Blog Post No. 10 (26/10/2019) - Point of Departure
Bremenhaven has been a gateway to the new world for nearly 200 years, the quintessential point of departure for Germans and Poles, Serbs and Czechs. The harbour is quieter now and the need to immigrate has all but hushed up. The millions of people who left this harbour between 1820 and 1970 were bound for many different destinations, mostly the ports of New York and Baltimore but also Cuba and Argentina. The Deutsches Auswandererhaus sits very prominently on a pier in the New Harbour and commemorates the greatest wave of migration in human history.
I spent most of my day inside this museum, following the lives of immigrants from various time periods. The museum had an uncanny ability to replicate the insides of various ships and places with smart interior design, which produced disorienting results. In one room, you would be in a dusty Dickensian waiting room with a coal stove and old planks, whereas in the next you could be in the middle of a harbour with water at your side and a gangplank leading up into the hull of a ship. Not to say that these were perfect recreations, the water was only a foot deep, but it was a very cool theme and superficially believable. We toured the museum as a group (all twenty or so USAC students that were there for our classes) and had a great time.
Each person on our tour was given two cards, one representing someone who migrated from Germany and another representing someone who immigrated to Germany. There were all sorts of neat references to our migrants/emigrants littered throughout the various exhibits. My migrant was the daughter of Holocaust survivors who migrated with her family to the United States in 1949. Unlike most people in the exhibit, this woman is still alive and leading a successful life as an academic and mother in Israel.
My emigrant was an adult when she was deported to German-occupied Poland from her small Belgian village. As a Flemish person with a German soldier fiance, she escaped the worst of the labour at first and gained more privileges after the war. Despite the treatment she faced under the Nazis, this woman decided to raise her family with her now husband in West Germany. She fled from the Soviets and lived the rest of her days happily in Nord-rhein Westfalen. These are just two of the numerous stories this museum had to offer.
Outside of our time in the museum, we had the time to visit the harbour proper. The first thing we did was head out to the seafront. I slowly walked myself down to the water down off the rocky edge of the promenade. The wind forced me to go low and the slippery surfaces made me go slow but it was so refreshing to finally feel the cool waves of the North Sea. I let them lap up through the soles of my shoes… mostly because I couldn´t scramble up out of the waves way fast enough.
We walked along the promenade and finished our day aboard an ice cream ship. Eiscafe Zuckerkkutter is a schooner type ship which has been modified into an ice cream joint, and I highly recommend the place if you are ever in Bremerhaven. The museum is probably the best thing in town, aside from the harbour on the whole.