24 September 2009

Germany: Hamburg's BallinStadt Museum

Stories with Jewish genealogy connections appear around the world, including India.

Hamburg's Ballinstadt museum is the focus of this story at Hindu-.com by Gunvanthi Balaram who visited the site; there are also photos.

The museum was set up in mid-2007 by the Stiftung Hamburg Maritim, a foundation dedicated to preserving Hamburg’s rich maritime heritage, at a cost of 12 million euros. Two-thirds were public funds and private sponsors provided one-third, such as the Hapag-Lloyd shipping company.

The museum is named after Jewish entrepreneur Albert Ballin who, in 1901, built BallinStadt, “a city within the city,” on the island of Veddel to house would-be immigrants who arrived in Hamburg from everywhere to board his Hapag (Hamburg-America Line) ships for the America.

BallinStadt had 30 buildings, including a synagogue, a church, a hospital, cafeterias and a playground. In November 1918, after the Kaiser's empire and his own business collapsed, Ballin committed suicide. The "city" and the Hapag ships were used later by Nazis to move troops.

Today's site has three “replica” BallinStadt buildings, where visitors learn about the immigrant experience through artifacts, photos, documents, film footage, interactive exhibits and via mannequins whose stories are recited through handsets.

“We did not want to stick to a traditional museum concept,” explains BallinStadt’s research chief Jorge Birkner, a German historian with Brazilian roots. “We plumped for the interactive concept; our angle was that people should be able to relate to the exhibits.”

People clearly do. An elderly man seemed close to tears as he listened to the account of a 17-year-old Polish boy whose parents, fearing he would be drafted, had convinced him to flee to America in 1904, after war broke out between Russia and Germany. Teenagers frowned at the tale of a young iron-smelter who had to abandon his beloved worker-grandparents to escape inflation and riots after French and Belgian forces occupied his native Ruhr Valley in 1924, and ended up at the Ford factory in Detroit. Others sighed over stories out of the Jewish exodus.

“What does home mean to you?” asked a mannequin’s sombre voice after one account. And I was reminded of Friedrich Schiller’s words: “Home is probably the most valuable thing human beings can possess.” Home away from home, too: when you consider the sections on √©migr√© success stories — Kellog, Levi Strauss, Heinz, Miller, Steinway, the Vogt family, the Kissingers — and on new migrants in Germany.
Visitors can also view passenger lists with details on 5 million people of all ages who left for America from Hamburg (1850-1939). The museum's computers feature Ancestry.com which has those passenger lists. Its archives feature digital collections of documents, biographies and much more.

Read the complete article at the link above to read personal stories and more details about the museum. For more on the museum, click here.

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