The Baltic Coast & Laboe Naval Memorial

When we woke up this morning we found ourselves about to dock in Kiel, Germany.  We hadn’t been here before so we were looking forward to exploring.  We didn’t have an excursion until this afternoon, so our time this morning was ours to spend as we pleased.

After breakfast we went up on deck to take in our surroundings.  The sky was clear and blue and it looked as if it would be another fine day.  There was another ship in port next to the Balmoral; it was called Mein Schiff 3 and was a massive, ugly behemoth that towered over everything like a floating block of flats.  People on the aft decks were waving down at us from their elevated position, and as we watched, another ship called Color Magic (that looked more like a ferry) cruised down the river and docked over at the other side.  Other smaller vessels journeyed up and down, and Kiel looked to be a busy, bustling port.

A skywalk (like they have for aeroplanes rather than ships) was erected, leading passengers from Deck 6 to the cruise terminal.  We returned to our cabin and got our cruise cards, credit cards and Euros and decided to go into town and have a look around.

We passed lots of shops, pavements cafés, restaurants and charming little houses.  There were a lot of trees and grass and cobbled streets, as well as a lovely pond on which ducks and geese glided placidly along.  We ambled along and browsed the shop windows, then I spotted a shoe shop which had a sale on.  😉

In we went and had a look around; there was a sign saying that all shoes were 15 Euros.  I therefore bought a pair of gold glittery sandals with 4” heels; no doubt I would be wearing them at some point in the cruise.

Around lunchtime we made our way back to the Balmoral and enjoyed a light lunch, pottered around up on deck for a while, then made our way to the Neptune Lounge at 2.00pm to await the call for our excursion.  This afternoon we were taking a tour of the city before our hour-long ride out to Laboe, on the Baltic Coast, where there is a famous Naval Memorial.

We enjoyed looking out of the window as our guide, Bjornen, pointed out places and buildings of interest along the way.  Here and there in the distance we could see the blue of the Baltic Sea between the buildings and trees.

We eventually arrived at the distinctive 85-metre high tower that marks the Naval Memorial.  This commemorates all seafarers (originally just German sailors, but later changed to remember all nationalities) who died in the service of their countries.

Inside, there were lots of wreaths and memorial ribbons in the colours of the countries’ flags.  We spotted the red, white and blue of the Royal Navy amongst them.  The walls on each side were decorated, floor to ceiling, with the silhouettes of the ships and submarines which had been sunk; the left wall showed vessels from the 1914-1918 war, while the right side showed those lost in the 1939-1945 war.  The number of stricken vessels, and ultimately lost lives, was staggering.

Afterwards, we walked across a courtyard in the sunshine and entered a cool and dimly-lit building before descending some steps into the cellar, which was set aside as a quiet place, for reflection and remembrance.  A man in our party had brought with him a wreath, and he walked to the centre of the rounded room, placed his wreath, took a step backwards and bowed his head before joining the rest of our party.  We later learned that his father was from Bremen, and served in the German Navy, so for this guy coming to the Naval Memorial had a special meaning.  It was all very moving and dignified.

We had a look around for a while longer, and saw a huge scale model of the famous German warship Bismarck, as well as other relics from battleships, such as propeller screws, cannons and a ship’s bell, as well as a huge mine.  Other memorial stones were set in manicured lawns and flowerbeds; one of them was entitled “Still on Patrol” and was dedicated to all the US submariners who did not return home after the wars.

We decided we’d go up the tower to the viewing platforms above, to give us an excellent birds’ eye view of the Baltic coastline and rolling green countryside below.  There were no queues for either of the two lifts that would ascend 72 metres, before allowing us to walk up the stairs for the remaining 13 metres.

Out on the viewing gallery we had views in all directions, and we could see the waves lazily lapping the Baltic sands.  In one direction the skies were blue and the sun shone; in the opposite direction the scudding clouds looked almost backlit as the sun shone towards them.  Far below us we could see the crescent-shaped Hall of Remembrance, and tiny-looking people walking around below.

Once we’d seen all we needed to in the museum, we walked down the road and crossed over to where there was a real, actual U-boat, numbered U995.  We were allowed inside it, and the cramped and claustrophobic conditions were unbelievable, particularly when we were told that between 44 and 60 men served on the submarine; they would all work together, live together, eat together and sleep together.  Indeed we saw their narrow, close-together bunks; some of them were situated right underneath the torpedoes and were almost coffin-like.  We dreaded to think what the conditions must have been like with all those people in the heat and the narrow confines; the smell must have been horrendous, all the more so when there were no baths or showers in evidence.

We had about half an hour to spare before we had to be on the bus, so we wandered down to the beach where there were a few little shops doing a roaring trade.  One of them was selling bratwurst, ice-creams and beers, so we got a bottle of beer each and enjoyed them on the beach.  A few holiday-makers (or perhaps locals) were making the most of the rare sunshine and had set themselves up on the beach with sunloungers and windbreaks.

We enjoyed our beers, watching the pleasure craft coming and going, as well as children and dogs paddling in the surf.  I was tempted to go and do so myself, but couldn’t be bothered with getting all the sand off my feet.  In any case we didn’t have that long before we had to make our way back to the bus.

The ride back took about 40 minutes, and we arrived back at the Balmoral at around 6.30pm.  It was too late for us to go to the Ballindalloch for our dinner, but it didn’t really matter because there was an Asian buffet on in the Palms Café.  So we got washed and changed and made our way up there instead.  😊

We shared our table with the Port Authority representative, a pleasant German man who lived in Kiel.  We passed the time talking about different ports and ships, and he said he may be joining us again later in the cruise, in Hamburg.

After a delicious meal in which we sampled various Asian culinary delights, we went along to the Neptune Lounge to bag our table for tonight’s entertainment, which was a couple of Latin and Ballroom dancers.  They were very good; the girl’s costumes were spectacular, and the enthusiasm and passion they had for their dancing shone through in their energy and the synchronicity of their movements.  A good show, and something a little different.

Afterwards we did what we always do, that is, adjourn to the Observatory for the evening’s quiz, where we met up with Alex and Marian.  We changed our minds about a couple of the answers (which we had correct to start with) so we lost a couple of points, but they wouldn’t have been enough to win anyway.  ☹

We then had a nightcap and spent some time in desultory conversation before returning to cabin 4137 to settle down for the night.  We’d had a full and interesting day.

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