Geestemunde and Lehe are both situated at the mouth of the Weser, the first-named to the south, and Lehe to the north of Bremerhaven. They bore the same defensive relation to the port of Bremen as Cuxhaven bore to Hamburg. Bremerhaven, the depot of the North German Lloyd, was defended by the works at Geestemunde and Lehe, between which it lay. There were great docks here to accommodate ocean liners, or, if necessary, warships of large dimensions, and there were also a well-equipped coaling plant and repair shops.
Geestemunde was in 1914 a town of 25,000 inhabitants, on the left bank of the Geeste River, where it joins the Weser. The Geeste separated Bremerhaven from Geestemunde. The river Geeste is the most northern and thus the last tributary of the Weser near the sea. Rising about 28 kilometres away from Bremerhaven between Barchal and Basdahl near Bremervörde, the river drains a large part of the area of the present Cuxhaven district (the rural district surrounding Bremerhaven). Partly winding, the Geeste flows mainly through marshland, some hills in the north limiting the catchment basin. The river flows into the Weser in today's Bremerhaven. Since the middle ages, the Geeste has been navigable as far as 25 kilometres inland. Its lower part was the location of a number of notable shipyards from 1821 on. But the name of the river is also frequently found in place-names such as Geestendorf, Geestemünde (founded in 1845) or the so called "Geeste Railway" between Bremen and Geestemünde (in service in 1862). Today, there is no more commerce on the Geeste, but a lot of pleasure cruising.
The old fortifications date from the 1860s, but new works were built in 1905. In 1905 a mine depot was established here, from which all the submarine defenses of the Weser were controlled. Lehe, further to the north, had two strong forts.
Geestemunde [gä'ste-mon'de], Germany, seaport town in the province of Hanover, Prussia, at the mouth of the Geeste, opposite Bremerhaven and 32 miles north of Bremen. Around 1850, the Kingdom of Hanover (surrounding Bremerhaven) was interested in developing trade and shipping and had impressive port installations built at Emden, Leer and Harburg. This was also the background for the foundation of the city of Geestemünde on June 10th 1845. Competition with neighbouring Bremerhaven (founded in 1827) was the main reason. In 1847, the new settlement at the mouth of the River Geeste was given the name Geestemünde by the Hanover king Ernst August II.
Its life began in 1857 when the construction of the harbor works was put under way. First the new port place developed only slowly. The upswing came with the opening of the railway line 1862 and the commercial port one year later 1863. It has a splendid harbor, safe and commodious and able to care for the largest sea-going craft. It is the most important fishmarket of Germany. The port was protected by great fortifications. There were shipyards, foundries, engineering works, saw-mills, rope works and lumber dressing factories.
The new port of Geestemunde, on the lower Weser, was completed and opened to commerce in 1863. A consular agency was established at this port, and Mr. Edward Ulriche, of Geestemunde, appointed to the position. This harbor was 1,700 feet long, 400 feet wide, enclosed by solid walls, and of sufficient depth to float the largest vessels. The fact of Geestemunde being a free port, its connexion by railroad with the interior, its admirable docks, (provided with hydraulic apparatus for landing and shipping merchandise) its great facilities for provisioning of vessels, taking in ballast and fresh water, and its very extensive railroad depot, (affording every comfort for passengers to and from America) deservedly increased the commerical importance of this new and excellent port.
Following the short Prussian-Austrian War in 1866, Geestemünde was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia along with the whole former Hanover kingdom. The young port city boomed, some shipyards moved from Bremerhaven to Geestemünde, others such as the Seebeck yard were founded there (in this case in 1876). There was the Germania Schiff und Maschinenbau Aktiengesellschaft yard in Geestemunde, but far larger was the other Germania yard in Kiel, owned by Friedrich Krupp.
Rickmers, A. G.
Rickmers, A. G. (Reismühlen Rhederei und Schiffbau Actien-Gesellschaft) was located at Bremerhaven and Geestemünde. This well-known shipyard was founded at Bremerhaven in 1839 by Mr. R. C. Rickmers, who carried on a most successful business until his death, when the firm was changed into a joint stock company. Although the yard was originally founded for wooden shipbuilding, as soon as it was found the demand for this class of vessel had practically ceased the necessary change to iron shipbuilding was made. As of 1908 the yard covered an area of 23 acres, and ground for further extension had been acquired. There were four berths capable of building ships up to 600 ft. long, with the necessary travelling cranes and machinery work by electricity. Since the foundation of the yard 152 vessels, besides many sailing ships, fishing boats, and other smaller craft, had been turned out. Among the notable ships recently built may be mentioned a number of large cargo vessels for the Hamburg-Amerika Line, and two training ships for the Norddeutscher Lloyd, the Herzogin Sophie Charlotte and Herzogin Cecilie, these two ships being the latest thing in sailing ship construction.
An uncommon type of vessel built at this yard was launched in 1906 - namely, the R. C. Rickmers. She is an auxiliary vessel, 425 ft. in length, with a displacement of 8,000 tons, five masts, and under sail is capable of doing 16 kts., and has engines of 1,100 I.Hp. She is built for the use of the firm A. G. Rickmers, and is on the run between Bremen and India. The output of the yard for 1898-1905 was about 58,000 net register, with engines of 22,700 I.Hp. The largest sailing ship afloat -- Preussen -- was of German, not of British build, and was launched in 1896 from Geestemunde, with a tonnage of 6,150 tons.
The firm employed about 650 men in 1908. The shipbuilding yard is only a portion of the business of this firm, as they arc large shipowners, having a magnificent fleet of modern cargo-carrying vessels trading to the East and Far East. Rickmers Line, with their head office in Bremen, have a fleet of 16 modern cargo steamers, maintaining services to various parts of the world.
Born in Brake halfway between Bremen and Bremerhaven, the coppersmith Georg Dietrich Seebeck (1845-1928) settled down in Geestemünde in 1871. In 1876, he started his own firm. At a small forge he was soon manufacturing boats and launches. In 1886, Seebeck purchased a site situated on a narrow channel in the Geestemünde port area, which enabled further expansion. In 1891 and 1895, he acquired the Geestemünde and Bremerhaven yards of Schau & Oltmanns, Lange and Ulrichs and used their sites and equipment. In 1895, the firm was transformed into a shareholding company to mobilize more necessary capital.
Because of the different acquired shipyards along the River Geeste, Seebeck operated his business on very scattered sites. So he had a new shipyard constructed in the Geestemünde Handelshafen basin from 1906 to 1910. The main shipbuilding activities were moved to that new area. The manufacturing of ships in docks (and not, as commonplace, on slipways) was indeed a very progressive method.
The main output consisted of smaller vessels such as launches and tugs. In 1891, the first Seebeck-built steam trawler was delivered. This type of ship was manufactured in large numbers and gained importance for the business of Seebeck as a whole, forming also the image of the company. But cargo steamers, smaller passenger vessels and some types of special purpose vessels were also built. In 1914, more than 1000 employees worked on the yard.
In the First World War, military production for the Imperial German Navy became important, after 1918, production for non-military customers was resumed.
Other Shipyards on the River Geeste
During the 19th century, there were a number of yards along the River Geeste. Working at scattered locations, the character of these more modest firms was distinctively pre-industrial.
The notable shipwright Johann Lange (1775-1844) ran a successful yard at Vegesack near Bremen as from 1805 It was a predecessor of the later Bremer Vulkan shipyard. Besides this enterprise, Lange leased premises on the Bremerhaven bank of the River Geeste in 1833. There, repairs of larger sailing vessels were undertaken. From 1837 to 1840, a dry dock was constructed. Lange's son, Carl Lange (1819-1887), continued his father's business, but started shipbuilding activities after 1850 for some time and had a second dry dock built after 1860. Later, the yard focused on ship repair again, but ceased to operate under its own name in 1895, when the yard was sold to the shipyard owner Georg Seebeck.
Friedrich Wilhelm Wencke
In 1833, the Bremen-born ship's carpenter Friedrich Wilhelm Wencke (1806-1859) leased premises on the Bremerhaven bank of the River Geeste. A large number of wooden seagoing vessels were built there, for which the yard became quite famous. The dry dock (ca. 1860) is still preserved today. After Wencke's death, his son-in-law took over the firm. But it had to wind up in 1900 because the transition to modern steel shipbuilding failed, despite some notable new ships such as the first German steam trawler SAGITTA of 1885.
Cornelius Janssen Cornelius
The boat builder Cornelius Janssen Cornelius (1776-1842) came from Neuharlingersiel in East Frisia and settled on the right bank of the River Geeste in 1821 where he founded the oldest shipyard in Bremerhaven today. Small boats and barges were manufactured, and a pub was also maintained. Running the latter was more attractive for the founder's son, so boatbuilding ceased at this site soon after 1842.
Schau & Oltmanns
The shipwright Diedrich Bernhard Oltmanns (1831-1891) from Brake (halfway between Bremen and Bremerhaven) and the former naval officer Hans Sonne Schau (1821-1893) acquired a site on the Geestemünde side of the river in 1852. There, a dry dock was constructed from 1853 to 1856. This dock brought heavy financial losses for the yard, but a number of sailing vessels, some of them for Hamburg account, were built there. But the transition from wooden to industrial iron shipbuilding also failed here, so the company wound up in 1891. The yard was sold to the shipyard owner Georg Seebeck.
Hermann Friedrich Ulrichs
The Bremen-born shipwright Hermann Friedrich Ulrichs (1809-1865) had established a well-running shipyard at Vegesack near Bremen, which later became one of the predecessors of the Bremer Vulkan yard. In 1850, he opened a subsidiary on the Bremerhaven bank of the River Geeste. There he concentrated on ship repairs but some some new vessels were also constructed. A dry dock was built from 1864 to 1865. Operation continued also after Ulrich's death. In contrast with the Vegesack yard, the transition to modern iron shipbuilding failed at Bremerhaven due to lack of capital. In 1895, the site was sold to the shipyard owner Georg Seebeck.
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