Gottfried Knöbel owns almost 1,500 miniature model ships, many of them are Hapag-Lloyd ships. How did he end up with this collection?
In a quiet residential district in Cologne, hundreds of kilometers from the sea, Gottfried Knöbel opens the door of his house to reveal an incredible collection that spans three floors. Just inside the door, in Knöbel’s home office, ships fill a giant glass case: tankers, cargo vessels, containerships and passenger ships. Almost all of them are on a 1:1250 scale, only a few centimeters tall yet tremendously detailed. Many of these miniatures are made of white alloy, but there are also some ships made of artificial resin, pine bark or paper – and this is only the beginning of Knöbel’s collection.
His collection includes nearly 1,500 miniature models – of which 142 are Hapag-Lloyd ships. So how did this retiree in Cologne come to own such a maritime treasure? In response to this question, Knöbel smiles to himself and sits down, saying, “That’s a long story. Do you have some time?”
He begins his story in South Africa
, where he grew up and where his passion for ships was first sparked. Knöbel’s favorite hobby as a small boy was playing at a stream with a wooden ship that his father had built for him. A journey that his family took on passenger ships from Cape Town to Germany
and back when he was seven years old made a huge impression on him as well. The young ship aficionado also had a view of Table Bay and the Cape Town port from the apartment where he grew up. He kept a notebook of all the shipping companies and the arrival and departure times of their ships. “Every Sunday when a ship from Deutsche Afrika-Linien arrived in port, I pestered my father until he agreed to go with me to the port to look at the ship from up close,” he recalls.
Gottfried Knöbel completed training in shipping and freight forwarding, and then later had frequent professional contact with Hapag-Lloyd while working as a dispatch manager in a chemical trading enterprise in Cologne. When he received an invitation to travel onboard the then-new Heidelberg Express in 1989, he was quick to say yes. “I’ll never forget this journey,” Knöbel says. Naturally, a model of this containership is now among the vessels in his vast collection.
The collection of some 300 miniature ships at the large Hapag-Lloyd headquarters in Hamburg serves as a model for Knöbel’s own private collection. He had the chance to see these models during an appointment at Ballin House right after his containership journey – then purchased his first model ships in 1989, right after his visit to Hapag-Lloyd.
For more than a quarter of a century now, the 72-year-old has been collecting ships. Knöbel is especially fond of very small ships that have been made with a great deal of precision and custom-designed ships. After his sons grew up and moved out, Knöbel added a “ship room” on the first floor of his house in addition to the display of ships in his office. In the hallway in front of this room, Knöbel has a collection of Majorcan boats that he has carved from pine bark. “I always carve them when I’m on vacation,” he says. “For me that’s the ultimate in relaxation.” In his basement there are more glass cases full of miniatures, as well as models of container trucks, trains and containers. Knöbel says his wife supports his hobby, even helping him dust the display cases – although this is a task that can take up an entire day or more, thanks to the incredible number of ships.
The collector is especially proud of his model of the Hamburg Express, the 366-meter-long Hapag-Lloyd flagship. And Gottfried Knöbel still has a dream for the future: “Visiting the original of this ship some day would be the best,” he says.