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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12 thoughts on “Ice on the Elbe

  1. Guenter BULL, Bremen on said:

    Hallo PETER Holford Thanks for your fascinating tales. I ‘m enjoying reading it and living it while finding the name of CAPTAIN Johann Stürje 1854 (Ice on the Elbe).

    • Hi Guenter! Glad you’ve had some pleasure from reading my stories. Why are you researching Johann Stürje?

      • Guenter BULL, Bremen on said:

        Hy David….I’m fascinated getting your reply…thousand thanks….Same as you do…I like to follow up my family line and my ancestors and study the christening-books of local churches …so by the way discovered the STUERJE FAMILY, the family of my Boy- friend. (look for : ) Guenter is 86 years …whow ! so my Enlish language requires to be refreshed! more later Kind regards Guenter .

      • Your English is good, but it is hard when you don’t speak it all the time. I have lived in Sweden for 10 years and am now back in Australia. My Swedish is slipping every day, so imagine how it will be when I am 86 (30 years from now!!) Looking at church registers from Germany in the 1800s is certainly not easy, especially of you look at the original text. Even the script is hard to read. I have not had much of a chance, despite a few days in Bad Bramstedt with my dad a few years back. I was very excited to read an English translation of the journal of the ships doctor for the ship that my grandfather’s grandfather sailed on from Hamburg in the 1850s, whose captain was Johann Stürje.

  2. Guenter BULL, Bremen on said:

    Hy Doc’s great reading your reply I honestly enjoy this like a kind of adventure. Your situation seems to me as if you’r very near to me… just over the hedge like my neighbour .This part of the Internet is wonderful and enjoyable.

    And about me: The BULLs are from Holstein and are kind of Wikings (they are really bull-heads) Grandfather Heinrich Bull , as Torpedospecialist was called once by the German Emperor “Wilhelm” from KIEL to the Shipbuilding Yard “AG-WESER” to Bremen in 1913 arming the war fleet in WWI. And their mainly native language was “Holsteiner Plattdeutsch” most and “Sailer-English” and so was their humor ! Honestly…I assume there is much left…
    best greatings from this side of the globe and keep your health…. regards Guenter.

  3. Guenter BULL, Bremen on said:

    Hy David…here I’m in the door again. Please ignore the recent comment :BULL-story . I recognized that this missed the point of the main theme..and didn’t suit the Stuerje- Story.. All the best and regars Guenter.

    • Every story is great to read, whether its Bull or Stürje. So thanks for sharing. You are the first person I have “met” from Holstein – apart from a few people in the tourist bureau in Bad Bramstedt and the archivist in the town hall in the same town (and some very nice girls in the cafe in the main street). My ancestors came from around there – Bimöhlen and a few other small towns, although my other German ancestors were from the south – down Frankfurt way. Anyway, not sure where you actually live, maybe in Schleswig-Holstein or maybe elsewhere? It is interesting to read about your grandfather and his part in WW1. My great grandfather, born in Australia, was son to Johann Holtorf, from Bad Bramstedt. He and his brother (Charles and Lewis Holdorf) went to France and fought against the Germans on the Western Front. The story is that their father, Johann (who renamed himself John) was not very keen on the Prussians (maybe that’s why he left in the 1850s) and though he was dead by the time of the first world war, his sons were keen to go back to Europe and fight the Prussians again… I’m so glad all that is far in the past. My father, Ian Holford (more name changes) is nearly as old as you, born in 1933. I would love to hear more of you story, and your ancestors. I imagine your father fought in WW2?

      • Guenter BULL, Bremen on said:

        Hallo dear David…. your reply impressed and appears great to me…and that you might know… I meanwhile read your complete story….and I think to see few paraties to my life . By the way…my personally home is Bremen/Germany but in profession I once roamed the globe spreading out company stories as technician.
        My believe is openness, honesty..I love uncomplecated handling and fairness. Today I’m nursing my by stroke suffering sproud. Anyhow I have also much to tell.
        f.i. most of my Mother’s part of the family ended in Theresienstadt once.. more not to tell this time.

        I will apprecheate your reply … will watch your health, I know. Kind regards Guenter.

      • Hi again Guenter! I am confused by what you wrote, “today I’m nursing my by stroke suffering spread.” Have you suffered a stroke? Or has someone close to you? I feel ashamed to say that I was not aware of Theresienstadt – but after your message I read about it. That is a difficult chapter to have in your family story. I would love to hear more of the details. And of your “global roaming.” If you have time and energy to write. If it is easier you can use my email address: Take care of yourself. David

  4. Guenter B Bremen on said:

    Hi again, David… Oh this is no wonder to get confused…excuse me , I indeed prodused a painful typing error. Not ‘spread’, it should have been “Spouse”and ment is my dear wife “Helga”. We are married since 1962 and she got the first TIA attack already in 1978….and 4 more followed over the years …her left side is paretised and she is unable for selfreliant doings meanwhile. I’m in her near all the time. Thats the fact.

    And David…thanks for giving me your email address…I will refer and will reply with further facts to …f.i. Theresienstadt etc…but you did inform yourself correct …my Mothers Mam was deported by the Nazy SS and killed in 1943. My Grandma was born and christined Israely-Believe but transverted Lutherian later by wed.
    I’ve to close now…..but will return as mentiond….so long regards Guenter / Bremen

    • Guenter B Bremen on said:

      Hi again David….I’m unsure whether you received may Email dated Nov.18th….but being very anxious hearing more about you I found and read the presentation “The Boulevarde Family Practice” in the internet. Oh !! You are GREAT….. and I must let you know that I am very proud being allowed to know you. Thanks and receive my very best and sincerely greatings.. also from my Spouse Helga…..Your Guenter in Bremen.(D)

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