Impressive shipyard with huge vessels under construction
Nice history of ships produced at Papenburg
The shipyard does not take responsibility for their role during the Nazi time
Some other key unanswered questions
Some organizational / social distancing issues
The Meyer Werft in Papenburg is one of the most iconic plants of German engineering, indeed. The site is manufacturing the world largest cruise ships and other huge water vessels. While you typically can visit the shipyards in a guided tour, Covid-19 allowed us to visit them in a self-guided way. I was really curious about this visit, which was one of the (expected) highlights of a trip to Northern Germany in October 2020.
Meyer Werft – Location & Admission
The Meyer Werft (“Meyer Shipyards”) is located Northwest of Papenburg city center. The visitor center (Besucherzentrum) is again located rather at the Northwestern edge. From our hotel, the Park Inn in Papenburg, it was about a ten minute drive to the free parking lot for visitors. I would guess that the driving time from the A31 motorway is slightly shorter
The standard guided tour tickets are 14 Euro for adults – we paid 12 Euro for the self-guided tour. The opening times currently vary significantly, so that I would rather suggest to check their times online.
Meyer Werft – The Visit
You park your car at the parking lot next to the shipyard and then have a short walk to the visitor reception. Visitor and employee routes are somehow separates – sometimes, it is just a small barrier though. The visit was done in time slots to ensure social distancing – which worked quite fine during the beginning of the tour, but then lead to some problems (see below). From the reception area, you either walk up the stairs or take the elevator up to visitor level and then cross a bridge to the first hall.
The first part of your visit is the visitor center, which majorly tells you about the Meyer Werft and its history as well as the current importance of the company for the region. Of course, this always has a touch of strong marketing like any factory tour. We first had to wait for two movies about Meyer Werft before heading on to the exhibitions. I especially loved the models of the ships which have been built at this place. Very impressive to see how especially the size / capacity of water transportation has evolved over the decades. A very interesting part was also a typical timeline of a construction from the concept / design until the delivery to the client, including the very detailed construction planning.
On the other hand, I felt that some big questions stayed unanswered. For example, one of the movies you saw later in the exhibition had a time gap between the impact of World War I to Meyer Werft and the 1950’s. I feel it is absolutely reasonable, maybe even mandatory, nowadays to also declare your role and potential offenses your company did during the Nazi regime in Germany and World War II. Not saying anything about this (as far as my research is right, they majorly did repair jobs during that time and of course used prisoners of war and political prisoners) is inadequate nowadays. If you see the huge effort it nowadays takes to maneuver the huge ships from Papenburg to the North Sea (which is a 40 kms trip with some major obstacles), I was also curious why the company did not move their production site to a location closer to the open sea.
Shipyard and Construction Exhibition
After this general introduction, you head over to one of the construction halls and already see one of the huge ships under construction. The huge size and also the coordination of all the different workers is definitely very interesting. Unfortunately, the exhibition you pass in this section is finally too much marketing: Meyer Werft gives a small exhibition space to all the cruise companies they are working with – you learn a bit about the different experiences you may have on board of NCL, Disney Cruises and their peers. Each company also illustrates their cabin style with a example cabin you might have a look into.
The last presentation you see is standing on an indicated dyke and watching how the cruise ships leave Papenburg towards the open sea, including all the challenges. The presentation was reasonable – but there was absolutely no chance of social distancing, which I absolutely disliked. Before you leave the shipyard, you pass another construction hall, which was almost empty during our visit – bad luck!
Meyer Werft – Services
Typically, at the end of the tour, you can visit a shop at the visitor center. During pandemic times, this souvenir facility has been relocated to a shopping booth at the visitors parking lot.
Meyer Werft – My View
I have rather mixed emotions about our visit at the Meyer Werft. I feel that the company and their staff tried to do a good job – but in some parts, especially towards the end, they simply failed and unnecessarily risked sufficient distance during a well-selected round trip in pandemic times. In general, the tour was too much marketing and either not at all or just very briefly touched critical aspects like the ecological impact of still producing ships in Papenburg instead of closer to the sea, the Nazi times or general economic aspects of cruise ship (e.g. pollution). Overall, I just did not learn as much about the Meyer Werft and cruise ship construction as I expected to learn. On the other hand, these dimensions of construction and the optimized processes are indeed fascinating.