The ship is currently on a business trip and cannot be inspected. But if you want to have a look, you can go to the Rhine Museum in Emmerich on the Lower Rhine. A nearly metre-long copy of the "Carl Straat" is in the display case right next to the entrance. Museum director Herbert Kleipass had them made after he was involved in a "Carl Straat" operation in the 1980s. He explains that he first had to go into the pressurized cabin on deck and then descend a stairway in a tube-like ramp into the diving bell, which had been lowered to the bottom of the Rhine.
To this day, Kleipass is fascinated by how, in this four by six meter steel cabin, he was able to search the river bed for the cargo of a long-sunk freighter without getting his feet wet.
The "Carl Straat" is a diving bell ship, built in 1963 to improve the navigability of the Rhine. At that time, parts of the bridges destroyed in the war were still lying on the ground in many places. Unexploded bombs. building debris. The work never ended.
Today, lost anchors and containers as well as cars that have fallen into the water have to be recovered. With the "Carl Straat" all these obstacles can be removed. In the bell, from which excess pressure presses the water, the crew can calmly mount brackets for the salvage. "And we can pull loads of up to 40 tons up with this diving bell," explains Erich Wicher from the Rhine Waterways and Shipping Authority, who coordinates the operations of the "Carl Straat". Her home port is Duisburg, but she is almost never seen there. The ship is permanently underway, says Wicher.
Actually, the "Carl Straat" was already retired, a more powerful successor model was launched in 2021, but had to go back to the shipyard due to defects. The "Carl Straat" was temporarily refloated. And now it's making headlines because the owner, the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration, has taken the Düsseldorf district government to court. They had the "Carl Straat" registered as a monument.
The union didn't want to accept that. Because what should you do with a 52 meter long listed steel colossus? But the Düsseldorf administrative court decided otherwise. According to the verdict, the ship was unique in its time in terms of construction and function. There is “an increased public interest” in preservation and use. It is unclear whether the federal government will appeal.
Ralf Liptau drew up the report on which the court relies. He is one of the experts responsible for industrial monuments at the Rhineland Regional Council. In 2021, Liptau says, he took a look at the "Carl Straat". He quickly came to the conclusion that he was dealing with an extraordinary object.
In the interview, Liptau attaches great importance to the objectivity of the criteria on which he bases his reports. But his enthusiasm reverberates over and over again. Rarely has he had such a sense of coherence when examining an industrial monument as with the "Carl Straat," he says.
It was clear to him from the start that he was dealing with a unique piece of technological history, with a quasi-pure 1960s machine. He felt like he was “in a time capsule”, “everything is highly technical and at the same time archaic”. And all this combined with a homely pine interior on the command bridge and in the berths. In short: The “Carl Straat” is an important testimony to the “history of the Rhine and how it was made navigable”.
Erich Wicher from the Rhine Waterways Office can understand Liptau's fascination. Nevertheless, he is skeptical as to whether it makes sense to make the ship a monument. Where and how should it be presented, he asks. The "Carl Straat" cannot be demonstrated in action because the compressed air chamber and diving bell may only be entered by qualified personnel.
The monument expert Liptau sees it differently. Even on dry land you get a very good impression of this ship and how it works, he says. He now wishes for some creativity – “and maybe a public ideas competition”. He cites the example of the "MS Stadt Köln", a prestige ship built in the 1930s and equipped with every finesse, which is also a listed building - and is now being made operational again by an association.
Of course, there are also counter-examples that show how difficult it is to convert historic ships into walk-in museums. One of them is on the premises of the Meiderich shipyard in Duisburg. The tower of the "Kaiman" rises between the assembly halls and mountains of scrap metal, riveted together from finger-thick steel, an impressive technical monument from the year 1892.
This "Kaiman" also served as a diving bell ship, it is a forerunner of the "Carl Straat" and was in use for well over a hundred years. And now? Sascha Wallraff, managing director of the shipyard, raises his eyebrows questioningly. He speaks in awe of the achievement of the engineers who built the ship. And on behalf of the Waterways Office, he and his employees are doing their best to protect the old treasure from decay. But that's it. As soon as the shipyard needs the space, the "Kaiman" has to go. Will the ship ever be made accessible to the public anywhere? Wallraff has doubts about that.
The "Kaiman" and the "Carl Straat" are not isolated cases, he says. He only needs to let his gaze wander over the Duisburg harbor area - he can then show other special ships that deserve to be declared a monument. "There's still a lot to come in the next few years," says Wallraff. "Perhaps," he muses, "the federal government and the responsible waterway authority should consider founding their own museum."