From the port of Bremerhaven, 7.2 million emigrants from all over Europe sailed towards an unknown future in the New World. So if your ancestors are from Germany or Eastern Europe, it’s pretty likely that your ancestors sailed out of Bremerhaven, too. Find out all about their journey via your own exciting journey through the interactive German Emigration Center…
When emigration to the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Argentina or New Zealand were at its height, Bremerhaven was one of the busiest ports in Europe. Today, it is a lot quieter in terms of sea traffic. However, the sea front was given a major regeneration makeover in recent years, so that today tourists can enjoy the German Emigration Center, the Klimahaus [Climate House Museum], a Mediterranean shopping mall and much more…
How to I get there?
Bremerhaven is within convenient reach from the city of Bremen. By car it takes about 45 minutes to one hour via the Autobahn. There are several car parks and parking garages.
There is also a direct train. So if you would like to just sit back and relax, book a direct train ticket via bahn.de. From Bremen central station (Hauptbahnhof, or HBF in short), it takes 34 or 45 minutes depending on which of the two local trains you get.
So what’s there to see?
On your tour through the building you will re-live the journey: from embarking the ship to the on-board experience into Ellis Island and the Grand Central Terminal Hall in New York.
You will also meet quite a few wax figures, which additionally help to imagine what the journey must have been like. In the end, you will not only get to see the USA, but also get to know Germany from a different side.
In the flashy 1970s West German shopping mall, you will learn all about the modern immigration movement into Germany, which started in the 1950s with the guest workers that mostly came from Southern European countries such as Italy.
Hard to imagine that this rather small looking port once was the departure point for huge liners!
Re-feel the experience of emigrants and immigrants
In the Roxy cinema, you can see and listen to the stories of Germans in the USA, Argentina and Australia who will tell you all about their hopes and fears when leaving Bremerhaven and their experiences in the new country.
Needless to say that on your way, you will get tons of information about everything emigration and immigration related. There is, for example, a map of the USA with only a selection of cities that were named after German cities.
I was so surprised how many cities and towns in the USA were named after Oldenburg (a town close to Bremerhaven in North Germany), Berlin, Hamburg or Hanover.
Old meets new! A sailing ships with the modern skyline behind.
Trace your own ancestors
There is also the option of joining a tour led by a guide. However, I would recommend going by yourself as you can discover everything a lot better if you can go at your own pace. What’s more: At the beginning of every tour, self-guided or not, you will get a passenger’s ticket. On your way through the museum, there are several stops at which you can learn more about this person and his or her fate. To me, that was eye-opening and makes the whole experience even more interactive!
At the very end, you will be able to trace your own ancestor’s journey in the little archive provided if you type their name into the data banks of the computers there. I found one of my ancestors, Anna from Ankum, who emigrated in 1916 when she was only 16 herself, to join and work for a German aunt as a maid. Nowadays, her decedents, whom we are in good contact with, mostly live in Kentucky and Ohio.
Where to find out more?
Overall, the Bremerhaven Emigration Museum is not your average museum, but more of an interactive experience with lots of very useful and interesting information.
To find out more, go to the English website of the German Emigration Center.
From here, it was off to new horizons for many!
When will you arrive at the port of Bremerhaven? Or have you already been? Let me know in the comments below!
Unless otherwise credited, all photos © Sonja Irani / revisitgermany.com