Sights Hamburg’s Buoy-Men

Like Hamburg’s Alster swans, artist Stephan Balkenhol’s floating statues reappear on the water every spring.

Balkenhol's Buoy-Men in Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg’s Buoy-Men

Since 1993, Hamburg’s waterscapes have been defined by the wooden figures carved by artist Stephan Balkenhol. The oak sculptures are mounted on shallow water barrels at four different locations in the Hanseatic city. These average looking fellows in their black trousers and white shirts inevitably attract the attention of passers-by. Every autumn, after about seven months on the water when the buoy-men start to look a bit pale, the artist takes them back to their winter quarters in the Stackmeisterei on the Finkenwerder river island for a little upkeep.

The Vier Männer auf Bojen (or ‘four men on buoys’) were each carved from an oak trunk so that the figure and the base are a single piece of wood. Including the bases, each is 2.40 metres high and weighs nine tons. They are mounted on wobbly buoys chained to stone anchors beneath the waves. This leaves them bobbing atop the water, seemingly unconcerned with the goings-on around them. This impression is strengthened by their expressions (if you can get close enough to see), which are stoically calm. Their total lack of pose and gesture gives the statues a serene peculiarity. This somewhat blank appearance was deliberate on the part of the artist. Balkenhol intended for the figures to be contradictory: bobbing uncontrollably on the one hand, while appearing completely unconcerned on the other. Thus, the figures remain deliberately distant, anonymous and enigmatic. According to Balkonhol himself, his ‘sculptures do not tell stories - there is something secretive hidden in them - it's not my job to reveal it, but the viewer's to discover it.’

You can see the four buoy-men at aquatic locations throughout the city from March to October:
- In Elbe near Övelgönne in Altona
- In the Serrahn in Bergedorf
- In the Outer Alster Lake
- In the south Elbe near Harburg

Additionally, many others of Balkenhol’s statues can be seen year round throughout Hamburg, including in front of Hamburg’s large public library in the city centre and in front of the Hagenbeck Zoo