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Western Australia


By Reinhard F. Hahn, Seattle, USA, ©June 22, 2007

[A revised version of this article is available under “Water under the Bridge”.]

The old Latin School in Otterndorf

The old Latin School in Otterndorf
(Courtesy GoogleMaps)

Ballin-Stadt is a new concept and public-private partnership project that will be accessible to the public in July, 2007. It will consist in part of an emigration museum at the site of the previous emigration halls and quarantine station that were removed in stages some time ago, beginning in 1938.

Hamburg used to be one of the leading European emigration ports. The actual site is located at Hamburg-Veddel (just about a 45–60-minute walk from the street in which I was born and raised), a small island between the larger island of Wilhelmsburg and Hamburg proper (or more precisely the part of town called Rotenburgsort). Beginning in 1900, this was where persons wishing to emigrate used to be registered and then quarantined for up to 14 days before boarding ocean liners bound for the “New World.”

The fenced-off Emigrants’ Halls (Auswandererhallen) compound included accommodation, dining and bathing facilities, churches and synagogues — approximately 30 buildings in all.

European immigrants disembarking at New York
City’s Ellis Island
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It was primarily here that at that time the emigrating ancestors of most European Americans spent their last days on European soil, many of those bound for Canada, Latin America and Australia, too. This includes most emigrants from Eastern and Central Europe (though many of them also sailed from Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven and the then Austro-Hungarian-ruled port of Triest). Most would-be emigrants arrived in Hamburg by train and were then sent straight to the Emigrants’ Halls for processing. The majority of those that were cleared for their respective voyages were later processed and often quarantined again at New York City’s Ellis Island facilities. Thereafter, the fulfilled dreams of many began with life in crowded, unsanitary tenements and unspeakable working conditions in sweatshops, as is particularly eloquently described in American Yiddish literature of that time.
Two Lowlands languages dominated the pre-independence period of what are now the United States of America: Dutch and English. Dutch preceded English by having been the predominant language of the early Dutch colony, and there were direct contacts between Dutch and indigenous languages such as Mohawk. English began dominating with the establishment of the British colony, but Dutch continued to be spoken in the states of New York and New Jersey. Speakers of other Lowlands languages, such as Frisian and Low Saxon (“Low German”), established colonies a little later, and these languages continue to be used. In the Midwest there are even one or two American dialects of Low Saxon! Not only that, but there are some early-day patriotic American poems written in Low Saxon!

The Ballin-Stadt project runs parallel with an exhibition about Hamburg as an emigration port at the Museum for Hamburg History (Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte) which holds most passenger lists and offers ancestry research services.

The project is being sponsored by the container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd whose predecessor HAPAG (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft) used to handle and regulate emigrants’ processing and transport.

Ballin-Stadt (Ballin-Town) is named after Albert Ballin (1857–1918), director of the shipping company Hamburg-America Line and the person credited with the invention of cruise ships. Erection of the Emigrants’ Halls and their facilities was largely due to his initiative.

Albert Ballin, ca. 1910
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Although Ballin made an enormous success of himself, helped many Europeans realize their dreams for a better life, and was friends with Emperor Wilhelm II, he was never accepted among Hamburg’s old- and new-money “aristocrats” due to being a descendant of humble Jewish second-hand clothing merchants that had immigrated from Denmark. Virtually all of his accolades are posthumous, which includes naming a “posh” Hamburg street (Ballindamm) and this commemorative compound after him. However, he was stripped of several of these accolades during Germany’s fascist era (1933–1945).

I await further information about Ballin-Stadt and will post it here if I receive any. (Click here for contact information.)


The museum was officially opened on the 4th of July, 2007 (the national holiday of the United States of America). Click here to read an article published by the German magazine Spiegel in English.

The old Latin School in Otterndorf
The Hapag-Loyd Building on Hamburg’s Ballindamm
(Courtesy Gunnar Ries and Wikimedia Commons)


Veddeler Bogen 2
20539 Hamburg
Tel.: 040/3197916-0
Fax: 040/3197916-20
E-mail: info@ballinstadt.de

List of collaborators:

Other sites

 Ballin-Stadt (German and English)
 Hamburg-Veddel (German)
 Albert Ballin (English)
 Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte (German and English)

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