The Elbe as a cure for wanderlust

Round the port with skipper Malina Schilling

Spring is here, the water calls! The few kilometres from Hamburg to the North Sea or Baltic are too much of a journey for some people. They can still enjoy themselves on the Hanseatic city's waterways. Lena Frommeyer strolled across the Landungsbrücken and climbed aboard with port skipper Malina Schilling – who keeps her own wanderlust under control with tours on the Elbe.

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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

In the wheelhouse of supply tender “Hansen Sien”, Malina Schilling leans back on a cushion, keeping the big wheel on course with her feet. Voices from the ship's radio and the gurgling of the engine are audible in the background. Malina blows smoke out through the open window, she holds a cigarette in one hand, a microphone in the other. The 23-year-old has just finished greeting her guests for the grand tour of the harbour: “Moin (hello) everyone, welcome to my supply tender, blessed today by Hamburg's finest foul weather”.

Malina Schilling is a skipper. She captains one of the red, black and white tenders belonging to seaport freight company Hermann Hansen. In summer she's on the water almost 24/7, showing Hamburg locals and visitors the port's highlights: the endless brick façades in the Speicherstadt district, floating fuel stations and huge container ships at the terminals. A normal tour takes one hour – but Malina never knows beforehand what any working day will bring. Is there a stag party on board? Has someone chartered the tender for a proposal of marriage? Or will she be taking to the water for a striptease tour? Malina has seen it all.

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Malinas "cubicle": the wheelhouse of "Hansen Sien".

“I’d a desire for far-away places, but no desire to leave Hamburg”

Visitors throng the Landungsbrücken even first thing in the morning. This is where the small, shallow-draft boats leave for their cosy, atmospheric tours exploring the Elbe. Malina's lies at “Brücke 7” (Landing Stage 7), just behind the entrance to the old Elbe tunnel, which now mostly takes curious pedestrians to the opposite bank of the river. “It's like a taxi rank here. When our tender is full, it's the next company's turn,” she explains. But first, Malina has to get the visitors' attention – and the best way to do that is at the top of her voice: “Grand harbour tour, right here, right now,” she shouts, with the emphasis on long-drawn-out “A“s.

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After finishing high school, she started working on the water - she wasn't cut out for an office job.

Apart from Malina's, most of the voices heard on the quayside are male – a remnant of traditional harbour work. “In the olden days, what the wives mainly did was track workers to the pub to collect their pay,” says Malina, and laughs. You have to have a big mouth to cope with the port. “But I've always been pretty brash”. On top of that, the work is exhausting. Some tenders now have hydraulic assistance – but Malina's doesn't. She has to crank hard to get the ship on course. “In summer you can see the muscles on my right arm are bigger than on my left”.

You have to have a big mouth to cope with the port. “But I've always been pretty brash”.

None of her family had ever been to sea before – nevertheless, Hamburg-born Malina feels a connection with the water. “I’d a desire for far-away places, but no desire to leave Hamburg. Working at the port keeps the wanderlust at bay,” she says. “After all, the water could be anywhere”. At the time she left school, her boyfriend was a shipmaster. It didn't take her long to realise that she wasn't cut out for an office job, and wanted to take to the water as well. She trained in the company that she now works for.

The tips can be pretty amazing

Her contacts at the port are very useful: “It was a real highlight for me to sail into Hamburg with the Cap San Diego. We know the crew, and were once on board with them as work colleagues. That was a great feeling”. In addition to the tours, Malina also works in port services. “A lot of seagoing vessels aren't allowed contact with the shore, tankers, for example. They still need goods on board, though,” she explains. “We supply them from the water side with our tenders and a barge, and bring food and materials, from half-carcases of pork to spare parts”.

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Short break. Usually, Malina has to crank hard to get the ship on course - some tenders now have hydraulic assistance but hers doesn't.

For Malina, these trips make a welcome change from the tours. She has a family and a big party of men on board today. We pass the Blohm & Voss ship-yard's enormous dry dock, heading towards the Elbphilharmonie and the HafenCity district, then on to the Steinwerder cruise terminal. Malina speaks into the microphone without pause, little anecdotes get the best reception – for example, ladies used to say farewell to their seamen at the street known as Kehrwiederspitze, or “come back again point”. Her skipper's cap is passed round at the end of the tour. In summer, she could sometimes earn a living from tips alone.

For more info on boat tours in Hamburg visit
www.hamburg.de/hafenrundfahrt