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    The Story of the “Polar Fir”

    Der Weihnachtsbaum

    Von allen den Bäumen jung und alt,
    Von allen den Bäumen gross und klein,
    Von allen in unserm ganzen Wald,
    Was mag doch der allerschönste sein?
    Der schönste von allen weit und breit
    Das ist doch allein, wer zweifelt dran?
    Der Baum, der da grünet allezeit,
    Den heute mir bringt der Weihnachtsmann.

    Wenn Alles schon schläft in stiller Nacht,
    Dann holet er ihn bei Sternenschein
    Und schlüpfet, eh' einer sich's gedacht,
    Gar heimlich damit ins Haus hinein.
    Dann schmückt er mit Lichtern jeden Zweig,
    Hängt Kuchen und Nüss' und Äpfel dran:
    So macht er uns Alle freudenreich,
    Der liebe, der gute Weihnachtsmann.

    (August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben 1798–1874, German poet)


    The above poem is the story of the “polar fir”. For 52 years now, it has been shining punctually on the first of Advent in the port of Reykjavik and is a reminder that Icelandic fishermen came to the aid of starving children and adults in Hamburg with fresh fish, herring and cod liver oil. “Give us a gift of a Christmas fir!” That was the reply from the Icelandic shipowner Friðþjófur Ó. Jóhannesson when asked at that time by the director of the Port of Hamburg how the people could repay the Icelanders for their help.

    The North German ports of Bremerhaven and Hamburg have always had good trading relations with the small island state of Iceland, which lies just south of the Arctic Circle. Even before World War II, the two trawlers “Gylfi” and “Vörður” of the shipowner Friðþjófur Ó. Jóhannesson brought fresh fish to the North German ports. Trading relations were resumed again after World War II. Friðþjófur Ó. Jóhannesson was delegated to the Hanseatic city of Hamburg by the association of Icelandic fishing boat owners. The Icelandic ambassador in Washington, Thor Thors, worked to ensure that landings from ships were again made possible within the framework of the Marshall Plan. Other members of the Icelandic fishermen's association coordinated the activities in the other German ports. And this is how in 1947, after World War II, Icelandic fishermen supplied the destitute North German people with fresh fish, herring, and cod liver oil.

    “Give us a gift of a Christmas fir!”

    However, in 1947, the people initially had entirely different concerns to deal with. The idea was therefore only taken up again in 1965 by the so-called “Viking round” (Wikingerrunde) of the Hamburg association of journalists. They remembered that Icelandic fishermen had handed out fish soup to hungry children on the Elbe after World War II. Since then, a Christmas fir tree has been shipped to Iceland in time for the first day of Advent as a sign of gratitude. The shipping company Eimskip looks after the shipping transport with carriage paid. “This tradition has continued and a fir tree was shipped to Reykjavik with the Eimskip shipping company this year for the 53rd time”, says Jan Felix Großbruchhaus, Managing Director of Eimskip in Hamburg. He added: “Over this long period, many personalities, companies and forest owners have supported this drive”.

    It is fully financed by private donors and sponsors, which have changed several times over the many years. This year’s polar fir was donated by the Harsefeld forestry office from the Holzurburg district. It is a 31-year-old silver fir that is 17 meters tall and weighs 2,100 kg. Its size is incredibly imposing, which placed high demands in terms of loading. Care had to be taken to ensure that no branches got broken. The transportation by truck was sponsored by the Gesellschaft der Freunde Islands, [Society of the Friends of Iceland], Hamburg, and by DIG [Society of German Icelanders], Cologne, which played a lead role in seeing the project through to completion. The road transportation was carried out by the company Zabel.

    The fir tree was loaded onto the GODAFOSS container ship on 15 November 2017, at the EUROGATE container terminal in Bremerhaven for the first time. A few days prior to that, the Container Freight Station (CFS) of the EUROGATE terminal had lashed the sensitive cargo to a flat rack such that it was seaworthy and secure. The Bremerhaven company didn’t hesitate even one second when it came to supporting the project. “We are delighted to be able to contribute to continuing the tradition of the polar fir. It’s a marvellous project that we are carrying out here jointly with our customer Eimskip. Bremerhaven has also traditionally had close connections with Iceland”, says Michael Albers, head of Administration and Sales at the Container Freight Station.

    The polar fir reached its destination after seven days, arriving on 22 November. The lights were lit for the first time on 2 December – one day before the first of Advent – during a small ceremony in the port of Reykjavik, which the German Ambassador to Iceland also attended. Members of the Hafnarfjörður brass band played Christmas songs. From now on, the festively decorated polar fir will accompany the Advent and Christmas period and be a reminder of how important it is at all times in this world that people help other people in need. Even if the repayment is “just” a Christmas fir. The sense of gratitude and joy that emanates from this Christmas fir outshines everything. Thanks to the Icelandic fishermen!