Boats! (And Ships, and Engines, and Fish-in-a-Jar, and Letters, and Art, and…)

Edited to Add: Welcome, Instapundit Readers! Thanks for stopping by. And the diorama question has been answered in the comments.

Not everything in northern Germany is creepy. Honest. The Maritime Museum in Hamburg is fascinating, spectacular, and enormous. I had two and a half hours there, and could have spent all day. I ended up skipping two whole floors, more or less*. I also managed to see it backwards, which seems to have become a habit on this trip. You are not supposed to take the elevator to the top floor and walk down. You can, but if you don’t know maritime history, you may be a little lost. Anyway…

Five bonus points to the first person to identify what this diorama shows.

The top floor is models. Hundreds of thousands of ship and related models, most of them in an absolutely tiny scale. But some are larger. There are ships and boats on their own, ships in groups, dioramas, ships-in-bottles, ships made of bone and precious metals….

The mulberries at Normandy.

England expects…

Close up of the Trafalgar diorama.

The next floor down, (8th floor European style) was the art gallery. This is not to say that there isn’t art all over the place, but these are grouped by location and by type. The museum has a large number of “captains portraits,” paintings of sailing ships that were commissioned by the ship’s captain. They are not “fine art,” there’s usually no drama, and the ships are shown underway. But they are clearly identifiable, and were kept as reminders when captains moved from ship to ship. there were a few battle-by-the-yard works, some storm-at-sea paintings (very Romantic), lots of seascapes and ships in motion, and a few pure seascapes, one of which is a symbol for the museum and can be purchased as a reproduction:

Eternal Father, strong to save…

About the artist, Johannes Holst.

The next floor, which I sort of hurried through, was about cargo and transport ships and how steamers developed from the 1830s into the behemoths you see today in Hamburg and Cuxhaven. Several were unloading when we went over the high bridge the next day, and ye gads, you have no idea how enormous those monsters are until you see them relatively up close. There was also a giant cruise ship, possibly one of the Disney ships, pulled up not too far away. And I though the Great Lakes ore and grain ships were big!** Anyway, that’s not what I was really interested in, and so after a quick lap around the floor I went down to the oceanography and research section.

I admit, this is where I started to get data overload. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau and reading things like The Sea Around Us, and following Robert Ballard’s adventures, so I’m not entirely clueless about oceanography. And the displays about the North Sea and Baltic, and the history of undersea exploration were interesting. I sort of glazed over at the rows and rows of fish-in-jars, and zoomed by the global-warming-humans-bad display. I did spend several minutes in the oil exploration section. They have models and paintings of all the different kinds of rigs, platforms, drilling and support ships, and so on. The drill cores were useful, at least for me, to get a sense of what kind of formation gives us the famous Brent North Sea crude. I was surprised at how shallow the North Sea rigs work. I’m used to the Gulf of Mexico’s thousands to tens-of-thousands of feet depths. Nope. On the other hand, the weather is worse on average year round in the North Sea than it is in the Gulf, the occasional hurricane notwithstanding. I wanted to spend more time going though the cut-away models of the different propulsion systems and engines, but time was running short and I had lagged about two floors behind the rest of the group.

The next floor down was the Age of Sail, and here I found what I’d been hunting for.

OK, it’s a roundish boat. So what?

My, what a broad boat.

This is a cog, or better a kogge. Kogs were the trading boats of the Middle Ages. They had high sterns and prows with castles for self-defense, shallow draft for going well upstream into estuaries, and could carry very large amounts of cargo (44-72 tons) with a relatively small crew of 11 or 12 men. They were the semis of the Middle Ages, carrying everything from stone to wheat to silk and spices to fish, fish, fish, and fish. They were sturdy, built for use and not for looks. You find them on city seals, hanging as models in churches along the coast, in paintings, in manuscripts, all over the place between 1250 and 1500 or so.

If you are interested in the Royal Navy, the Hamburg museum has a lot of material, including a wall of nothing but Admiral Nelson. Hamburg had very strong cultural and business links to London, and tended to regard the rest of Germany as a bit rustic. Hamburg also loathed Napoleon because of his attempts to squelch trade, and so Nelson is a hero. In addition to the Trafalgar models shown above, they also have Aboukir Bay and Copenhagen. And the Dutch breakout at Texel, just to be even-handed I suppose.

This barely scratches the surface of the museum. There sub-sections between the main floors with different displays, changing exhibits, classes, guided tours, and all kinds of things. I’d love to go back with someone who really knows maritime history and spend a day or two just working through every nook and cranny. The gift ship is smaller than I’d expected, and has an attached bookstore that is all transportation and modern ships, with a lot of modern military history and WWI-WWII material, along with cars, trucks, trains, planes and so on. I didn’t find what I needed there (did later at the Hanse Museum in Lübeck). And I couldn’t afford the on-canvas reproduction of the sea painting. There’s a cafe across the hall from the museum, and your ticket lets you take a break, get a nibble (and/or a beer) and come back for more.

I highly, highly recommend the museum if you are interested in anything nautical. Yes, it is mostly in German. There are English Language things available, guides and booklets and tours.

*One half of the first floor was closed as they finished prepping a special exhibition about China and trade before 1492. So that doesn’t count.

**They are. Taller than a three storey hotel that is next to the ship channel at Duluth-Superior.


14 thoughts on “Boats! (And Ships, and Engines, and Fish-in-a-Jar, and Letters, and Art, and…)

  1. The top diorama depicts Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. The view is looking roughly west, with the battleships lined up along the eastern shore of Ford Island.

  2. Yep, Pearl. I’ve stood on the end of that pier looking across to Ford Is. Makes the hair stand up on the back of the neck.

    • From the photo, the model seems amazingly detailed for its scale. If you look closely, you can see that to port of USS Oklahoma (the battleship at lower left) three of the Japanese torpedo bombers have already dropped their torpedoes. There are tiny splashes modeled into the water, and the beginning of the torpedo wake as they race towards the battleship.

      • It is. It would be nice if there were some way to look at the dioramas with a magnifying glass.

        I didn’t include the diorama of the container port at Cuxhafen, which is jawdropping. Both the port itself and the models.

  3. For those who don’t happen to be in Hamburg, the Mariner’s Museum and the Naval Museum in Norfolk VA are also fascinating.

    • Norfolk also has the advantage of having the Iowa-class battleship USS Wisconsin available for tours.

      Oddly enough, one of my cousins from New Jersey toured the ship while he and his wife were honeymooning in Virginia Beach. Why odd? USS New Jersey is of the same class and only 50 minutes from where they lived. 🙂

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