First women harbour workers mural
from 1989 (vandalized)
Große Elbstraße 39
"Women working in the fish industry, 1994"
Große Elbstraße 152
"Women harvesting coffee, tabaco, and bananas"
"Wipe and swish – the cleaning ladies"
"The demonstrators"
Große Elbstraße 164
"The strike of the coffee bean sorters"
Stairs adjacent to the building at Große Elbstraße 164
"Girls in view - their future in the harbour"
"Jumping in at the deep end"
Große Elbstraße 210-212
"Women metal workers and welders
in the harbour" - (picture purloined)
"Women in harbour logistics"
Große Elbstraße 276
"Women at sea – past and present"
Neumühlen 3
Pump station No. 69
"The Elbe and the 'work' waves"
Neumühlen 16-20
(Turnaround at the Lawaetzhaus)
"For the women from the Dessauer Ufer"
Neumühlen 16-20
"Women to the helm"
Neumühlen 21
Working Women in the harbours
of New York City and Hamburg
- - a bridging project
Große Elbstraße 132
Women in the fish industry
and at the fish market, 2015
Große Elbstraße 268

Women to the helm, 2000

"Women to the helm"
Neumühlen 21, North side.
Design and realisation: Cecilia Herrero.
Sponsors: Hamburger Frauenratschlag, R&S Baugesellschaft.
Photo: johannes Kohl ©

The picture by the Argentinean artist Cecilia Herrero was painted during her visit to Hamburg in 2000. It is painted on canvas, which is most unusual for our project. The reason for this is that it proved - once again - difficult to find a suitable wall.

Once the artist had finished the painting, the wall problem was solved most fortuitously: the Women's Open Air Gallery team found an ideal spot at the facade of a building used today by Altona-Oevelgönne sailing club (1).

The colour and format of the picture blends in as perfectly as if it was specifically designed for this location. There is also a liaison in terms of content: Cecilia Herrero's painting presents the vision of a helm in female hand. Traditionally in Germany, women were not welcomed on board: they were said to bring bad luck. And so until fairly recently, any professional occupation on board ship was almost invariably dominated by men. For example, at the time when the painting was created, women accounted for only 0.24 percent of ship's officers in Germany (2).
But this is about to change. At the moment, in 2011, 18 percent of the students working towards a degree in nautical science at the Elsfleeth campus of Jade University of Applied Sciences are women.

The picture of the helmswoman in the painting, surrounded by bright light, the tide and waves is offset on the right-hand side by the word strips that are a typical feature in all the pictures of the Women's Open Air Gallery. Here we read: "Hamburg – women in the port", also referring to the job of port skipper which is still rarely carried out by women.

In 2010, skipper Claudia Ziehm was the first woman to do this job in the port of Hamburg, after obtaining her port skipper's licence from Hamburg Port Authority at the age of 23. In 2008, she was declared the "best port skipper trainee in Germany".

A port skipper works among others on tugs, launches and ferries, together with the port mooring service. Examples of the corresponding tasks in the port of Hamburg include clearing side canals with the icebreaker, removing hazardous objects from the water or towing flat barges or lighters with tugboats.

As the only woman among roughly 60 male colleagues, the early days in Claudia Ziehm's career as port skipper were not exactly stress-free: "Lots of stupid comments were made at the start", but she gave as good as she got and has meanwhile established a good relationship with most of her colleagues. "Once they've got to know me in the work setting and realise I'm not just a 'bimbo', that usually puts an end to the silly comments."

The fact that she stands out as being a "woman in a man's job" makes her pensive: "I think it's rather sad that we still get this persistent distinction between 'typical' men's and women's jobs." After all, it's the performance that matters, regardless of industry or gender. (3)

Meanwhile, women account for 18 percent of students working towards a degree in nautical science at the Elsfleeth campus of Jade University of Applied Sciences. (4)

The painting "Women to the helm" from 2000 also makes reference to a motif from the very first mural from 1989. One of the scenes depicted the workplace of a female barge skipper, harking back to a statement by the famous female shipowner Liselotte von Rantzau (5): "So where does it say that shipping is a men's world?".

© Elisabeth von Dücker, 2011

(1) Remains of the building that used to be Hedrich's grain mill.

(2) There were twice as many in Denmark.

(3) From an interview with Simone Utler on 20/01/2009, in "The Epoch Time".

(4) cf. Lena Bayer-Eynck: Nautik-Studium: Allein unter Männern. Noch Potential für weibliche Führungskräfte,, [ Studying nautical science: alone among the men. Still plenty of scope for female managers] 21/06/2011

(5) Liselotte von Rantzau (born in 1918, died in 1993) in an interview with the BUNTE magazine, 1982.


Affixing the canvas.
Photo: Hildegund Schuster ©

The painting in position.
Photo: Hildegund Schuster ©


Motif in the first mural: "100 Years Working Women in the Port”, Museum of Work and the Women’s Working Party in the Museum of Work, 1989.
Photo: Hildegund Schuster ©


Restored with vibrant hues: 2017


Signed Cecilia Herrero 2000 and restored 2017.
Photo: Elisabeth von Dücker ©

The historical building of Altona-Oevelgönne sailing club was due to be restored in summer 2017. The artist, meanwhile based in Bielefeld, therefore took up our invitation to come to Altona in July to restore her canvas painting that had been taken down from the wall - all this with funds provided by the sailing club.

Since then, vibrant hues have put new life into the moving composition with the vigorous figure of the helmswoman. The strong colours are reminiscent of the style tradition used by the Mexican muralist movement in the early 20th century. Following her education at an Argentinean art academy, in 1988 this became the focus of the painter's interest while attending the Escuela de Arte Publico Monumental, the school for monumental mural art in Managua, Nicaragua.

Cecilia Herrero's mural visualises a symbolic space between vision and reality. In 2000 when the picture was painted, there was not one single female port skipper in the port of Hamburg. It was not until 2006 that the city started to offer the first opportunities for women to learn this profession.

In numerous interviews, the women we have spoken to have expressed the desire for access to more nautical professions, which is very much in the spirit of Hamburg's famous female shipowner Liselotte von Rantzau. She definitely did not believe in gender discrimination and is quoted as saying in 1982: "So where does it say that shipping is a men's world?". The word strips in Cecilia Herrero's painting express a similar sentiment. Like a future vision at the threshold of the new century, we read: open the port!

© Elisabeth von Dücker, 2017

Last brushstroke on 11/07/2017: Cecilia Herrero
restoring the picture. Photo: Elisabeth von Dücker ©

Photo: Elisabeth von Dücker ©


english translation below


So what's all this interest in our club house?

A group of cyclists stops in front of our attractive club house building and listens while a guide provides explanations. Well, that's what it looks like at first. In fact, what they are really interested in is the mural "Women to the helm" on the north-eastern façade of our building. The mural was painted by artist Ceclia Herrero and is part of an open air gallery that can be found on buildings/walls in the port that offer an interesting architectural history.

The picture was restored during the work involved in renovating the club house.

We are pleased to see it attracting such interest, thus paying respect to the work done by women in the port.
The picture also turns our building into an eye-catcher. (Photo: Ariane Gramelspacher ©)