Papenburg is an East Frisian town of about 38000 people near the Dutch border, which is probably best known these days as the home of the Meyer Werft , where many of the giant cruise ships carrying tourists across the world’s oceans are built, complicated by the fact that Papenburg is located about 40 kilometres inland along the rather narrow river Ems, which makes getting the newly built cruise liners to the North Sea something of a challenge. If you’ve ever been on a cruise in the past twenty years or so, chances are pretty good that the cruise ship was built in Papenburg.
Steampunk is not exactly something you would associate with Papenburg, even though the steamship MV Liemba a.k.a. Graf Goetzen, which starred in The African Queen as the German gunboat Königin Luise, was built here in 1913. Therefore, I was very surprised to learn that Papenburg not only has an active Steampunk community, but also hosts Steamfest, a Steampunk festival which took place for the second time in 2019. And since Papenburg is only about 114 kilometres away, I of course decided to pay Steamfest a visit.
Steamfest took place on the grounds of Gut Altenkamp, an 18th century manor house with a historical garden a little outside the town. The venue is absolutely perfect for the purpose, because it feels almost as if you’d somehow stumbled into the mansion of an eccentric inventor.
The Gut Altenkamp mansion, built in 1728 by architect Peter Pictorius.
The entrance of Gut Altenkamp with the crests of the von Velen and Ascheberg zu Botzlar families.
The aristocratic owners of Gut Altenkamp have long been washed away by the tides of history. These days, the mansion is owned by the city of Papenburg and serves as an art gallery and venue for cultural events. It’s still an imposing building, even if most of the original decorations and furnishing are gone, so here are some photos of the mansion’s interior:
The former kitchen of Gut Altenkamp with its vaulted brick ceilings.
One room in the mansion still has its original 18th century murals of Rococo people pretending to be shepherd (it was a thing back then) and enjoying the simple life
Gut Altenkamp also has beautiful chandeliers like this Venetian glass chandelier.
Another beautiful chandelier, this one made from brass. Because this room was better lit, you can also get a good look at the stucco decorated ceiling.
The altar triptych as well as the statues are from the house chapel of Gut Altenkamp, but after WWI they were relocated to a small public chapel next to a war memorial just outside the gates.
And here is the war memorial just outside Gut Altenkamp with the chapel in the background.
A few stalls and exhibits were inside the mansion, but most of Steamfest took place outside in the extensive park of Gut Altenkamp with its 200 year old yew hedges.
A look across Steamfest Papenburg viewed from a second story window of the Gut Altenkamp mansion.
The sign above this gate says “Step inside” and welcomes you to Steamfest
A look across the grounds of Steamfest.
All in all, there were more than 3000 people at Steamfest, which is a lot for a town of 38000 people in a sparsely populated rural border region. A lot of the visitors were mundanes, often families with children, but I also saw a whole group of bikers from a local motorcycle club. There also was a sizeable number of people in Steampunk outfits, including a fellow dressed up as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. There was also a surprising number of pirates, which isn’t that surprising, considering that East Frisia has a proud history of piracy and was home and refuge of the legendary pirate Klaus Störtebeker. I also saw an amazing Jack Sparrow cosplayer who looked just like the real thing. Many of both visitors and exhibitors came from the nearby Netherlands, which has a big Steampunk scene. As for myself, I did dress up a bit with a long skirt, a Belle Epoque style blouse and Steampunk jewellery, which makes me a fair weather Steampunker, I guess.
Vintage bicycles and motorbikes steampunked up.
A replica of the Time Machine from George Pal’s eponymous 1960 movie, which is definitely proto-Steampunk, as well as a Steampunk mini-car.
This vehicle looks as if it has escaped from a Frank R. Paul cover for a 1920s edition of Amazing Stories.
A Steampunk R2D2 on display at Steamfest
A wood-carved Yoda observes Steamfest.
Wood carvings on display at Steamfest. In the background, the carver just puts the finishing touches to Groot.
A fire and water fountain on display at Steamfest Papenburg
We have found the dark secret of Gut Altenkamp. Who may this poor soul have been? An inconvenient wife, a spurned rival, an unfortunate chamber maid… The chalkboard next to the skeleton reads, “Do not disturb the excavation site! Fine: 1 crate of beer”, by the way.
The mad woman in the attic of Gut Altenkamp has been let out to enjoy the festivities.
A selection of exhibits, including a Lovecraftian horror bursting forth from a vintage radio.
We have found Donovan’s brain and it is now wired to a computer answering trivia questions. I’m not sure whether the candies on the right are for the inventor and the brain.
Donovan’s brain even has a girlfriend (the brain in a jar from “Totalled”, maybe?) nicknamed Frau Professor.
This is not a custom-built Steampunk device, but a vintage TELEX machine. Still in working order, too.
The classic Volkswagen Beetle is Dieselpunk rather than Steampunk anyway and this overgrown rusty carcass of a Beetle looks positively post-apocalyptic.
Again Dieselpunk rather than Steampunk, the volunteer fire brigade of Aschendorf presented some of its vintage vehicles.
More vintage vehicles courtesy of the Volunteer Fire Brigade Aschendorf
The Nautilus One-Man Band from the Netherlands performs at Steamfest. There were also two or three other bands performing on the main stage in the evenings.
Part of the grounds had been turned into a mini fun fair with various vintage rides, much to the enjoyment of the younger visitors.
This very small vintage Ferris wheel was clearly the favourite of the many children at Steamfest.
A vintage carousel at Steamfest.
A vintagte swing boat ride at Steamfest
A Dad and his daughter try the Test Your Strength machine at Steamfest.
Steam and coal can be used for more than just powering machinery, as this spit roasted whole pig at Steamfest proves.
This pirate ship at Steamfest is a stall selling drinks, including some delicious Belgian cherry lambik.
All in all, Steamfest in Papenburg was a highly enjoyable event in a beautiful venue. I went with a friend who’s not a Steampunker and he’s now a fan as well. According to a paywalled article from the local paper, Steamfest will take place again next year and I’ll certainly be there.