© Ingo Wandmacher

You have to be born to be a fisherman.

Young fisherman Dennis Freitag is the future of Travemünde's fishing port

It's a rough life that Dennis Freitag, 21 years young, has chosen for himself. Especially in winter, when the early morning still feels like the deep night and the icy Baltic Sea wind can already be felt in the old fishing harbour, many a desk clerk probably takes his hat off to the men who clear their ships in these adverse conditions and prepare for a long day at sea. When this day will end is not foreseeable in the morning. "If you really go out on the pond, you can easily be away on business for 12 hours", Dennis Freitag reports.


"On the pond" - this of course refers to the wide Baltic Sea. The tour will cover a distance of 28 nautical miles, i.e. about 50 km: With an old cutter and headwind, this can easily take two or three hours. Young Captain Dennis then uses this time to fill in logbook. How many metres of fishing net do they have with them today, what’s the mesh size, what fishing area are they heading towards? "You have to be very precise, the controls are strict," he says seriously. Actually, you can hardly imagine that Dennis is still so young. Of course, on the outside you have a wiry guy in front of you, whose boyish face hasn't been exposed to the sun, the wind and the waves yet, but even if you speak to him only briefly, you'll quickly understand: this is a person, who knows exactly what he wants and, above all, what he is doing.


"Harry always says: Becoming a fisherman is not difficult, but being a fisherman is," says Dennis Freitag with a laugh. This is Harry Lüdtke, an icon of the fishing port, who grew up in the old fishing village on the Trave and experienced times when over 70 large cutters set out from Travemünde to fish. The settlement no longer exists today, together with Harry Lüdtke, four professional fishermen will be pursuing their job in Travemünde. The 65-year-old is Dennis Freitag's mentor, a kind of foster father who has passed on to him the passion for this profession. Dennis Freitag has already experienced the bustling and yet always level-headed, northern German down-to-earth activity at the harbour as a very old Travemünde native. His father often took him here and soon he helped Harry with his first jobs. At the age of ten Harry took him to the Wik, a quiet fishing area in the direction of Lübeck’s Old Town, for the first time to catch eel. "At that time, the Trave was still the main fishing area for eel," reports Dennis, and sounds melancholic like an old captain. “The fish we earn a living with are cod and herring. But for two years now, we see more and more pollacks coming to our bay area. It sounds a bit strange when the 21-year-old uses the term "back then", but the daily work and the contact with the experienced fishermen as well as his love of the profession have long since made him a true old salt, who is expected to take over his own business next year. 


After Dennis has acquired his captain's license in 2013, the only thing missing is the master's certificate. But there are not many young people like him who can imagine a life as a fisherman. At least five candidates are needed. That doesn't sound like much, but with around 150 professional fishermen throughout Schleswig-Holstein and four in Travemünde - what can you expect? Things are not looking good for the old profession of a fisherman and Dennis hopes that Lübeck's politicians will continue to classify the fishing port and its "inhabitants" as worthy of protection for a long time to come. "People come here because the harbour is so old and pristine. Too much modern stuff is not nice either. And you can't buy freshly caught fish straight from the cutter everywhere". He himself prefers fried fish, which he can of course prepare in all variations. I'm sure the girls love to hear that, don't they? "Well, it's not so easy with the girls," admits Dennis openly. He is already happy when he gets together with fishermen of the same age and women are rather rare in this professional field.


The loyalty of ONE lady, however, is already certain for Dennis. We are talking about his own cutter "Heike", who - until her captain has made his master - patiently waits for her assignment in Travemünde’s harbour. "Heike" is an experienced ship's lady who has been sailing with her previous owner Heinrich Raddatz in the fishing grounds around Travemünde for 40 years. With her 40 years "Heike" is in the best cutter age. "They last forever", says Dennis with a wave of his hand. Only when it comes to her price, he doesn't really want to talk. "Professional secret", he winks, "and the most valuable things are the rights and fishing quotas associated with the cutter anyway". The equipment should not be underestimated either: On the "Christoph", Harry's largest cutter, which Dennis is currently steering and will probably take over soon, countless nets are lying around. The very sight of the huge mountain of seemingly hopelessly entangled fishing nets would drives a layman to despair.


It's even nicer when these professionals and tough guys suddenly turn into romantics from one moment to the next. We are sitting in a café right on the quayside, the chugging of a cutter motor is approaching. Suddenly there is turmoil in the tranquil port, and all of Travemünde's seagulls swing up and set course for the longed-for food supplier. A nuisance for the fishermen? Dennis just smiles and says still looking at the water: "We work with nature. Sometimes even a sea eagle mingles with the seagulls. It looks great - this big bird in the middle of them", and then after a short break: "But the most beautiful thing is the colours! The sky at sea is so unbelievably beautiful, you can't put it into words". Silence. You have to be born to be a fisherman.

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