Posted on Tuesday, January 1, 2013 by Peter Knego
Yet another classic liner, the 1951-built GEORG BüCHNER, has been consigned to the scrappers. The world’s last bona fide combi-liner has enjoyed a low key existence at Rostock, Germany, since 1977.
All Photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2001, unless otherwise noted.
UPDATE: On January 8, local sources reported that the ship’s hull was being inspected, all portholes and valves sealed and everything on board battened down to prepare the GEORG BüCHNER for her tow to Lithuania. Apparently, the last minute Belgian attempt to save the ship for Antwerp has officially fallen through.
The end is nigh for one of the most important preserved ships in the world, the oft-overlooked GEORG BüCHNER, which was built in 1951 as Compagnie Maritime Belge’s combi-liner CHARLESVILLE. At one point in time, the oceans were filled with these hard-working colonial liners but by the late 1960s, thanks to the jumbo jet and the containerization of cargo, most were sold off for scrap. The handful that survived were rebuilt for cruising and in recent years, all of their likes were finally broken up.
CHARLESVILLE was one of five sister ships built for Compagnie Maritime Belge’s Congo service from Antwerp, Belgium. She originally carried 248 passengers and measured 10, 901 gross tons. In 1967, CHARLESVILLE was sold to the East German Deutsche Seereederei and renamed GEORG BüCHNER. At first, she was used on overseas service, such as trooping voyages to Cuba, before becoming a training ship. In 1977, she was berthed at Rostock-Schmarl for use as a stationary training ship and youth hostel. Over the years, most of her cargo spaces were converted into classrooms and dormitories while many of the original cabins were completely transformed into more modern, if spartan, accommodation.
I made a special trek to Rostock-Schmarl in 2001 and spent two nights on board. While much of the ship had been rebuilt beyond recognition, there were magnificent original pockets that featured vintage fittings, rich wood paneling and artwork. I even stayed in the former captain’s cabin, which had been largely unchanged since the ship’s Belgian service.
For a nominal fee (around 50 Euros per night), accommodation and breakfast in the beautifully paneled Officer’s Club were provided. For an additional 5 Euros, lunch was served in the largely original dining room.
Although little or no English was spoken on board, the hotel staff were pleasant and the ship’s engineer was incredibly kind to provide me a tour of the engine room and a chance to film the BüCHNER from the Warnow River aboard his private boat.
The ship was moved to the Rostock City Center in 2002 and I had hoped at some point to make a return visit. Unfortunately, the GEORG BüCHNER was recently found in need of some $5 million worth of repairs and will be towed off to Lithuania for scrapping in early 2013. She is among the last of her kind and her demise will sever a precious link to a bygone world of shipping.