Where did people move to Boston from?

From Hamburg to the big wide world

Status: 02/10/2021 5:21 p.m.

Around 1900 Hamburg was one of the most important European emigration ports. Eastern Europeans in particular get on board a ship here. The goal: America. Between 1850 and 1934 alone, five million emigrants started this journey.

by Janine Kühl

Before that, people mainly used Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre as a starting point for crossing the ocean. But in the course of the growing migration flows from Eastern Europe, the steamship traffic from Hamburg and Bremen to North and South America is increasing rapidly.

Escape from poverty - seek happiness

For millions of people, new beginnings are linked with hope for freedom or prosperity.

The motivation to emigrate is as varied as the people themselves. In the middle of the 19th century, political reasons predominate, for example after the failed revolution of 1848 in the German states. With increasing industrialization, economic and social needs come to the fore. Pogroms against Jews in Russia, threatened military service or a back seat in the order of succession drive people away from home.

Emigration in numbers

In 1856 the Hapag shipping company only carried 3,043 emigrants from Hamburg to New York. The number rose in waves to 66,862 in 1890. From 1903, more than 100,000 people emigrated continuously via the Hanseatic city every year. In 1913 the wave peaked with 192,733 emigrants.

Entry ban after the outbreak of cholera

The majority of the emigrants are Eastern Europeans who travel to Hamburg by train. But also Germans, especially farmers and factory workers, make their way to the Hanseatic city. From there they travel to America on the steamers of the Hamburg-based Hapag shipping company, but usually have to wait some time for a free seat on board. Given the crowds, the city's private inns are often completely overcrowded. However, emigration experienced a marked cut in 1892. With the outbreak of cholera, the Hamburg Senate imposed rigorous entry bans, so that emigration traffic in the Hanseatic city came to an abrupt halt.

The Hamburg shipowner Albert Ballin had the emigration halls built on the Veddel.

This means a great loss for the Hapag shipping company. After tough negotiations with the Senate, General Director Albert Ballin succeeds in re-enabling emigrants to enter the Hanseatic city from 1893 onwards. However, the emigrants now have to undergo a medical check before they are even allowed to enter. From now on, the people of Hamburg are particularly suspicious of Russians, as they blame them for the outbreak of the great cholera epidemic.

Ballin has the "city within the city" built

It was mainly Eastern European emigrants who emigrated via Hamburg, who often had to wait several weeks for their embarkation.

The city can hardly cope with the growing number of so-called transit hikers from Eastern Europe. Ballin is now finding a solution that relieves the logistic houses and the previously used barracks, keeps emigrants out of the city as far as possible and, last but not least, gives his ships excellent capacity utilization. From 1901, the resourceful businessman had several emigration halls built on the Elbe island of Veddel. The site was continuously expanded until 1907. The result is a "city within the city". A total of 30 buildings can accommodate up to 5,000 people. Jewish emigrants are specifically recruited. For them there is a synagogue, separate dormitories and dining rooms where kosher food is served.

Between barracking and "all inclusive" provision

Without the necessary papers such as passport, visa and ticket, emigration was not possible.

The emigrants often stay in the emigration halls for several weeks before they can finally go on board a ship. 150 employees ensure that the tightly structured everyday life on the site works. For two marks a day, an emigrant can get a bed and three meals. Those willing to emigrate sleep in relatively spacious dormitories with high ceilings, so that the air here is better than in the old barracks that were previously available to them. A music band and a small shop provide variety. Services in church and synagogue deal with fears and worries. In addition, religious organizations not only provide pastoral care, but also provide practical help in obtaining documents or in the event of communication difficulties.

Embarkation for healthy people only

The "Imperator" was launched in 1912 and drove for the Hapag shipping company on the Hamburg-New York route.

Hygienic controls have a decisive impact on life in the emigration halls. Immediately after their arrival, the emigrants have to bathe and undergo a medical examination. The emigrant is only allowed to move into his dormitory when his clothes and luggage have also been disinfected. There are numerous other visits throughout the stay. Shortly before embarkation, a final health test decides who is actually allowed to travel. These coercive measures and the curfew for certain groups of emigrants, especially Russians, give many a feeling of barracking. Protests, however, remain selective and have no impact.

An annual salary for the crossing

The between deck passengers were only allowed on deck at certain times of the day to get some fresh air.

On smaller ships for up to 300 people, the so-called tenders, the emigrants are brought to Stade or Cuxhaven, where they can finally board the liner. Because of its great draft, the ocean liners cannot navigate the Elbe any further upstream. The passage on a steamship usually takes two weeks, later on the express steamers only nine days. Most of the emigrants travel for 160 marks on the windowless tween deck. The sum corresponds roughly to the annual salary of a worker. In return, the tween deck passengers are given little: poor ventilation, lack of space, wetness and the consequences of seasickness cause problems for people. They are only allowed to go on deck to a limited extent, and not at all in a storm.

Ellis Island: Gateway to the New World

The sight of the New York Statue of Liberty meant the end of a long and arduous journey for the emigrants.

The first destination in the USA is Ellis Island, off New York. Here the emigrants have to undergo new health checks before they are finally allowed to enter the land of their dreams. Those who are refused entry must return to their old homeland on the next ship at the expense of the shipping company. In 1907, 48,000 emigrants return to Hamburg. A small number of them have been refused entry, but most of them come voluntarily: They have made a small or large fortune overseas.

From prisoner of war camp to emergency shelter

The "Ballinstadt" adventure museum is located on the historical site of the emigration halls.

192,733 emigrants emigrated from Hamburg in 1913 - more than ever before. Only a few months later, the outbreak of World War I stopped emigration. In the mid-1920s, the emigration halls became the "Überseeheim". A higher level of comfort should meet the higher demands of the now mostly German emigrants. In 1934 part of the halls became the property of the SS, later the entire area was used as a prisoner of war camp. After the war, the buildings were used as accommodation for bombed-out Hamburgers. In 1962 the buildings are demolished, only pavilion 13/14 remains. A truck stop has had a branch here for many years. At the beginning of the 1980s, a Portuguese restaurant moved into the hall. Almost 100 years after the emigration halls were built, the foundation stone for the "BallinStadt" adventure museum was laid in 2005.

With the steamer to New York

On June 1, 1856, the Hamburg shipping company HAPAG used a steamship for the first time to travel across the Atlantic. Emigrants now get to the New World in just 16 days. more

This topic in the program:

Hamburg Journal | 04/22/2019 | 19:30 o'clock