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Emigrate to America - from Hamburg to the "New World"

Let's get away

The reasons for their departure were by no means romantic - most of them traveled out of sheer necessity, and not all of them survived the enormous stresses and strains of the crossing. The masses of emigrants were good business for the shipping companies.

At first it was mainly impoverished farmers from Germany who had the courage to emigrate to America. After the failed revolution of 1848 they were joined by many intellectuals who had to leave their country for political reasons. Craftsmen and other professional groups followed who no longer saw any chance of surviving financially in Germany.

According to the genealogy portal Ancestry, one of these emigrants was the great-grandfather of Hollywood star Angelina Jolie: a Westphalian tailor named Josef Kamp.

The streams of emigrants from Eastern Europe came to the German refugees. Some came from economic hardship, and many had to leave their country as a result of pogroms against Jews. Woody Allen is one of the famous descendants of these Jewish emigrants.

Dangerous crossing

Even if the ships that went to America were often well equipped, the journey was an ordeal for the refugees. While people dined and celebrated on the upper deck, the refugees were crammed together in inhumane conditions on the intermediate deck - the more, the better.

It was only gradually that some provisions that were supposed to regulate the transport of people came through. The height of the tween deck was initially set at 1.72 meters, later at 1.83 meters, and it became the rule that every emigrant was entitled to at least one bed. There was one toilet for every 50 passengers; Diseases could spread in no time at all.

The journey on a sailing ship lasted six weeks. The steamships, which prevailed from 1870 and on which the hygienic conditions were better, only needed two weeks for the trip.

A profitable business

Hamburg became an important emigration port thanks to clever business people who realized that money could be made with emigrants. In order to attract enough emigrants to Hamburg, the large shipping companies throughout Germany and Eastern Europe advertised transport to the land of unlimited possibilities.

And not only the shipping companies earned. By the time the emigrants got on their boat, they eventually needed shelter and food and provisions for the journey. The refugees in Hamburg provided jobs and brought the city higher tax revenues.

A city for emigrants

More and more refugees poured into Hamburg. Soon the urban emigration barracks were no longer sufficient. When they were due to be demolished in 1898, the Hamburg shipowner Albert Ballin seized the opportunity and built his long-planned emigration halls, which were inaugurated in 1901 and expanded three years later.

The halls in the Veddel district initially had room for 1200 and later even 5000 people. In addition to dormitories and dining rooms, medical care and washrooms, there was even a church and a synagogue.

The newcomers had to have their luggage and clothes cleaned in disinfection centers. A precaution against epidemics, because Hamburg was hit by a cholera epidemic in 1892. At that time, the population attributed the disaster to the Russian immigrants. Everyone wishing to leave the country had to stay in quarantine for up to 14 days before they were allowed to leave.

The destination of the trip

Not everyone reached the destination of their journey. Especially in the early days of emigration, numerous passengers died on the crossing. But even later, when the conditions had become a bit more bearable for the between deck passengers, dangers were inevitable, as can be seen from the example of the Titanic: When the ship sank on its voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912, 75 percent of the emigrants died the tween decks. In contrast, only 28 percent of the first-class passengers lost their lives.

Even of those who made it through the journey without any problems, not everyone reached their destination. Because in America the procedure of examinations and disinfection began again - and many people who had not been found healthy were sent back.

The others had achieved the goal of their dreams - for them it was a matter of finding their way in a new country with a new language. Not everyone succeeded, but many of the five million immigrants actually made their fortune in the new world.