Against the backdrop of the old city of Hamburg, tugs swing and sway along to the sound of a of pop music.
First a bit about the Hamburg tug scene. A massive port, Hamburg was long the stronghold of a number of local companies that co-operated by pooling their tugs to provide services in proportion to their fleet size. They also struck a tariff, that compensated them for a relatively large crew size.
In 1999 the Dutch company Kotug "invaded" Hamburg. With smaller crews, they were able to give lower rates, and signed contracts with certain shipowners. The local combine reduced its tarifs, and still maintain their co-op dispatching system.
The tug ballet was first performed in the 1980s as a means of displaying the versatility of tractor tugs -those tugs with propulsion units mounted forward -either azimuthing Schottel units or Voith type- the pioneers of true tractor tugs. (Azimuthing stern drive tugs, ASDs, are sometimes called reverse tractors, because the drives are mounted aft).
The five tugs featured in the ballet, represent the partners in the co-operative and are beautifully painted and shined up, even though they work daily in the port.
From our vantage point aboard a harbour tour boat, which was also the centre of the ballet's focus, we got some very tight views of tugs in action: