Boarding an Ice Breaker by Bicycle and Immigration

I walked from the train station in Bremerhaven-Lehe to the FS Polarstern at the Kaiserdock almost 2 miles due west. This research icebreaker is still repaired in dry dock and we see her entire steely keel. Just like icebergs, most of her steel is usually invisible below the water. A German naval ship is in a floating dry dock next to us on one side while a massive contraption of ship to deploy offshore wind power plants floats on the other side. This is an industrial area where people with hard-hats and blue overalls work, mostly men: sparks fly from welding jobs, water gushes intermittently, horns blare when cranes move overhead. Cranes, water, ships, steel everywhere.

This is where I live after moving in last night. This morning I picked up my Canadian colleague Jonathan Poole with whom I share a cabin. His arrival was late, nasty, and expensive, because he was denied an US transit visa for the flimsiest of reasons to reach this ship in Germany from Canada. The way that some of my adopted country’s representatives use their powers arbitrarily makes me mad. Nevertheless, we did arrive together, on bicycles rented for 7 Euros or about $10 per day. I met the ship’s doctor bicycling from ship to town while I did the reverse. Bicycling is the fastest and most convenient way to get around.

Bremerhaven breathes the sea as it lies along the tidal Weser Estuary. It is a town that throughout its history has been dominated by people working steel, ships, shipyards, and fish. My favorite dish, pickled herrings, are a daily dish that in the US is only available in the rare food isle in upscale supermarkets or tiny, urban Jewish neighborhoods such as Highland Park, NJ. Such dependence on ships and fish has come at the cost of boom and bust cycles as steel-working and ship-building has changed globally the last 5 decades with more and more of these activities moving to Asia. Nevertheless, Bremerhaven appears ahead of the curve as old-technology ship-building is replaced by specialized construction, shipping, and deployment of massive offshore wind power plants. Most of the bizarre-looking structures around us in port directly relate to these new technologies that are designed to harvest natural and renewable energies on a massive industrial scale to partly power an advanced economy.

Bremerhaven also served as the main port through which German immigrants left by ship. I learnt this today at the “Deutsches Auswanderer Museum” (German Immigrant’s Museum) after a long bicycle ride all over the port. These immigrants left in sailing ships, steamers, and ocean liners for the Americas both north and south, but most left for New York’s Ellis Island to escape hunger, unemployment, the industrial revolution, political and religious persecutions. A few also left for a sense of crazy adventure to see what’s out there. Personal stories are told and I could identify with more than a few of them even though I emigrated via graduate school arriving at JFK Airport after an 8 hour plane ride from London Heathrow the fall of 1986.

So, here I am, a German immigrant returning to Germany as an American working on an international science project off Greenland. Fun, and yet, there were goose bumps walking the gang-plank boarding the steam ship “Lahn” at the Immigrant’s Museum.

P.S.: Frank Schneider of the Senior-Internet-Cafe generously allowed me access to his wireless network that I used to post this report.

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