Recently I made a sort of a pilgrimage to see U-boats. I went to Oslo first, to visit the ship museums and say hello again to Fram, Kon-Tiki, and the Viking ships (Gokstad and Tune and Oseberg) before taking an overnight ferry from Oslo to Kiel, Germany (I’ve seen Sweden! only as a line on the horizon, but still . . . and Denmark, same story). I’d timed the visit for the full moon over the Baltic and we had great weather.
In Kiel there’s a VIIC u-boat on the beach, U-995, who spent several years as the Norwegian ship Kaura before being returned to West Germany as a war memorial. It has been minimally altered from its postwar state for tourists by cutting entry portals fore and aft; two interior round hatches between sections are still there, so I was relieved to find out that a woman of my size and general creakiness was able to get through (the people ahead of me first time through weren’t so lucky, I’m sorry to say, they were older and creakier and had to turn around). My friend Steve and I (Maggie, my wife, stayed home, she’s unaccountably not that interested in u-boats) went through three times (I think) on Day One, then again twice on Day Two. If a person stood there and concentrated hard during times where there were fewer people in the boat a person could imagine that she got a good sense of living aboard.
The bridge and conning tower were locked off . . . you could look, but you couldn’t climb. I can’t say I was surprised. Access is by ladder, first of all; second of all, imagine the liability issues of letting people climb up and out on top of the u-boat at will.
I stopped by in Chicago on the way home to visit U-505, a IX model. After U-995, the model IX is huge (one of the primary reasons for my trip was to see for myself and get a grip on the size and scale of things). U-505 had been much more extensively remodeled for tourism, but with that and the tour guides it was much more accessible for the general public, all to the good. Bridge and conning tower, again, locked off, but since it’s its own exhibit there was space for hands-on interactive fun stuff, attack periscope, torpedo simulator, front dive plane operator, etc.
All in all it was a great trip, I’d like to go back and see them both again and maybe I will, and I’d better get busy on my Ghost Flotilla U-boat project now, hadn’t I?