Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Ice on the Elbe

Hamburg is a city on a river, the Elbe. But it is also a large seaport and in the 1850s was becoming, with Bremen, one of Germany’s major emigration points. To reach the sea ships had to navigate the wide reaches of this mighty river on a north west route with the Danish Duchy of Holstein on the right and the Kingdom of Hannover on the left. Gluckstadt, on the Holstein side, lies halfway from Hamburg to the sea. The Caesar, with a collection of other sailing ships, anchored near Gluckstadt for two nights, waiting for the wind to change. Further on, as the river broadens out at its mouth, Cuxhaven lies to the left at the northern extremity of Hannover, the last opportunity to return to the German mainland before ships leave the river behind and sail out into the sea. The Caesar stopped briefly off Cuxhaven and then sailed on; those were the Fischer family’s last glimpses of Germany as the ship slipped away into the North Sea.

Dr Middendorf’s account of this departure from Germany in the chilly days of late autumn, 1854, gives us a feeling not just for the journey, but also for the captain of the vessel, Johann Stürje, a “soft-hearted, overly good man.”

There was already ice on the Elbe and the air was bitterly cold. Meanwhile, we glided calmly down the Elbe and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon anchored near Gluckstadt, to wait there for a favourable wind. This soon arrived the following evening, and we were only missing the Captain. The next morning many of the ships that had lain with us before Gluckstadt had weighed anchor and gone to sea… The Captain came late in the evening, and early next morning we continued down the Elbe with a fresh easterly…

The Captain sat in his cubicle with his son on his knee, and both were crying – I heard it while I wrote. The Captain is a soft-hearted, overly good man. He lost his wife only recently, whom he loved above all things, and you can imagine how difficult this goodbye was for him. The old father-in-law went up and down in the cabin with hands clasped behind his back to hide his emotion… 

We were nearing Cuxhaven, a signal flag was hoisted and a boat neared the ship to take off the Captain’s relatives. This was done as soon as he appeared on deck to give the necessary orders. The old seaman, despite his years, climbed down the ropes with the ease of a sailor and lifted the boy down. The boat vanished quickly, as did the flat coastline and eventually also the lighthouses of Wangeroog and Neuwerk, and we were on the open sea.

Hamburg to the North Sea

Hamburg to the North Sea

From the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

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