 2016, when the raft was launched. It has stayed in the water since then, and is now being completed in the Billwerder bay.

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The Schaluppe team is diverse: “We have outdoor trainers, marine engineers, social workers, carpenters and event managers on board", says Christian.

Christian heaves the heavy beams for the upper deck onto the steel scaffolding with five other helpers. Meanwhile, metal and wood are being polished in front of the Schaluppe. When the machinery falls silent, you can hear electronic music coming from speakers on the deck. The crew members work happily on their shared vision of culture on the river.

Boats like Schaluppe morph into musical and theatrical stages

A similar project, the Anarche, led to the successful conquest of the Spree river in Berlin. “However, the port of Hamburg has always been seen as a business location, not so much a place for culture,” says Christian. A number of players are now opening it up to new vistas, for example the floating platform Archipel and the arts and culture boat Bagalute. All are attracting a great deal of notice – the Verein für mobile Machenschaften has also had its first enquiries for the summer. The Schaluppe is to be a floating stage for the Wutzrock music festival on the Elbe river and will also feature in the Theater der Welt mega-event, which will focus particularly on the port in the spring and summer.

What Christian looks forward to most is the quiet days on board. “We'll chill out and sail off into the evening, maybe to the nice, placid Dove Elbe, with music on board and people who will just hang out with us”. That will make all the effort worthwhile.

If you would like to help with the last phase of the build, contact the Verein für mobile Machenschaften by e-mail: freiwillige@mobilemachenschaften.de

Find out more about the Schaluppe and other projects here:


Schaluppe Outro