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This evening marks the closing event of the Hamburg shipping week, when the 66th Eisbeinessen is held at the CCH Congress Centrum and the city becomes the hub of the shipping world for the 5,000 industry professionals and their guests who attend.

The Eisbein – always held on the first Friday in November – is a key event in the shipping calendar and remains the biggest annual maritime event in the world.

Organised by a committee from the VHSS – the Association of Hamburg shipbrokers and ship agents – the event has come a long way from its inception on All Saint’s Day in 1948, when 110 shipbrokers embarked on a passenger ship that had served as a restaurant in the war-ravaged port city.

The VHSS recounts the history of the Eisbein: “In 1948, the member companies of the Hamburg Shipbrokers’ Association had every reason to celebrate. It was a special year for shipping which had been lying idle since the end of the war – at last, the 110 shipbrokers left in Hamburg had a chance to do foreign business again.

“Gradually, more and more lines were resuming their operations to Hamburg. The general ban on commissioning new vessels of all kinds was lifted in summer 1948. What was more natural than to celebrate the arrival of the upswing with a business dinner?”

It was such a success that it was repeated the following year. Sixty-six years later, many of the 4,500 diners and the 500 after-dinner guests came from across the world to do business in Hamburg – charterers, shipowners and brokers hoping to conclude new fixtures or extensions; or ocean carrier executives combining networking opportunities with customer, terminal and liner agency meetings.

From the containership owners’ perspective, 2014 has been another tough year for charter hire rates, and the asset values of their ships has hardly impressed – although residual gloom and doom is typically shrugged off as stakeholders latch onto the positives and look forward to a better return in 2015.

Eisbeinessen 1

Any negatives in a challenging year will be lost in the hubbub of thousands of conversations as tables await the organisers’ normal military-style efficiency in the serving of smoked pork knuckle, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes – washed down with plenty of beer and schnapps.

It has been another eventful year for container shipping – ships are getting bigger and bigger, which has put pressure on the two biggest European hubs of Rotterdam and Hamburg, not least because of an 8% year-on-year growth in Asian imports.

Moreover, it has been the year of the alliances with all the major liner players now sorted into vesse-sharing groups, ready to reap the benefits of economy-of-scale co-operation.

And lower oil prices mean there will be a good reason to smile for many ship operators, once the sore heads from the Eisbein party start to ease.

“Will one hundred business cards will be enough?” asked a colleague before travelling to Hamburg.

“Double it,” I replied, “and have some in reserve!”

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  • Janny Kok

    November 07, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I’m wondering what it would be like to sit at table with thousands of top brass in the shipping industry. In Rotterdam and Amsterdam we have to make do with maritime dinners that attract hundreds (close to a thousand) attendees. We call these get-togethers ‘gezellig'(pleasant).

    • Gavin van Marle

      November 07, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Which in German is “gemutlich” and in Danish “gemytlig”. And we have no equivalent in English – which might tell you something about our national character…

  • Ummo Bruns

    November 07, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Luckily the waiters and the butchers were not on strike in Hamburg . Happy Eibeining!