On 1st May 2019 there was a paddle steamer parade on the River Elbe setting off from Dresden and sailing up river in consort.
There was much blowing of whistles, waving and merriment as they set off.
Krippen was last rebuilt away from Dresden more than two decades ago and in the doing of it somehow ended up with a fully enclosed engine and boiler room where all the other Dresden paddle steamers were rebuilt with open machinery and boiler spaces. They each have a manning requirement of just one engineer to operate, oil up and supervise the engine, boiler and ancillary machinery.
These one off days are great fun, attract enthusiasts and can produce good revenue. However you can’t run paddle steamers with a business model based just on these sort of one off special events however much fun they may be to enjoy. The revenue needs to keep flowing in day after day over a longer operating season of between 100 and 200 days.
For this, in my view, the normal business model at Dresden is superb with a variety of trip options appealing to a wide variety of market segments. These include round trips from Dresden back to Dresden of about an hour and a half duration which appeal to the casual punter. There is the ferry between Dresden and the magnificent Castle Pillnitz. Then there are are day trips from Dresden up river into Saxon Switzerland and on to Bad Schandau or Konigstein or down river through the wine regions to Meissen and beyond. Usually two paddle steamers shuttle up and down through Saxon Switzerland between Pirna and Bad Schandau with an extension to Castle Pillntz from the south. There are evening cruises often featuring a jazz band and so on.
It is a masterly business model capitalising on the busyness of the whole area which attracts widely different and various market segments ranging from the moneyed jet setting elite, through those flooding to Dresden as an international tourist hub, to locals wanting a day or afternoon out. And let’s not forget those who love hiking with their strong boots and fondness for hilly climbs just up river in what is called Saxon Switzerland because of its craggy peaks which conjure up the background setting of Weber’s opera Der Freischutz.
However last summer Covid knocked a massive hole in this business model. Dresden was pretty much deserted and the company running the steamers was forced into liquidation. Fortunately it was bought by other interests. The services restarted this season with the Pillnitz shuttle from Dresden on 16th April. Let’s hope that it is a good summer for them to pack in the passengers and build up the revenue once again as in earlier years.