The DEUTSCHLAND – a star ship full of surprises

In May 2012, the DEUTSCHLAND – a highly distinguished and elegant classic – celebrated her 14th birthday. Not that that makes her boring, far from it! 

Here’s the million-dollar question: did Germany’s king, Frederick the Great, ever go to sea? On board the Deutschland, at least, the Prussian king is practically omnipresent. In the name of the beer bar in the stern, for example. Blasphemy? Among cruise passengers, this bar – which serves German sausages and meatballs with mustard virtually 24 hours a day – seems to be almost as famous the steadfast Prussian is among historians. 

Even passengers with a phenomenal appetite will find themselves spoilt for choice on board this vessel. From breakfast on the deck to bouillon by the poolside, lunch in the restaurant Berlin and afternoon tea and coffee in the Adlon lounge, right through to the magnificent evening meal, which can be taken either in Berlin or in the gourmet temple Four Seasons, all tastes are catered to with the wide choice of fine food on board. However, as is evident in the good old German “morning beer session” familiar from other cruises, we all know that you can never have too much of a good thing. Thanks to Old Fritz, you can even enjoy a snack at three o’clock in the morning.   

Another thing that was striking about this cruise in spring 2011 (five sunny days with clear blue skies between Venice and Rome, stopping off at Cephalonia, Sicily and the eternally breathtaking Amalfi Coast) was that the passengers seemed younger than usual. This may have been due to the fact that the cruise was relatively short and the first of May was a public holiday, but the passengers definitely didn’t want to go to bed. Old Fritz was probably delighted to have served so many late-night sausage snacks on this particular cruise. 

In short: I contest the assumption that the Deutschland, for all its conservative gravitas, could ever be described as dull. Here’s the proof: even Ina from Unna, who on day one was dreading the “oldies programme”, by day five summed up the cruise with the words, “this boat rocks!” and merrily twirled off for a moonlight dance with Vladimir, probably one of the most charming stand-up pianists on the seven seas – at three o’clock in the morning in the Old Fritz bar. 

So was this an exception? The crew is more than familiar with party nights like these: once a year the folk from television take over the ship and they are renowned for their love of a good party. In late winter – this year it was off the coast of Papua New Guinea – a series of the popular German TV programme “Das Traumschiff” (The Dream Boat) is filmed on board the Deutschland. “Around 60 people”, says the amiable head steward in his broad Hamburg dialect, “but it’s always a real pleasure. The atmosphere is really relaxed. Some guests come especially for this trip because they want to join in as extras.” 

Like many other crew members, the steward has served on the MS Deutschland from the very outset. With his discreet, utterly dependable and sincere manner, he is one of the people on board whom you remember better than some of the ports of call after disembarking. These crew members are also the reason why a determined passenger collars me and practically commands me: “Young man, please write down that anyone who isn’t satisfied deserves to be tossed overboard.”  So I am plainly playing with death when I remark that a ship of this category and quality really ought to have cabins with balconies….”New-fangled stuff and nonsense! If I want fresh air, then I simply go on deck.”

It seems that the fans of the Deutschland are as loyal to their ship as Frederick the Great’s army was to him. They feel at home here because they know what to expect – and what awaits them: service, gastronomy and an ambience like in the grand hotels of bygone eras, which is precisely what the man behind the ship, the ship owner Peter Deilmann, who died in 2003, intended. This atmosphere is captured in the ice cream bombe parade, which is a fixed ritual at every gala dinner,  as well as in all the furnishing details: Willy Birgel, Lotte Lenya & Co. – German stars of past decades – smile down from picture frames; films with the eternally popular German actor Heinz Rühmann are shown in the ship’s cinema. The cabin corridors are so wide that one can image oneself strolling down the halls of the luxurious and tradition-steeped Adlon Hotel to one’s suite. 

This cruise is a trip back in time, and I must admit it took me a while to adapt. Ultimately, however, things were made easy for me by the crew, who welcome the guests like long-lost friends, and also the deep blue Mediterranean spring skies. Reconciliation starts in Venice: leaning on the railing with a cocktail in my hand, we watch St Mark’s Cathedral, Campanile and the Doge’s Palace float past us. No, wait a moment: we’re floating past the city! We sail past its most beautiful side – and it feels close enough to touch. 

Then, after everyday stress has been wiped out by a day spent taking deep breaths of sea air, we come to Argostoli on the Ionian island of Cephalonia. According to the latest research, this was the island on which Odysseus lived and not, as was previously believed, the neighbouring island of Ithaca. He is said to have landed on the pristine beach of Mirtos after his return. An invention by the tourist office? A girl in the harbour café where I spend the rest of the time daydreaming is called Penelope…  

The following day we pass between Scylla and Charybdis and through the Straits of Messina, where jeeps take us up the slopes of Etna: always following the trail of smoke, through a lunar landscape which over the millennia was churned out from the bowels of the earth. 

Then, finally, Salerno, the Amalfi Coast, Naples, the island of Capri. All on one day? It would have been possible, if it hadn’t been a public holiday. The 1st of May is just a busy here as elsewhere and so we have to lick our Capri ice creams in an incredible melee. We are more than compensated for this back on board with a performance by the magnificent tenor Rafayil Chertkov: suddenly, there he is, standing under the candelabras in the Four Seasons restaurant, mellifluously singing “Santa Lucia”. At least we sense the undying beauty of Naples in time for our dessert …

Then, in one of the corridors, we meet the head steward again. While we chat, he corrects a stewardess who passes behind his back with a tray. “No, not like that – the glasses aren’t full.” And then, turning back to me, he beams and says, “Are you really leaving us tomorrow? Then make sure you come back as soon as possible!”

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Article & Photos: Johannes Bohmann,