Magnificent Transformation

KD sets course for Advent
KD’s Advent programme in Cologne is the stuff of legends: the festively decorated ships are the perfect place to sit with friends, feast and revel in the atmosphere – all that while enjoying the stunning views of the Cologne Cathedral and historic city far removed from the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle. Simply wonderful! RheinZeit magazine observed first-hand as the event ships MS RheinEnergie and MS RheinFantasie were fitted with their extravagant, but at the same time tasteful Christmas outfit.

Whenever the wooden huts for the Christmas markets start sprouting up around the Cologne Cathedral, at the Alter Markt and various other prominent locations in and around the Cologne city centre, some of the ships in the KD fleet undergo a remarkable transformation. They receive their pre-Christmas vestments in order to create the perfect wintry Christmas backdrop for the numerous Advent events KD offers. First and foremost, it’s the MS RheinEnergie and MS RheinFantasie, the two modern event ships in the fleet, that over the course of several days are transformed from “normal” day-cruise ships into floating winter wonderlands. Hundreds of metres of sprayed fir garlands, thousands of lights, dozens of metres of snow wadding, Christmas trees several metres in height and even a large-than-life-size reindeer, plus loads of oversized presents and shimmering Christmas tree baubles measuring almost a metre across: these are the elements that decorating professional Nicole Gandelau (see interview box) and her team bring together each year to decorate the two ships before the first Advent cruise.

Creative solutions

Anyone looking over her shoulder while she’s working soon notices how much work goes into the decoration that at the end appears so effortless. It also requires a great deal of creativity and manual skill to transform a room like the large salon in the MS RheinFantasie so dramatically. Nicole Gandelau tastefully coordinated the colour scheme to match the colours of the KD and the ship, so that when Nicole and her team leave the room after around 72 hours of “endu-rance decorating”, it lights up in silvery white and velvety night-blue. The dozens of giant Christmas tree baubles hanging from the high ceilings of the hall are a real eye-catcher. Some observers may be amazed that they’re available in such a large size. They’re not actually; Nicole Gandelau pretty much invented them specifically for this purpose. And she revealed their secret to us: These round, matt shimmering giant balls are actually balloons – very special ones that don’t have the usual droplet shape and have a very special surface.

In order to achieve the perfect effect, the qualified decorator, who has additional training as a balloon artist, has a trick up her sleeve: She pulls one balloon over another to create the desired colour. Where on a normal-sized bauble there’s a thin metal loop that’s used to hang it on a tree, Gandelau’s giant KD baubles have a cap made from thick cardboard tubes cut into slices and covered with silver fabric. And the bauble illusion is perfect. In order to hang the baubles from the high ceiling, Nicole Gandelau moves through the hall with a scaffold tower, climbs up six metres, measures off invisible nylon threads and systematically positions one bauble after the other.

Stapling is part of the trade

In the background, you can hear the regular clack-ing of a staple gun. Several members of the decorating team are using them to affix lengths of snow wadding around all the panorama windows on the ship. Elegant white garlands made from artificial fir branches are everywhere. The Christmas presents are already stacked up on the stage of the MS RheinFantasie – mock-ups, of course; large cardboard boxes wrapped in glittery wrapping paper complete with giant bows. Next to them, there’s a small winter woodland scene made from imitation fir trees whose branches are covered in artificial snow wadding and countless lights.

As soon as Nicole Gandelau and her team have finished with one ship, they gather up their equipment and move on to the next just a few metres further along the Rhine. While the MS RheinFantasie lies resplendent in her Christmas garb, her big sister, the MS RheinEnergie is still in a sad state of limbo between the hall being cleared of everything and the big decorating spree beginning. A single reindeer stands forlornly on the stage. It’s hard to believe that in less than 48 hours, this ship too will be transformed into a Christmas dream come true.

The decorator’s work is always a race against the clock, because true to their calling, both ships are in service throughout the year for events and therefore only available to receive the most elaborate make-over of the year at the last minute. But when KD’s Advent programme gets underway on the 24th of November, none of the passengers will have a clue that work was still being done on board right up to the deadline. Guests joining us for festive afternoon cruises, Advent brunches and all-inclusive Advent evening cruises are greeted by a room bathed in twinkling lights and a festive ambience that forms the wonderfully cosy and at the same time splendid backdrop for the numerous pre-Christmas events on board ship.

An Interview with the »Deco Queen«

Nicole Gandelau is a real bundle of energy. While coordinating her staff and keeping track of everything that still had to be done, she gave RheinZeit magazine an interview, casually hanging the giant Christmas baubles high up beneath the ceiling in the process.

How do you come up with a decoration concept like the one for the two KD event ships?

It’s a combination of many factors: A decoration concept must work in the room being used, be appropriate for the event taking place and be practically feasible. In KD’s case, that meant the decoration needed to match the colour scheme of the ships, plus it’s going to be used over and over for several years so it needs to be easy to dismantle and store too. My goal is to always come up with individual solutions that are perfectly suited to the event. This sometimes means that certain elements that I plan to use aren’t available off the shelf, and we have to make them ourselves. But I’ve been in the business for over 20 years so I have a great deal of experience and tinker around until I come up with a solution. For KD, for instance, I’d planned to use these white fir garlands only to then discover that I couldn’t buy any that looked attractive. So I just re-sprayed some green garlands. They’ve lasted a few years so far, and look much better than anything available for purchase.

Is there a difference between developing a decoration concept for a ship and a room on land?

Yes and no. I always take the room that’s to be decorated into account in my designs, of course, so the process as such is pretty much the same for any room. But carrying out work on a ship is certainly a bit different. We had to bring every string of lights and every balloon on board by hand. In most other places, you’d be able to drive the truck close to the venue, and sometimes even inside it. In this case, you can’t get any closer than the Rhine promenade, so everything has to be carried across the jetty. So you think twice about constructing large-scale and heavy elements. Plus we have a very narrow time window here, because the ships are constantly in service.

What happens to the decorations once Christmas is over?

We can only use the balloons that we make the Christmas baubles from and the artificial snow wadding once. Everything else is carefully dismantled after the Christmas programme finishes, packed up and taken to the Niehl docks. KD has a large compound there with warehousing, and that’s where the decoration elements are stored until they’re needed again.

Weekend trips
with MS Swiss Crystal

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