One of the last church ships in Germany is moored in Mannheim’s Mühlauhafen harbour. Ship pastor Anne Ressel takes the Wichern out on the waterwaystwice a week to visit people who are all too often forgotten by the community. We accompanied her on a very special trip.
There is a flurry of activity on the Wichern shortly before its departure. The crew pack away equipment, load instruments and put on life jackets. Keys pass from one hand to another. Someone has forgotten something on shore and has to disembark again for a moment. Eventually, everyone is on board and Albert Schenkel starts the ship. The old diesel engine jerks and chugs. Garage walls amplify the engine noise. The 13-tonne ship ponderously picks up speed. The busy and noisy atmosphere on the ship changes abruptly as the Wichern glides out of the hangar. The wind and the water swallow up the engine noises. Everyone aboard moves a little slower, more deliberately. Many passengers including pastor Anne Ressel go out on deck despite the icy wind. They turn their face towards the wind and look out over the water for a few minutes to calm down and take a deep breath.
Anne is a pastor in the CityGemeinde Hafen-Konkordien congregation and is often out and about in Mannheim city centre and in the Jungbusch district. “There’s nothing better than going out on the Wichern after a busy and hectic day in the city,” she says. Whenever Anne meets people who have had a bad day or who are stressed by everyday life, she likes to invite them to join her spontaneously, “because I know that water calms the soul.” Her friend Nadja Peter stands next to her and nods. She has experienced it herself. “There was a day when I wasn’t feeling well at all and Anne just said: ‘Come aboard.’” Now, a good six months later, she takes over the helm from Albert and steers the Wichern out onto the Rhine. She took her booting license course for inland navigation shortly after her first trip. Since then she has volunteered on board of the Wichern regularly. “It’s extremely fun,” she says. Next to her, three men nod simultaneously. They also take the helm as volunteers regularly.
Anne is talented in bringing people together and inspiring them for a cause. You notice this after just a few minutes on board. The maritime ministry in Mannheim, which is also responsible for Ludwigshafen, would probably no longer exist without the many volunteers—25 in total. In many other places this type of service has ceased to exist. Only Duisburg still has a church ship. The river-going church ship in Hamburg has been firmly anchored in the harbour for years. But Anne is keen that the Wichern continues to be there for people working on inland waters.