Hamburg and Saint Petersburg are twin towns, but family members do not always look alike – especially in terms of public transportation. FINK.HAMBURG visited Saint Petersburg and discovered unique professions in both cities.

426 metres long and 24 metres deep: the tubes of the Old Elbtunnel lead hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists the way from one side of the Elbe to the other everyday. The tunnel opened in 1911. Cars were allowed to drive through until May 2019. Tunnel supervisors monitor the tubes in order to ensure the safety of the people underneath the Elbe.

“What I enjoy the most is dealing with people”

Frank Schnaus is 51 years old and works as a tunnel supervisor since five years. He is in charge for the safety.

“Apart from my job as a tunnel supervisor, I also work as a port radio operator for the flood protection. Five years ago my former office job got cut. I came to this place after retraining. First I was involved in the traffic management here. This includes instructing the cars or sending them up. From Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm, we used to have car traffic in the tunnel. For pedestrians and cyclists the tunnel is open 24 hours each day. Since May this year cars are not allowed to enter anymore. Therefore my job is now limited to cyclists and pedestrians. I work either in the early or in the late shift. Sometimes the city hosts festivals close to the harbor. Then we have additional night shifts.

The old Elbtunnel is 426,5 metres long and located 24 metres under the Elbe.
Picture: Nikolas Baumgartner

What I enjoy most about my job is working with people. The cyclists bother me. They cause trouble: For example they didn’t stick to the one-way street order as long as it existed. And they offend us. This happens especially during the Dockville Festival on the south side of the Elbe, when many young and drunk people take the way home through the Elbtunnel. At the Elbjazz Festival the audience is older. There are also many drunken people there, but they are peaceful. I had the best elevator rides with crowds that were drunk but in a good mood.

We operate five elevators: two passenger elevators and three freight elevators that were previously used for the cars. All elevators are still in operation. If we’re not understaffed, there’s one person at the bottom and one at the top. We change shifts, but I prefer to be down in the tunnel. When it’s 35 degrees in summer, I have my pleasant 16, 17 degrees down there – that’s really convenient. All I’d need is a soft ice cream machine and everything would be perfect.

Visit from a swinger club member

25 years ago, I worked at a shipyard. I’ve experienced pretty much everything there. But the Elbtunnel tops even these stories. We once had a situation with a woman that came directly from a swingers club in Berlin to Hamburg. She wore a bathrobe and sandals when she arrived at the Elbtunnel. I was upstairs and heard my colleagues scream, so I went down to check on him. When I saw the whole situation I went up again laughing.

There are five elevators on each side of the tunnel. Two passenger elevators and three freight elevators.
Picture: Nikolas Baumgartner

But there were not only funny situations. About two years ago, I was forced to evacuate the tunnel. Those situations are nightmares because from one second to another it is a matter of life and death. When I hear the alarm, I have three minutes to get everyone out.

There was a gas leak in the tunnel, people were throwing up and had to go to the hospital. The tunnel was completely closed, nobody came out. Police, the criminal investigation department and the fire brigade – everyone was there. We still don’t know what kind of gas it was and how it got into the tunnel. We suspect that somebody transported a container with a cargo bike and it accidentally opened during the ride. We still don’t have any suspect. Probably, we evacuated the driver as well. There was no time to speculate and to delay the evacuation since the health of people was at risk.