I. Buildings Integral to the Former Life and/or Persecution of Jews in Hamburg - Neustadt/St. Pauli.
No. 25 Ballindamm.
Albert Ballin was born on the 15th August 1857 to a humble Jewish family who made their living by repairing and reselling second-hand clothes. By hard work and good fortune the family were able to establish a small clothing factory in Billwerder that, however, went bankrupt in 1843 as a consequence of the difficult economic situation following the Great Fire that raged in Hamburg between 5th and 8th May 1842. A coal delivery business also proved unprofitable. Like many Jewish families, the Ballins had to start ever new, often risky, enterprises so as to make a livelihood.
In 1852, Albert Ballin's father became part owner of an emigration agency that arranged boat passage to the USA for emigrants. The failed democratic movement of 1848 (the Frankfurt National Assembly, May 1848 - Spring 1849, failed to consolidate the aims of the revolution), and the economic problems in Germany and eastern Europe caused hundreds of thousands of people to emigrate to North America. There was fierce competition between the numerous emigration agencies and profits were modest.
When his father died in 1874, the eighteen year old Albert Ballin entered the business as breadwinner for the family. He was fortunate in that the economic boom in America led to a new wave of emigration and thereby more customers for the agency. In an effort to become more competitive, Albert Ballin, together with a business partner, established a new shipping line to the USA. They dispenced with passenger comfort and fitted out their ships so that they carried emigrants on the outward bound journey to America and cargo on the homeward bound journey. They acquired a large part of the emigrant market by being able to charge very low fares by this very efficient exploitation of their ships. This was disquieting for the 1847 established Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actiengesellschaft, (Hapag) the former market leader in the Hanse city of Hamburg. In 1886, the Hapag shipping company decided to woo the successful businessman, Albert Ballin, and make him head of their passage department. Ballin joined the company as an immediate member of the board, and in 1899 was appointed its general director. However, born poor and a Jew, and not having even converted to Christianity, he was not accepted into Hamburg's leading society. Ballin was not a religious Jew but he did not convert to Christianity as he did not want to besmirch his father's name.
Initially, he suffered from the social exclusion, but this only encouraged him to become more
successful than these established Hamburg merchant families. And this he achieved. Within a decade
he had made the Hapag more successful than all domestic and foreign competitors to become the
largest shipping company in the world. With the building of his passenger steamers he acquired
the personal acknowledgement of the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Hapag-Lloyd-Haus, situated at No. 25 Ballindamm, originates from the beginning of the 20th century, shortly after Hapag had become the largest shipping company in the world. Hapag's general director Albert Ballin's motto was "Mein Feld ist die Welt" (The world is my oyster) which is to be read in the entrance hall. Several famous architects, such as Martin Haller and Fritz Höger were involved in the several phases of the construction of this imposing administrative building.
The Hapag company built an emigrants "city" in Veddel (a port area of Hamburg) that could accommodate
5,000 people awaiting the departure of Hapag ships. It included a kosher canteen, and a synagogue
that was attended in particular by the numerous east European Jewish emigrants.
Albert Ballin was the only Jew, not converted to Christianity, with whom Kaiser Wilhelm II had a
personal relationship. However, the court including the empress, made no attempt to hide what they
thought of the Jewish shipowner. The emperor maintained his close personal relationship with the
imposing ships flew the German flag the world over. In 1912, Kaiser Wilhelm II came especially to
Hamburg for the launching of the luxury steamer Imperator.
In 1908/09, Albert Ballin built a prestigious villa for himself at No. 58 Feldbrunnenstraße. It was referred to as "Klein Potsdam" (Schloß Sanssouci) by satirists of the day. The large house with its wide driveway was constructed with the intention that Ballin could receive Kaiser Wilhelm II when he was staying in Hamburg.
Today the villa houses the UNESCO-Instituts für Pädagogik (UNESCO Pedagogical Institute).
A commemorative plaque has been erected next to the entrance.
Following the assassination of Austria's crown prince, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on
28th June 1914, Albert Ballin travelled to Berlin and London to have talks with leading politicians
of both countries to contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict. However, the jingoism of the
day was more powerful than the rational assessment of the Hansa businessman. Ballin knew that the
first shots of the First World War would mean the collapse of his international shipping company.
In 1918, in the face of the defeat of the German Reich, Ballin once again travelled to Berlin to
persuade the emperor to adopt American President Wilson's peace plan (Fourteen Points). The emperor
declined. The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey were defeated and agreed to
an armstice on 11th November 1918, before being forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles on 28th
June 1919. On 9th November 1918, the day Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated, Albert Ballin took his own
After the First World War the Hapag shipping company was forced to make a totally new start but, due to the period of inflation in Germany and then the Great Depression, it never regained the international position it had had under Ballin.
The Nazi rise to power brought further difficulties for Hapag, as Germany's international connections were severed, and the company had to fight the "stigma" of their most eminent general director, Albert Ballin, having been a Jew. In 1935, the steamer "Albert Ballin" was renamed "Hansa", "Ballin-Kai" (Kai = quay) was renamed "Europa-Kai", and "Ballin-Haus" was initially renamed "Bauhof" and then "Meßberghof". The Nazis attempted to erase everything Jewish.
In 1947, Hamburg re-acknowledged the importance of Albert Ballin for the city and paid tribute to him by renaming the street in which Hapag-Lloyd-Haus stands, one of the four roads that skirt the Binnenalster lake in the centre of the city, Ballindamm.
In 1970, the Hapag shipping company (Hamburg) merged with the Norddeutscher Lloyd (Bremen) to become Germany's largest shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, with its headquarters in Hamburg.
A portrait in oil paint of Albert Ballin is to be seen in the permanent exhibition Juden in Hamburg, in the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte, No. 24 Holstenwall, 20355 Hamburg.