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Culture

"Swan of the Baltic Sea" Returns to Germany

More than 70 years after its christening and half a century of service in the Soviet navy, the German sailing ship “Gorch Fock” has returned home to Stralsund. Some hope it will draw tourists to the struggling region.

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It's hard to miss Stralsund's new landmark.

As a young boy, Rolf-Reinhard Born fell in love with “Gorch Fock” after seeing a picture of the ship in his parents’ encyclopedia. “Ever since then I’ve been collecting anything I can find about this ship,” the 64-year-old Stralsunder told his local paper, the Ostsee-Zeitung. His fascination with “Gorch Fock” even convinced him to work in Stralsund’s shipyard, he said. Naturally, Born joined a few thousand others to witness the vessel’s third christening in Stralsund.

From training vessel to nautical museum

Built in 1933, the “Gorch Fock” had originally served as a training ship for the German navy and was named after a northern German author of nautical stories who died in a sea battle during World War I. Just before the end of World War II, in April 1945, the Germans sank the boat off the coast of Stralsund to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

Two years later, the Soviet navy raised it from the bottom of the sea, kept it as part of the reparation payments and renamed it " Tovarish,” Russian for “comrade.” The new owners moved the ship to the Black Sea and used it for training purposes as well.

Three other German sailing ships also changed flags after the war: The “Horst Wessel” became the American “Eagle,” the “Albert Leo Schlageter” went to Portugal as “Sagres (II)” and a third ship, “Mircea,” now has its home port in Constanta, Romania.

Gorch Fock I vs. Gorch Fock II

After the original "Gorch Fock" disappeared from Germany, in 1958 a new navy training ship was named after its predecessor. Giving navy recruits a chance to experience life at sea under tight conditions, the “ambassador in blue,” as “Gorch Fock II” is known, has been travelling the world’s oceans ever since.

Das Segelschulschiff Gorch Fock der deutschen Marine umringt von Begleitbooten

Gorch Fock II during a sailing parade in Kiel last summer.

And as with all tall ships, quite a bit goes into its maintenance. Just a week ago, the Federal Audit Office criticized the ship’s recent €21.4 million ($25.6 million) overhaul as a waste of public funds. Estimates for the work had been half that amount, but costs skyrocketed.

Seaworthy by 2008?

The situation is a little different when it comes to renovating the original Gorch Fock. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine kept the “Tovarish” and used it for tourist cruises. A few years later, it became unseaworthy and rusted away until a group of sailing ship fans decided to bring it to Stralsund. They raised about €500,000 to fix the hull in order to open a museum on the re-christened “Gorch Fock.”

An ambitious plan calls for a complete restoration of the ship by its 75th birthday in 2008. About €19 million will be needed to make it seaworthy again.

Der Backsteingiebel des Stralsunder Rathauses

Officials at Stralsund city hall are excited about the return of Gorch Fock.

At Stralsund city hall, officials are already excited about the new tourist attraction. “It’s really bombastic,” Peter Koslik, a city spokesman, told DW-WORLD. “The ‘Gorch Fock’ is another piece in the puzzle to draw people to Stralsund.” Along with the ship, a €51 million nautical museum and aquarium called Ozeaneum scheduled for opening in 2007 should help attract tourists.

Hoping to create a “northern Neuschwanstein”

They’re badly needed in the city, which lies toward the eastern end of Germany’s Baltic Sea coastline and has a medieval city center that was added to UNESCO's world cultural heritage list this year. Despite a shipyard, where 1,200 people work, and several public administration offices, which employ another few thousand people, about a quarter of Stralsund’s 60,000 inhabitants are unemployed.

“Gorch Fock” supporters hope to bring 300,000 annual visitors to the city. “Stralsund desperately needs a nautical highlight,” Thomas Nitz, the president of “Friends of Gorch Fock” told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. He added that he wants the “swan of the Baltic Sea,” as the ship is known, to become a northern Neuschwanstein, referring to the white castle built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, which ranks as one of Germany’s top tourism destinations.