Emotions and drinks on ice
"We're not in Antarctica yet, so it's OK for me to do this now," says Zodiac driver Torsten Prietz. He reaches into the water with both hands and heaves a thick chunk of ice into the inflatable rubber boat, throws the ice into a large steel bowl and twists the throttle. The stable rubber boat races across the bay in South Georgia, weaving between the blocks of ice and smallish icebergs that dot the water. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and at temperatures of about 2 °C (35.6 °F) it feels almost like summer. And the handful of passengers who have been the last to end their shore visit enjoy an exclusive slalom.
The expedition ships of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises possess special characteristics: they are small, manoeuvrable, have a very shallow draught and boast the highest ice class for passenger ships. From November to February - summer in the southern hemisphere - the BREMEN and the HANSEATIC undertake a variety of cruises to the Antarctic. These take them to the Falkland Islands, where you can catch a first sighting of the king penguin colonies. Next, on to South Georgia, where elephant seals doze and where, on Salisbury Plain, more than 50,000 penguins cluster together. And then, finally, the ship snakes its way through the island world of the Antarctic Peninsula. Moments that fall into the category of "once in a lifetime", creating memories that are equally precious.
The tradition of expeditionary cruises stretches back to the very beginning of the history of the cruise. While Albert Ballin, the inventor of this form of travel, called the first cruise undertaken purely for enjoyment a "pleasure cruise", he referred to the passengers, by contrast, as "daring travellers". And if you consider how long the cruise took, it really did have something of an expeditionary nature - the 241 passengers were at sea for 58 days. And even if expedition cruises nowadays are rarely of such epic duration, a modern-day cruise remains - now as ever - an adventure of epic proportions.
Even then, experts travelled on board the ships to provide interested guests with background information. Former captains, adventurers, researchers, scientists and authors - all shared their knowledge with presentations on board, just as today the lecturers on board the BREMEN and the HANSEATIC have their own special ways to bring the ships' destinations to life. It is only through these lectures that some guests get to know which birds are escorting the ship with playful curiosity. The lecturers give an account of the sad history of whaling, while researchers, some of them staff members at the Alfred Wegener Institute, illustrate what life is like on an Antarctic station such as the Neumayer III, which went into service in February 2009 and is the most advanced in the Antarctic.
During one of these talks, guests also learn a great deal about the environmental requirements for a trip to the Antarctic, such as the fact that the ships may only be powered by low-sulphur diesel fuels, or that everything that is brought to this region also has to be taken away again. By the same token, no outside germs or non-native seeds are permitted to enter the region, which is why there is even a boot washing machine on board. And last but not least, nothing - absolutely nothing - may be taken away from the Antarctic, not a stone for a souvenir, not so much as ice. It goes without saying that the company complies with these regulations. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has set itself the task of protecting the things that enthral us.
In the evening, the guests gather together on the pool deck on board the BREMEN. The captain gives a short precap, including an overview of what is still to come during the cruise: Elephant Island, Deception Island, Paradise Bay and the Lemaire Channel. He concludes his speech with a toast: Here's to a beautiful cruise! They all raise their glasses. They are filled with gin and tonic, sparkling wine, juice, a spritzer or water. On the rocks - on South Georgian glacial ice. It hisses and crackles as the oxygen enclosed within escapes. It is the sound of history. For, as one of the lecturers says, the glacier from which the chunk of ice doubtless came was probably several hundred years old. A special drink in a moment you might wish to remember for another hundred years.