Another town with a unique maritime past

- home port of the China Sailors and Master Ship Builders -

- an old street, - once the home for sailors and ship builders -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Aabenraa is another one of those towns with a very strong and distinct maritime past.
In fact,- during a period in its heyday during the last half of the 18 hundreds -, Aabenraa was the second biggest maritime center in Denmark, - only exceeded by Copenhagen - - - -

It became the home to numerous ship owners,- amongst them  Jørgen Bruhn -, who eventual became the biggest ship owner in Denmark.  Also shipbuilding flourished, and in the Aabenraa Museum you can see an old map showing the port area as it appeared in 1866.  On this map you can count 5 permanent ship yards.
But that is not all!  You do not see the biggest and most famous of them all, - Jørgen Bruhn's yard -, because it was placed outside the port area on a small island , - Kalvø -, at the bottom of the nearby bay, - Genner Bugt.
Furthermore, there were  ship builders who made only one ship, and then closed down when the job was finished, and also those "one time" ship yards , you cannot find on the map.
There would be nothing unusual if a town of the size of Aabenraa had one ship yard ,- but actually having so many is quite unique taken into consideration, that Aabenraa is only a relatively small provincial town - - -

And they really could build ships - -
The Aabenraa ship builders pioneered the construction and development of clipper ships in Denmark,- not only the best and the biggest in Denmark-, but in all of Scandinavia, and those ships  became well known all over the world for their good quality , high standard, and not at least for their speed and beauty - - -

One of those great ships,- the "Cimber" - , owned by Jørgen Bruhn, and built on his yard at Kalvø in 1857 still holds the world record for the fastest voyage ever done by a sailing ship from Liverpool around the "Horn" to San Francisco.
"Cimber" made the voyage in 103 days,- 12 days faster than the previous record-, and could very well have been the fastest ship on the oceans in those days - - -
It was big too,- about 2800 tons-, which makes it even bigger than the navy frigate "Jylland" from 1860.  This clearly shows the great skill of the local ship builders - - -

Also it might be worth to mention, that the first Danish ship that ever rounded "The Horn" , happened to be from Aabenraa!   Of course - - -

- another view -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The Aabenraa ships sailed over the most of the world, but when the first Opium War in China ended in 1840, - which forced China to open up its ports for foreign trade -, and the "Asiatic Company" in Denmark finally abolished its monopoly on the China trade, the Aabenraa ship owners immediately grabbed the opportunity for this huge new market, and eventually China and the Far East became their favorite play ground, and it remained so up till our time, when the last of the great Aabenraa ship owners , - Jebsen & Co.  - , had ships in China charter well into the seventies - - -
( See the story about the last China trader,-  "Emma Jebsen".)

Staffordshire Dogs
- and YES! ,- the "Staffordshire" dogs are here too -
- a sure indication of a maritime past -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The difference between Aabenraa and another small, but well known , maritime town,-  Marstal -, is very distinct.
While Marstal specialized in relatively small ships,- mainly schooners -, with traditional rounded bows and quite wide hulls that could hold a lot of cargo, the Aabenraa ship owners usually went for much bigger ships , often sleek, fast clippers with at least three full rigged masts, well suited for trade all over the world,-  and made for speed.
But unlike Aabenraa,- Marstal survived and remains to this day a major center for smaller ships,- the coasters -, while the once so important and big shipping business in Aabenraa slowly but surely died out!

The great ship owners and  master shipbuilders of Aabenraa apparently never accepted that ships built of steel plates and driven by steam engines were far superior to the traditional sailing ships, and therefore they realized too late, that the combination of steel and steam was indeed better than wood and sail.
To them a ship was built of wood, and driven by the wind, - flying over the oceans under towers of white canvas, accompanied only by the sound of the wind and the waves - - -
This is true sailing, and any sailor who loves ships and the ocean can understand this very , very well, but you cannot fight against development!
Therefore ,- when the shipping community in Aabenraa finally realized what the future demanded, it was too late!
One by one the once famous ship yards had to close down, and likewise the once so great and powerful ship owners had to give up their traditional trade!

Backyard House in "Slotsgade"
It is highly recommended to have a look into the narrow passages ,
leading into cozy court yards behind the old city houses -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Only one of the well known ship owners,- Michael Jebsen-, saw the great potential in the steam ship, and he tried in vain to persuade the local investors and shipbuilders to hire technical people, who could rivet steel plates together, and install machines, boilers and pipe systems , but all in vain - - -  Nobody was interested - - -

Eventually he had to go to Germany to find a ship builder who was willing to built his steam ship, and since then Jebsen never again contracted a sailing ship for his fleet!
As a result of his foresight, his company is now the only surviving of the once so powerful ship owning community in Aabenraa.
But today Jebsen & Co. does not any longer operate their own fleet of ships!  It stopped in the seventies , but if you go to Hong Kong ,- or for that matter the whole Far East region -, the company has grown very big out there with about 4 - 5000 people employed in offices all over Asia!

Another backyard at "Slotsgade"
- what a great place for an old China sailor to finally drop the anchor -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

And Aabenraa???
Well,- the glorious maritime past is forever gone, and if you visit Aabenraa today, you will not find much evidence about it, unless you visit the Aabenraa Museum, which has a truly unique maritime collection ,- in fact one of the best in the country - - -.

But when walking in the old streets the keen eye can still spot the faithful  "Staffordshire" dogs on display in several windows - - and you can see other typical sailor souvenirs as well.
Also the great mansion of Jørgen Bruhn is still there,- now used for other businesses.
See picture - - -

The white house in the background , - facing the square -,
was once Jørgen Bruhn's big city house, - "Redergaarden" -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

- a closer look at Jørgen Bruhn's mansion, - right at the city's big square -"Storetorv"-
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The mansion of Aabenraa's other big ship owner, - Jacob Jebsen -, is much more impressive than Jørgen Bruhn's big city house.
Just outside town you can find Jebsens great mansion ,- "Lensnack"-, from 1908.
It overlooks the fjord from a beautiful location with the Chinese name "Lai Mun",- again a reminder of the company's strong links to China and the China trade - - -
The following picture shows the entrance to the big park surrounding the mansion.

The main entrance to the park surrounding "Lensnack" .
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Take note of the Chinese lions on top of the pillars at the entrance.
On top of the wrought iron gate you can see the initials "JJ" in gold, which obviously must refer to the builder of the great house, - ship owner Jacob Jebsen.
On the middle brick pillar of the gate you can also see some initials, - "MJ" - , which I believe refers to ship owner Michael Jebsen.

- on the hill top overlooking Aabenraa fjord -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

- a closer view -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The old building of Jebsen & Co.
- and a view along "Skibbrogade" ,- where once Ship Owners and sea Captains lived -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The old Jebsen office is still standing, although the big and highly polished brass sign with the Jebsen name has now gone, being replaced with a more modest sign on the door showing the names of the people now occupying the house.

A look behind the old Jebsen building , - a wonderful courtyard with cobbled stones -
- and a chestnut tree -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

This lovely court yard was once part of a garden that stretched all the way down to the harbour front.
From there Jacob Jebsen could walk home by crossing a dam that went from the water front directly across the harbour to his new mansion "Lensnack" - - -
Today this is not possible anymore because of later port extensions - - -
Well, - it is possible, but the shortcut across the water does not exist anymore due to a later harbour expansions, so if you want to take the trip today, you will have to walk all the way around the new port basin.

A memory from the past , - a wall decoration from the old Jebsen & Co. courtyard - -
- the ship's bell from Jebsen ship "Heinrich Jessen" of Hong Kong , 1940 -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

I wonder if the old ships bell in the court yard is still there???

But for sure you can see the new Jebsen office from 1972, with its huge Chinese characters on the wall ,-   (See picture) -, and with Chinese lions guarding the front door - - -
And at the harbour front ,- not so far away -, you can find a big, old stock anchor on display , as a reminder of what once was!

The Jebsen Office, - "Rhederi M. Jebsen" -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The unique and well designed yellow building to the very right, is also a Jebsen building, but I think that it has nothing to do with the office, but is rented out as apartments - - -
The garden from the old Jebsen Office in "Skibbrogade" actually ended there, and it was from this place that Jacob Jebsen had his shortcut between the office and his mansion "Lensnack" - - -

Today, - when I am writing this -, the above office building has just been renovated, - and has completely changed appearance.
See picture below.

The "new" Jebsen office as it appeared in Feb. 2010.
Only things to be recognized from the old office building are the big Chinese characters to the left on the buildings
(Photography by Karsten Petersen ©)

"Sailor" figure
(Photography by Karsten Petersen ©)

Along the Aabenraa harbour front where the new Jebsen buildings are now placed was of course a line of old houses, which had to be torn down in the name of progress.
In one of these old houses was a real waterfront bar with a wonderful facade decoration showing a sailor or fisherman with his gear.
Fortunately enough this figure was carefully removed from the old wall and saved when the bar was torn down, - and the sailor figure is now built into a wall of the new Jebsen building.
It's new location is in a passage through the Jebsen building leading from the main road along the harbour front to the back yard of the building with further access to some paths and small, old city streets behind.
Great that this link to the past was saved.

When getting out from the passage with the sailor figure, - you first end up in a parking lot, but this place was once part of the garden of the original Jebsen office, - and some of the houses from that time are still there - - -
The first thing you see is a wall with three ship's bells.
They are the bells from some of Jebsen's  legendary China traders like "Heinrich Jessen", "Clara Jebsen" and "Jacob Jebsen".

Wall from the original Jebsen property, decorated with ship's bells from some of the Company's well known China traders.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen ©)

The ship's bell of "Heinrich Jessen" from 1971.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen ©)

This bell from "Heinrich Jessen" is very well known to me!
I once had the privilege to sail on the ship where this bell was fitted, and that does indeed open up for some feelings and memories from the misty past.
My old "seaman's book" tells me, that it was way back in 1974, - 36 years ago!
And now I am suddenly standing right in front of the same ship's bell that shares some of my own history, - a real ship's bell that I had once heard in action, - and actually touched, - while we flew over the South China Sea -, but now hanging quitely, - high and dry -, on a wall in a small provincial city in Denmark!
Strange for an old sailor - - -  But very nice - - -  :-)   Makes me smile.

The ship's bell of China trader "Clara Jebsen", - 1959
(Photography by Karsten Petersen ©)

The ship's bell of China trader "Jacob Jebsen", - 1952
(Photography by Karsten Petersen ©)

See next picture, which is a model of old Aabenraa where you can see the location of the Jebsen property, - as shown on the previous pictures -
It's within the red circle which I have drawn in order to mark it - - -
The wall with ship's bells are to the right in the red circle, - partly covered by a tree - - -

The inner part of "Gammel havn", with the old Jebsen property. (Red Circle)
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

At present days, the new Jebsen office, - as seen on the previous picture -, is placed just behind the almost finished ship on the slipway at the bottom of the harbour - - -
At the bottom of the red circle, is the present days location of the unique designed apartment building - -

The Jebsen & Co. main office in Aabenraa.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

The big, Chinese characters seem to have a double meaning, which is quite normal in China.
The two first characters sounds very much like how the Jebsen name is pronounced, but in fact the first character means a "winner" and the following character means "success".
The third characters means "foreign"  and the last one is the old word for "company". (Hong)
Indeed an extremely good and very suitable name for a company like Jebsen.

Otherwise the town has many houses built from money made on shipping,- and of course you can still see the streets where the sailors and the shipbuilders once lived. In the surrounding countryside there are several big farms and mansions once owned by retired sea Captains and ship owners, but you have to know where to look.

"Store Pottergade"
- another interesting area of the city -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

At the end of "Store Pottergade" you will find this lovely square -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

  - whit strange houses, - where the China sailors once walked.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Back to "Slotsgade"
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Sailors were here!
Funny, old city house, - with lots of "Staffordshire" dogs in the windows.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Wonderful backyard details -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

- a final view of a wonderful, old street with wonderful, old houses -
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

But what about the many shipyards that made Aabenraa famous???
Anything left????
Well,- "Gammel Havn", - "Old Harbour" -, is still there, but the shipyards that turned out the great sailing ships have long gone, although Aabenraa still have a small repair yard.
However, - if you want to see what it once looked like, you can visit the maritime museum of Aabenraa, and see a great model of old Aabenraa, - including the port with its many shipyards - - -

See following pictures - - -

"Gammel Havn" - "Old harbour" -, with shipyards occupying both sides.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Side view of "Gammel havn.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

"Gammel Havn", - the inner harbour.
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

Close-up of Reimers' Yard
(Photography by Karsten Petersen)

That was a few of my pictures from old Aabenraa , - now "sleeping"-, but where China sailors once walked ,- where great clipper ships were built,- and fortunes were made by enterprising ship owners, ship builders and China traders - - -

But if you take a trip to the island Kalvø, you can still see the remains of Jørgen Bruhn's yard, where thefamed clipper ship  "Cimber" was built.
The characteristic terrace houses that once housed the ship builders are still there, - and likewise the yards administration building - - -
However,- the slipway where once the great clippers were built and launched, can only be seen as a hollow in the grass, - leading down to the beach - - -

But if you have imagination, - and can dream -, then stop and close your eyes for a moment, and try to "see" and "feel" the atmosphere of what once was!  And I guarantee, that you really can "smell" fresh, cut wood, sawdust and tar, - and "hear" the sounds of the ship builders axes, hammers and saws - - -

Continue to "KALVØ"

Also, - please try the link to  "The Gold Coast"
- a very special cemetery -

BACK to "The Ships" menu - -

Updated: June 19th. 2003,- Feb. 03. 2004,- Jan.14.2008, - March 14.2010