The “Golden Dream” turns into a nightmare for a German port city
WISMAR: The unfinished ‘Golden Dream’ rests quietly on a dock as the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the cruise ship into a nightmare for the Wismar shipyard along Germany’s windswept Baltic coast.
Destined to become one of the largest ocean liners in the world, the ‘Global Dream’ will have the chance to set sail after Asian shipyard MV Werften filed for bankruptcy last month.
As no buyer has come forward, thousands of jobs at the shipyard are at risk and the local economy could be hit hard.
“We are the classic victims of the coronavirus,” said Carsten Haake, managing director of MV Werften.
The bankruptcy filing halted construction work on the ship, which would have become one of the first ships capable of accommodating up to 10,000 passengers and crew.
The fate of the MV Werften was decided thousands of miles away in Asia, in the offices of Genting HK, owner of the shipyard and operator Dream Cruises.
Specializing in tourism and casinos, the company collapsed following travel disruptions caused by the pandemic and the decision by its Malaysian parent company Genting to abandon it.
Without sufficient financial guarantees, the German state, which had agreed to support the shipyard, withdrew.
Since then, the 342-meter-long cruise ship – a little taller than the Eiffel Tower and adorned with an eerie cartoon mural of astronauts and mermaids – has been waiting for a saviour.
The project, with an estimated cost of 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion), is “75% complete”, according to the shipyard’s management. But it takes 600 million euros to continue.
As the ship waits, uncertainty grips the 2,000 employees at MV Werften’s docks in Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar on the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania coast in what was once East Germany.
Christoph Morgen has been appointed legal administrator of the company with a single objective: “Finding a buyer for the Global Dream”.
The ship was designed when the cruise industry was booming, but demand for vacations at sea has been affected by the pandemic.
Even though “some investors have expressed interest,” Morgen said, getting a good offer for such a giant ship is difficult, especially while the coronavirus is still around.
The administrators are on track for March 1, their deadline to find a viable solution.
The situation is also being closely watched by local government figures for whom the collapse was a “shock, as it was for the whole city”, the social-democratic mayor of Wismar Thomas Beyer told AFP.
“Many families depend on the establishment, generations have worked there,” he added.
The shipyards are closely linked to the history of the city. Built after the Second World War, they were first used to service Soviet ships, before diversifying in the 1950s.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East German industry led to massive layoffs.
Privatized in the 1990s, the shipyards have since had a series of German and foreign owners, but had survived the economic vagaries until now.
In the central square of Wismar, hemmed by the colorful buildings typical of Hanseatic cities, Heike Reimann, 67, worried about the impact that the disappearance of the flagship industry could have on the city.
“Wismar, without its shipyard, it’s not Wismar,” said Reimann, whose husband, Siegfried, worked in the docks for 10 years.
If no buyer comes forward, the sites will have to be converted into offshore wind farms or hydrogen production sites, symbols of the country’s energy transition, said administrator Morgen.
The idea appeals to some residents.
“Is it really a good idea to keep building big boats with global warming? said Christin Buerger, 63.
But the pivot to green energy would spell disaster for local workers, unions said.
“For a different project, different employees with different skills will be needed,” said Henning Groskreutz of the IG Metall union.
The mayor’s office is equally cold to the idea.
“We have to keep our maritime industries, it’s part of who we are,” Mayor Beyer said.