BallinStadt Emigration Museum
From: Hamburg, Germany
Between 1850 and 1939, some 5 million emigrants (mostly from Eastern Europe) boarded ships in Hamburg to pursue their dreams in the New World. At the height of the emigration boom, the German shipping line HAPAG was carrying up to 200,000 settlers per year across the Atlantic from Hamburg and--after 1902--from the Steubenhöft maritime terminal in Cuxhaven, 100 km or 60 miles downstream from Hamburg at the junction of the Elbe and the North Sea.
Albert Ballin, who inherited his father's emigration agency, offered a complete package for settlers leaving Poland, Russia, and other countries: Emigrants could walk or buy land transportation from their homes to Hamburg, stay at a hotel or guesthouse, transfer to the ship, and set sail for the U.S.A. or South America--with everything taken care of by Mr. Ballin's agents.
In the late 1800s, however, an outbreak of disease in Hamburg led to fears that emigrants were bringing illness with them. Albert Ballin (who by then was a director of HAPAG) came up with the idea of housing emigrants in dormitories called "Emigrant Halls." Those who were sick could be isolated until they recovered.
By 1901, demand for accommodation was so great that HAPAG built new Emigrant Halls on Veddel Island. Within three years, the settlement--by now known as--could accommodate up to 5,000 emigrants, with a kosher kitchen and dining room for Jewish passengers (who represented about 80 per cent of emigrants leaving Eastern Europe from Hamburg at that time).
Emigration came to an end with World War II in 1939. After the war, the old Emigrant Halls were used as temporary housing, but eventually nearly all the buildings were turned down. According to BallinStadt's official history, the one remaining structure--Pavilion 13/14--was used as a car workshop for many years.
In 2004, work began on a reconstruction of several Emigrant Halls and restoration of the one that remained. Today, BallinStadt is a museum dedicated to the emigrants who followed their dreams from Hamburg to the New World.
(The museum also has computers where visitors can research family history on computers, using the Hamburg Passenger Lists from 1850 to 1934.)
BallinStadt is normally open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 or 6 p.m. daily, depending on the time of year.
The museum's pleasant and inexpensive restaurant, "Nach Amerika," has similar hours. It's located in a former canteen of the Emigration Halls.
For current information, including ticket prices, see the BallinStadt Web site's "Opening Hours and Prices" page.
How to reach BallinStadt:
BallinStadt is on Veddel, an island in the Elbe not far from downtown Hamburg. You can easily reach the Veddel (BallinStadt) S-Bahn station on line S1 or S31, then walk through the park until you reach the museum.
Even better, take the Maritime Circle Line boat, which is a "hop on, hop off" boat shuttle that stops at museums and sightseeing points around the harbor. The boat stops right in front of the BallinStadt entrance. (Maritime Circle Line also offers a combined boat and museum ticket.)
For more advice on reaching BallinStadt (including directions for motorists), see the museum Web site's "Visit" page.
The 's shuttle boat will drop you off at the "BallinStadt" pier in front of the museum.
From the boat landing, follow the short path to the museum and enter via the glassed-in pavilion between the Emigrant Halls.
The entrance pavilion includes a ticket counter and a computer area where you can look up relatives free of charge with Ancestry.de, using the Hamburg Passenger Lists.
You'll have a better chance of success if you know your ancestor's name and year of departure.
The Emigrant Halls are BallinStadt's star attractions. These dormitories (one restored, three reconstructed) house most of the museum's exhibits.
In one of the halls, you can see what the emigrant dormitories looked like in BallinStadt's heyday.
A stylized ship's replica leads to a series of exhibits that portray life aboard an immigrant ship.
This exhibit shows tweendecks passenger accommodation, circa 1870. ("Tweendecks" was the forerunner of "economy class" or "steerage.")
Most emigrants were poor, but those with more money could travel comfortably in second class. (This exhibit replicates a HAPAG stateroom from the 20th Century.
When they reached Ellis Island in New York Harbor, immigrants were confronted with a list of questions. Some of the questions were easy to answer (name, age, gender), but others were "catch questions" that could lead to deportation if answered incorrectly.
This display of the Statue of Liberty behind wire fencing symbolizes the "so near and yet so far" feelings that immigrants often had when they reached New York Harbor and weren't yet able to experience the land of their dreams.
BallinStadt served hearty fare to its emigrant clientele, and today's museum continues that tradition. The informal "Nach Amerika" restaurant is decorated to resemble the BallinStadt dining halls of yesteryear, with a menu that offers traditional Hamburg dishes along with sausages, schnitzels, pastries, and other modern-day edibles.
(I had an excellent platter of herring, a fried egg, and toast; I skipped the Labskaus, a sailors' hash made with salted herring, corned beef, lard, potatoes, and beets.)
Copyright © 1996-2023 Durant and Cheryl Imboden. All rights reserved.