Bremerhaven
German Emigration Centre – so great!

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It is 10 in the morning and the German Emigration Centre in Bremerhaven opens its doors. We get our tickets with microchips in them and an in-depth explanation of what to expect from this truly unique museum. I am so curious what I am going to experience.

More than 7 million people left Germany from Bremerhaven. Between 1830 and 1974, ships carried the emigrants towards the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Australia.

The German Emigration Centre tells the story of some immigrants and some emigrants and turns them into multimedia presentations for the visitors.

German Emigration Centre

The German Emigration Centre opened in 2005 and was solely focussed on emigration at the time. Since 2012 an exhibition in an annexe presents „immigration to Germany since the 17th century“. What makes the exhibition so unique is that it doesn’t end with the presentation of facts and figures about immigrants and emigrants but also lets the visitors step into the shoes of real people to relive their stories.

German Emigration Centre – our visit

So we get handed our tickets with the microchips and a boarding pass. These documents tell us all the relevant information. Let’s see, who am I going to be for the next few hours…

My emigration – living history

Alright, I emigrate…

In the first part of the exhibition, I am Martha Hüner and I get to relive her emigration. Martha was born in 1906 and she emigrated from Bremerhaven to America (New York) in 1923. I am also told that she died in 1987. I am curious to see what happens next.

German Emigration Centre

We step into the waiting area for the 3rd class passengers and wait for the departure of the ship. After a brief introduction, we get to the quay. Suitcases surround the people that say goodbye to the emigrants, water hits the quay and we see the hull of the ship. Countless voices in many languages fill the room, the scene is enhanced by the additional information on the microchip in the ticket. I stand between the suitcases, totally engulfed in the scene. I discover more and more details and I find myself gripped by the atmosphere. I feel a little like I have to say goodbye, too…

German Emigration Centre

We enter the ship over a walkway. I start by learning more about Martha Hüner‘s journey on the „München“ (1923) and then continue to discover the interior of a typical emigration ship. At different stops with audio files, I learn how life looked like for a passenger in 3rd class. I get to see dorms with metal and wooden bunkbeds (whole families shared a bed). On pictures, we see the luxurious accommodation in the 1st class. We walk through many small rooms in authentic historic design and can even feel the floor moving ever so slightly – or maybe I made this up because of the waves I saw through the portholes…

German Emigration Centre

Finally, the ship reaches New York. For my Martha, who is already expected, this is an important moment. For many other travellers this moment is full of fear – will they be allowed to enter the US?

German Emigration Centre

In a typical waiting room with metal bars and hard, wooden benches I listen to the procedure inside the American office.
Only the passengers from first and second class are allowed to enter New York right away. All the other passengers were brought to Ellis Island – an island only for immigrants. Between 3000 and 5000 people arrived here on a daily basis. They received a medical exam and were thoroughly interrogated and then, based on strict criteria, it was decided who was allowed into the US and who wasn’t. Those who were denied entry had to be transported back to where they came from at the expense of the shipping company. Everyone else sooner or later moved on to Grand Central Terminal, a train station in New York. Very interesting to overhear these conversations and I can’t help but feel a little down after seeing how the people are treated like animals. How happy those must have felt who successfully passed this stage.

German Emigration Centre

At the train station in New York, I learn more about the life and death of Martha Hüne. I hear about a ´diverse and often very hard life and I feel a bit like I emigrated myself.

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My immigration – welcome to Germany

The section of the exhibition about immigration to Germany is in the annexe of the building. At an information desk, we get introduced to the rest of the exhibition by a member of staff.

My new identity is the one of Mai Phuong Kollath, who immigrated to Rostock in 1981. I am curious about the life of the Vietnamese woman and mostly about her reasons to come to Germany.

German Emigration Centre

We enter a shopping street from 1973. It is like travelling back in time. I spot items from my childhood and cannot get enough of all the memories that surround me. There are several different shops along the street, a grocery shop for example and an antique shop. In every shop, I find something that brings me closer to the answer to my question: Who is Mai Phuong? There are pictures, items from the past of her family, info about how she came to Germany… At an audio station, I am told that Mai Phuong landed in Berlin Schönefeld in 1981 and that she was hired by the GDR regime and therefore left her country in the hopes of a better life. Contrary to the original promises she’s placed in a canteen kitchen in Rostock. Her life story is told to me in great detail, including all obstacles and important events. I even hear what happened to the Vietnamese woman after the German Reunification.

German Emigration Centre

A truly fascinating journey into the past.

German Emigration Centre

The last thing before we leave is a short movie about German/Turkish love that we watch in a small cinema. The movie describes the conflicts and problems that German/Turkish couples face but also their hopes. A very well done movie which made me smirk a good few times and certainly gave me food for thought.

In 2016 the German Emigration Centre included a section about Syrian immigrants. The topical situation about immigration into Germany is explored by following the story of a Kurdish family.

Family research

Every day, starting at 12.00, the computer room is open to guests who wish to do their own research. Supported by two genealogy computer programmes with extensive databases, visitors can uncover whether their own family members emigrated at some point.

This isn’t a new idea for us. We ourselves are connected with an international group of people that all carry the same last name that we have (and also varieties of it). In this group, someone is always looking for info about their ancestors and we know by now that some of them were originally from Germany. The network works hard to connect the dots and to create a family tree.
We restarted our own research and we are very curious if we are going to be able to discover some new information.

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So… was it worth it?

Absolutely! We spent about two hours in the German Emigration Centre and left so full of new impressions that we kept talking about the things we saw long after our visit. The immense care for detail, the great variety of impressions and first and foremost the stories of real humans created a great experience in this museum.

Address:

Columbusstraße 65
27568 Bremerhaven

Website

Opening Hours:

March to October:
daily 10.00 – 18.00
November to February:
Daily 10.00 - 17.00
24.12. closed

Admission:

Adults: 14.80€
Discounts available

German Emigration Centre

We would like to thank the German Emigration Centre for the invitation as part of a promotion trip to Bremerhaven. The blog post is exclusively about our own experience.

11 Comments

  1. Susanne Jungbluth on 11. February 2019 at 11:41

    No it is in Bremerhaven.



  2. Melody PIttman on 10. February 2019 at 7:00

    What a fascinating museum! I loved every word of your story. Is the museum in Rostock? I”m going there next month so my fingers are crossed. Loved the pictures helping to tell the story of the entire journey.



  3. Sandy N Vyjay on 8. February 2019 at 4:35

    This is indeed a unique experience. It is like actually living a part of history. The German Emigration Centre seems to be like no other museum that I have ever experienced. This is one place that we would love to visit. What a great way to keep alive the stories from history.



  4. Michael Hodgson on 8. February 2019 at 2:21

    What a fascinating museum and such an important one at this point in history. Therese’s grandparents emigrated from Armenia and arrived in Ellis Island. Your next visit to the U.S., if you have not already, needs to include Ellis Island, a perfect partner this museum. We were able to find her grandparents records which was most exciting. Thank you so much for sharing this post, and the images!



  5. Yukti on 7. February 2019 at 17:48

    It must be very nostalgic too see all historic museums. This German Emigration Center looks very interesting as many of them tried to connect their ancestors by matching dots in family tree.



  6. Milijana on 7. February 2019 at 16:14

    Wow, what a trip back in time! I absolutely loved reading every single step of ‘your emigration journey’. It was like me traveling with you back in time. Thanks for the journey.



  7. Jackie Gately on 6. February 2019 at 0:38

    This is such an incredible way to explore historical events and share what it might have felt like to experience them! Imagine if all learning about history were taught in this way? I think it would be all the more meaningful and make a lasting impact on every student, regardless of age or culture. Bravo!



  8. Ketki on 4. February 2019 at 13:15

    I love such tours and museums which are so full of history! I had never heard of emigration centre before and would to visit if I am in that part of Germany.



  9. Carol Colborn on 3. February 2019 at 15:51

    Germany has been giving emphasis to it’s immigration program. They have even been letting lots if refugees in. This GEC is like an antidote to the holicaustuseums.



  10. Jenn and Ed Coleman on 3. February 2019 at 2:45

    I love the story trope where you tell a general story first person. It allows you to fill in so much more emotions. Really, it’s the same POV as blogging. You bring the world to your viewers from your perspective one story at a time. We were in NYC last month and were surrounded by the familiar names like Ellis Island and Grand Central Station. I think the world only has one history and there is just a myriad of viewpoints to tell the story from.



  11. Lara Dunning on 3. February 2019 at 0:47

    What a fun and interactive experience! Learning about the emigration experience by following someone’s journey is such a great way to have a better understanding of what it is like. I’d love to go here!



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