Between 1850 and 1939, some 5 million emigrants (mostly from Eastern Europe) boarded ships in Hamburg to pursue their dreams in the New World. At the height of the emigration boom, the German shipping line HAPAG was carrying up to 200,000 settlers per year across the Atlantic from Hamburg and--after 1902--from the Steubenhöft maritime terminal in Cuxhaven, 100 km or 60 miles downstream from Hamburg at the junction of the Elbe and the North Sea.
Albert Ballin, who inherited his father's emigration agency, offered a complete package for settlers leaving Poland, Russia, and other countries: Emigrants could walk or buy land transportation from their homes to Hamburg, stay at a hotel or guesthouse, transfer to the ship, and set sail for the U.S.A. or South America--with everything taken care of by Mr. Ballin's agents.
In the late 1800s, however, an outbreak of disease in Hamburg led to fears that emigrants were bringing illness with them. Albert Ballin (who by then was a director of HAPAG) came up with the idea of housing emigrants in dormitories called "Emigrant Halls." Those who were sick could be isolated until they recovered.
By 1901, demand for accommodation was so great that HAPAG built new Emigrant Halls on Veddel Island. Within three years, the settlement--by now known as Ballinstadt--could accommodate up to 5,000 emigrants, with a kosher kitchen and dining room for Jewish passengers (who represented about 80 per cent of emigrants leaving Eastern Europe from Hamburg at that time).
Emigration came to an end with World War II in 1939. After the war, the old Emigrant Halls were used as temporary housing, but eventually nearly all the buildings were turned down. According to Ballinstadt's official history, the one remaining structure--Pavilion 13/14--was used as a car workshop for many years.
In 2004, work began on a reconstruction of several Emigrant Halls and restoration of the one that remained. Today, Ballinstadt is a museum dedicated to the emigrants who followed their dreams from Hamburg to the New World. (The museum also has computers where visitors can research family history on computers, using the Hamburg Passenger Lists from 1850 to 1934.)