If British TV show "Who do you think you are?" and period dramas about immigration such as Brooklyn (2015) are among your favourite films to watch, you will love the journey into the past at the German Emigration Center just as much as I do. Here is what you will get to see…
From the port of Bremerhaven, 7.2 million emigrants sailed towards an unknown future in the New World. Today though, it is a lot quieter in terms of sea traffic. However, the sea front was given a major regeneration makeover in recent years, so that today tourists can enjoy the German Emigration Center, the Klimahaus [Climate House], a Mediterranean shopping mall and much more.
So what's there to see?
No photos were allowed inside, but I can tell you: It's great. On your tour through the building you will re-live the journey: from embarking the ship to the on-board experience into Ellis Island and the Grand Central Terminal Hall in New York.
You will also meet quite a few wax figures, which additionally help to imagine what the journey must have been like. In the end, you will not only get to see the USA, but also get to know Germany from a different side.
In the flashy 1970s West German shopping mall, you will learn all about the modern immigration movement into Germany, which started in the 1950s with the guest workers that mostly came from Southern European countries such as Italy.
Re-feel the experience of emigrants and immigrants
In the Roxy cinema, you can see and listen to the stories of Germans in the USA, Argentina and Australia who will tell you all about their hopes and fears when leaving Bremerhaven and their experiences in the new country.
Needless to say that on your way, you will get tons of information about everything emigration and immigration related. There is, for example, a map of the USA with only a selection of cities that were named after German cities.
I was so suprised how many Oldenburg's (a town close to Bremerhaven in North Germany), Berlin's, Hamburg's and Hanover's there are in Kentucky and adjacent states alone!
Trace your own ancestors
There is also the option of joining a tour led by the guide. However, I would recommend going by yourself as you can discover everything a lot better if you can go at your own pace. What's more: At the beginning of every tour, self-guided or not, you will get a passenger's ticket. On your way through the museum, there are several stops at which you can learn more about this person and his or her fate. To me, that was eye-opening and makes the whole experience even more interactive!
At the very end, you will be able to trace your own ancestor's journey in the little archive provided if you type their name into the data banks of the computers there. I found one of my ancestors, Anna Fleddermann, who emigrated in 1916 when she was only 16 herself to join and work for a German aunt as a maid. Nowadays, her decedents, whom we are in good contact with, mostly live in Kentucky and Ohio.
How much does it cost?
Entry is 12.80 € for adults, 11.80 € for seniors and so on. So it's not cheap, but money well spend. After all, this is not your average museum, but more of an interactive experience with lots of very useful and interesting information.
When will you arrive at the port of Bremerhaven? Let me know in the comments!