How a Passenger Steamer from Papenburg Had a Film Career in Africa

Today it is hard to believe what MEYER WERFT accomplished in 1913: packed up in hundreds of crates the passenger steamer Graf Goetzen set off on a journey from Papenburg to Daressalam, right across Tanzania to Lake Tanganyika, in the middle of East Africa.

At first sight the world seemed to be alright in 1913. The economy was flourishing, the Kaiser's daughter, Viktoria Luise, was getting married and German citizens were still setting off to seek their fortunes in the African colonies. These territories had only been German protectorates since 1884, but in 1913 they were already the cause of a diplomatic dispute between England and the German Empire. The strength of the German naval fleet was increased, ostensibly to protect the colonial troops. The Kaiser ignored the protests from the English. Few people would have guessed that within one year the entire world would be at war.

In Papenburg too, life ran its normal course in 1913. Another order received by MEYER WERFT from the colonial division of the German Foreign Office was assigned the Yard Number 300. The newbuilding was to be called Graf Goetzen and was intended to carry passengers on Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. MEYER WERFT had already earned itself a reputation in building ships with a particularly low draught specifically developed for the African rivers which were often very shallow.

In order to transport the Graf Goetzen to Africa the Papenburg shipbuilders had come up with an unusual scheme. The ship was first assembled in a trial run in Papenburg and then dismantled again into hundreds of individual parts, to be packed in watertight crates and shipped to East Africa. From the port of Daressalam the journey continued overland right across East Africa to Lake Tanganyika. The same journey also faced a team of men from Papenburg: MEYER WERFT sent a group of fitters and master shipbuilders to Lake Tanganyika to assemble the ship on site.

The Papenburg shipbuilders achieved what seemed virtually impossible both technically and logistically at that time: in spite of many adverse circumstances - including the absence of the deck screws and the lack of skilled labor - the men under Master Rüter managed to assemble the ship. But then World War I broke out, and in 1917 British troops advanced on Lake Tanganyika. To prevent the Graf Goetzen from falling into their hands the Papenburg shipbuilders had to scupper the ship - first, however, they carefully greased all the machinery. The Germans were later captured and interned in a prison camp until 1920.

Thanks to the men's foresight the Graf Goetzen was scarcely damaged. After the war it was raised and put back into service under the name of Liemba. In 1951 the ship became famous overnight: along with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart the Graf Goetzen stars in the film "African Queen", where the peaceful passenger steamer plays the part of the gunboat Luisa which - like all things evil - is doomed in the end to sink.

But only in the movies. In real life the ship was completely overhauled just a few years ago. Everyone on Lake Tanganyika knows the Liemba, because the former Graf Goetzen still ploughs to and fro, even today.