What a relief to have finally left the open sea to enter the southerly path of the Elbe River Narrows.This gateway to historic, Hamburg Germany functions as a maritime highway, with a noticeable gridlock of oil tankers, fishing boats and recreational yachts. It seems improbable that a large, cruise ship, such as ours could even traverse this busy waterway.
There is a plethora of action in the cold air over the Elbe as well. Overhead, helicopters buzz our boat as hungry sea birds hover for a free meal. German flags fly gloriously in their struggle with gusty conditions aboard ship. White trails of jet exhaust disperse into smoky clouds that partition the blue sky above.
Our cruise ship will now be guided by pilot boat for the remaining 37 miles to Hamburg through increasingly urban environs. This journey will seemingly give me a decent look at German wind and petrochemical power interspersed with fairy tale, town settlements of its medieval past. Nothing flashy, but certainly a testament to German efficiency.
With great enthusiasm, I hear that we dock near downtown Hamburg a day early. Amazingly, Hamburg celebrates a national holiday this weekend and the riverfront is choked with sea vessels of past and present. A carnival atmosphere of excitement develops as thousands of people make their way to the riverfront now to watch the great parade of ships
Realizing that my visit today would be a perfect time to obtain firsthand knowledge about the Elbe’s importance, I make my way to the downtown docks for a view of this maritime celebration. German sailors in spotless, white caps and uniforms stand proudly aboard their respective, military vessels. A young, Russian sailor smiles broadly at the crowd as he performs the tedious task of polishing his ship’s insignia. I make my around a long queue of avid, tour seekers nearest a modern, Polish vessel and realize that the Elbe is truly an international gateway for many countries around the world.
I return to my cruise ship now as the river parade ends. I stand on board the largest vessel on the river that day and wave back below at those who gaze in awe at the immensity of our presence ashore. It seems surreal that a massive city such as Hamburg could virtually shut down for the day to pay homage to its maritime glories. Home is where this welcoming spirit resides in me today on a sunny day above the Elbe River.