When the Wappen von Hamburg set sail for the first time in May 1955, the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit cheered.
“This ship makes a daytrip to Heligoland and back possible again,” it wrote, and went on to enthuse about its “strong engine,” salons, rooms and verandas, and the beautifully-shaped armchairs and tables.
The vessel was the first German ocean-going steamer that was allowed to be built after the World War II. After its launch in 1955, the ship plied between Hamburg and Heligoland and was the pride of West Germany’s shipbuilding industry. It was constructed by the Blohm & Voss shipyard, had space for 1,600 people, and it cost 5.8 million deutsche marks, at the time $1.45 million.
More than 60 years later, two hour’s drive west of San Francisco: the one-time maritime symbol of the hopes for a post-war German economic miracle is moored in the middle of the channel delta between California’s capital, Sacramento, and the Pacific.
Though the ship has survived, it is no longer beautiful. The paint is peeling, rust is rampant, its cabin windows no longer shine. And yet on a recent Saturday morning, the deck was filled with life. A group of 30 young people had spent the night in the cabins and were now setting up rows of chairs on the upper deck for an environmental conference.