I seldom write about my political views. Well, to be precise, I never do so, because this is a sailing magazine and not a place to comment current political developments. But in the light of today´s national holiday in the occasion of the re-unification of Germany I take the chance for a statement that is mere political or social and won´t have anything to do with sailing yachts, boats, skills or equipment. Besides, I have this one standing rule when I sail: No politics on board! Anyway, today is a special day.
In this, I searched my cruise reports for pictures showing boats I sailed with the German flag waving proud at the stern of the respective yachts and boats – on a day like this, when more than 80 million Germans – if not really celebrating – think back 30 years ago when the iron curtain came down, the wall fell and Germany became one again … on a day like this these pictures mean something different for me.
Gaining personal freedom
I was born in the German Democratic Republic in the year 1979 and I was 11 years old when the GDR became Germany. I have been raised and for a big part of my life educated in the East. I am truly thankful for that because I can say that I did have the most joyful, most happy and most safe childhood I can think of. Many things I am grateful for are now lost and I am struggling in providing a similar experience for my own kids. Nevertheless, one thing I surely would´t have been happily enjoying back then is clear: No sailing. At least, not offshore.
A boat like the one shown above, my first own boat, the OLIVIA, was clearly a no-go in the GDR of the past. Sailing had been either performed in clubs with a clear emphasis on racing and regatta or on lakes and rivers in very small jolly boats as a kind o daysailing. In this, the re-unification of the two Germanies – next to many, many cracks in our society, the aftermath of a sell-out of the East, a collapse of the society and social degradation – at least provided me with the chance to sail. To buy a boat like OLIVIA and to not just read books about going out and sailing far away but to actually do it. I am a lucky guy and thankful that I was old enough to enjoy a carefree childhood and excellent education in one state, yet young enough to cope with the huge amount of new personal freedom and individual fulfilment of the other state. Today, more than 80 million Germans – if not really celebrating – think back 30 years ago when the iron curtain came down, the wall fell and Germany became one again.
Enjoying sailing to the fullest
Sailing on a boat was a childhood´s dream of me ever since I can think back. My earliest memory is a family vacation in the 80ies on the Island of Usedom. I was playing at the beach and looking to the horizon. Merely 9 years or so of age, I knew that just over the horizon a country called “Denmark” would be. I knew it was impossible to ever go there. At the beach, I found a small chunk of wood. It was rounded and sanded by the waves. Wondering from which tree in which country that piece of would might come, I decided it would be coming from over there – from Denmark. I still have that piece of wood, it´s with me since then and reminds me of my childhood dreams.
My dreams became true. After moving to Hamburg in 2007 I quit bike racing and marathon running and decided to finally walk through the exams and make my certifications. I even started working in boating industry and bought my own boat. Vividly I remember being emotionally moved so much when I assumed command of my first ever own yacht after passing yachtmaster exam. We sailed from Western Germany two days all along the Baltic shore to the Eastern German town of Stralsund where I attended a regatta training for actors. There I met a guy named Wolfgang Lippert. This man used to be a TV superstar of East Germany back in the days. You may compare him with David Letterman. Every East-German knows him. I went up to him and we talked. Impossible, again, without our October the 3rd.
The German flag for sailors
As almost all German sailors I know, I also do call our flag The Adenauer. That is referring to the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Conrad Adenauer. Sailors often say: “Take in the Adenauer.” for example when they leave the boat. As an Eastern German, raised under a slightly different flag, seeing the black, red and golden stripe is still connected to a slightly awkward feeling: I can´t deny my heritage. But over the years, a quarter of my life I shall say, this flag has become the national emblem of my homeland too. It´s strange to see my own kids growing up knowing just this one flag. Strange – but good as well. The mother of my kids is a Western German. And that tells a lot.
Nevertheless, this piece of garment has inseparably become a part of everyday´s sailing life for me. The flag flying at the stern tells others where I come from and more than once opened up a conversation with other sailors. Be it Germans I met in foreign ports or be it sailors from other countries being attracted to talk to a German. In this, the flag more and more changes from a symbol reminding me of my past to a kind of pathfinder, building bridges to other people. I can´t remember a single occasion when being recognized as a German in a harbour was prejudicial or detrimental. That is clearly a good thing and I hope this nit just accounts for people flying The Adenauer at their stern but also to all of you, dearest readers, be it the Union Jack, the Tricolore or any other national flag of this world.
In foreign countries
The Adenauer accompanied me on so many sailing trips that it was hard to make a selection which to mention and which not. I am not a very experienced sailor to be honest: Some 5.000 miles collected since I started, noted down in a small book where I keep track of all my bigger sailing trips. Of this total, 1.200 miles come from my first real offshore experience, a delivery of a brand new 46-footer from Lisbon to the Canary Islands.
I remember very vividly the excitement and joy I felt coming back to Portugal again (I used to transverse this country by bike years ago) and boarding a German-flagged brand new sailing yacht. Being thrown into the Atlantic Ocean, feeling the sheer brute force of its waves and winds was a mind blowing experience with highly addictive potential. Although I went absolutely seasick for three days and my memories are mostly blank, I do remember that this trip completely blew my mind and irrevocably catched all of my attention to work toward having many, many, many more trips like this.
In “real life” of course it turned out to be virtually impossible to return to the big ocean for me. That´s due to my job and the fact that vacation time longer than 2 weeks is not feasible. So I focused on what was possible and that is the Baltic Sea, literally at the door step of my home. This relatively small regional sea might seem boring but I discovered on so many occasions that it is not. The Baltic Sea is home to 9 European bordering states. This is no less than 8 neighbors. 8 countries open for visits. 8 countries with which we share hundreds of years of rich history.
Fulfilling a child´s dream
A history I dove into with passion and the impetus of an adventurer. I love history, it was always my favourite class back in school. Since I do sail, it´s the stories of the German Hanse which catch my imagination: For 500 years this mighty league of German merchant ruled the Baltic trade routes from the farest Russian ports all the way down to the North Sea. My new home town of Luebeck once housed the British Crown as a pawn owed to the Hanse by the Empire.
Sailing to sailing to Sweden, discovering the Islands of Bornholm or Gotland is a true bliss. It´s the fulfilling of those dreams my younger past once had sitting at the beach of Usedom, realizing that he´d never see Denmark. My heart pounds faster when I think of that younger me, every time I return home to my flat in Luebeck and take a look at that little piece of rounded wood I still keep on a shelf, next to shells I found on Porto Santo, a big spiked seed of a palm tree found in Italy and an Oyster shell from the Atlantic shore in the French Vendeé. Isn´t this a remarkable evolution?
I just came home from another 1.200 mile sailing trip: Leaving from Porto in Lisbon I had the chance to sail all the way up crossing the Bay of Biscay and sailing through the English Channel. What a nice co-incidence that this boat belongs to a West-German and is named FREE WILLY. The flag, our Adenauer, of course flying proud at the stern of the old Bavaria 37. On a day like today, when looking at these pictures, I feel happy for us. Not just for us Germans, but for all of us sailing people, no matter which flag is dancing at our sterns. I am happy for every one who has the privilege to enjoy the total freedom that sailing gives us. I wish you all a happy weekend: Viele Grüße aus Deutschland.