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Sea service fitness, the teddy collection at seaman's outpatient clinic in Hamburg

Sea service fitness and the doctor with the teddies

January 13th, 2019 | on the road

You might think you are in the waiting room of a pediatrician practice. But no. At the latest when we enter the room with the hundreds of teddies in sailor suits, I know: “Now, it starts again.” We are in the seaman’s outpatient clinic with Doctor Jan-Gerd Hagelstein. In a few days my dearest captain will leave to sign on his next ship.

Sea service fitness and the doctor with the teddies

Seafarers have to prove on a regular basis that they are able to perform this demanding job. A physician must examine their general state of health as well as their hearing, vision, and ability to distinguish different colours. No medical fitness certificate means: No more jobs on a ship. But it also means: No replacement for the currently serving colleague on board. Then, he has to stay on board and prolong his assignment, if not another colleague is willing and able to immediately and spontaneously end his vacation and fill in. Nothing works without a medical fitness certificate.

Doctor Hagelstein carries out these examinations. He is head of the seaman’s outpatient clinic in Hamburg Wilhelmsburg. Sailors come to see him, who fell ill or may have fallen into an accident on board their ship and need medical care in the port of Hamburg. They will then be presented to Doctor Hagelstein by the local ship agent. And there are those sailors who need a medical certificate of fitness for sea service.

Among the sailors is Doctor Hagelstein therefore is known all over town. Some of them get into a taxi and say, “Take me to the doctor where I used to be two years ago.” When the taxi driver asks for the name of the doctor, he answers: “No idea, but the one with the teddies.”

The German regulations demand a health check every two years. Other flag states require the seafarers to undergo such an examination before every assignment. The certificate may not be older than one week when signing on. That means, one of the last appointments before the departure is again and again the fitness for sea service examination. For us, that always means the trip to Hamburg paying a visit to Doctor Hagelstein, the one with the teddies.

Entering the corridor a maybe 50 cm big teddy with a big tropical hat welcomes the seamen. The waiting room dominates a wall-mounted showcase. Hundreds of teddy bears cavort in a variety of sailor outfits on the shelves. And not just teddy bears; ducks, rabbits, pelicans, seals and even a pig present themselves in a maritime look. The Sailor Pig is supposed to be Doctor Hagelstein’s favourite “Teddy”.

It’s all about going international in this ambulance. Just as international as in the wall-filling, large glass showcases. Like seafarers from all over the world come to Doctor Hagelstein, also teddies from all over the world have made their way into this clinic. They stand, sit or lie on their shelves and make the waiting sailors smile. Who knows, maybe this cute bunch of blue-and-white guys are an army of mascots protecting the sailors on the seven seas. Sailors are said to be very superstitious…

The examination is completed. The medical fitness certificate for the next assignment granted. Whenever I can arrange it, I accompany my husband to these examination dates and afterwards we are doing something in Hamburg. Today we are planning a visit to the Hamburg Art Gallery. We take a look at a very touching retrospective by Philippe Vandenberg. Doing so, this day is – despite the very close farewell for many weeks – a small, nice “shore leave in Hamburg”. Doctor Hagelstein says goodbye. Then, he turns to me with a cheerful smile: “I’m sorry if I contribute to your other half being on the road again for a long time, but if you keep him in such a good condition with your loving care…”

Book recommendation

Doctor Hagelstein’s collection of teddy bears is also included in the thriller “The Girl in the Fleet” by Christiane Fux. An exciting thriller located in Wilhelmsburg and to a large extent in the hospital Groß-Sand. The doctor with the teddies is also to be found, but in the book his name is “Django”… Exciting to read and an “insider tip” from the doctor!

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