Now that some spectacular Fall weather has returned to Melbourne, it is difficult to imagine that not long ago we were walking across a lake in Hamburg, Germany. The ice is gone now, of course, and Spring is happening. Thanks to the staff at the Gasthaus, I have seen a photo of crocuses. I suspect that with all the wet weather this winter, Spring and Summer are going to be wonderful and we are going to miss it.

But I am glad to be back in my own bed, with my own kitchen and our lovely attic study up among the birds. I can look at the airplanes coming and going from Tullamarine Airport without the feeling of dread that I get when I know that one day soon I will be clambering aboard yet another fifteen or sixteen hour flight, followed by the “short” haul to our destination.


It is impossible for me to imagine what it was like for the millions of Europeans to pull up stakes and leave everything they knew for a new life on the North American continent, South America or Australia. From the middle of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the Second World War, Hamburg was the gateway to the world for five million emigrants. They streamed into the City to board ships that would take them to new lands and new lives. Our Gasthaus home in Hamburg was around the corner from the house of Albert Ballin, which had a suite of rooms for the Kaiser’s use when he was in Hamburg.

Albert Ballin’s father was Jewish. He was part-owner of an emigration agency that arranged passages to the United States. When he died in 1874, young Albert took over the business. He developed it into an independent shipping line, saving costs by carrying cargo on the return trip. This brought him to the attention of the Hamburg America Line, (HAPAG) who hired him in 1886, and made him general director in 1899.


In 1901 Ballin had Emigration Halls constructed on the Hamburg island of Veddel to accommodate the many thousands of people who arrived at the Port of Hamburg every week to emigrate to North and South America on his company’s ships. The original “city” comprised 30 simple, one-story buildings and included a synagogue, church, hospital, and cafeterias as well as a playground.

Eastern European Jews fleeing economic and religious hardship were especially attracted to Hamburg. The halls are the setting of the Emigration Museum, appropriately called Ballinstadt. For many emigrants, the end of the trip was an island in the harbour of New York City, — Ellis Island. I was astonished to see a map of the USA midwest with the names of German cities peppered all over it like crackerjacks. Every fifth American has a German ancestor. Balinstadt’s passenger lists are a treasure trove for genealogical research.


My own personal journey compelled me to head for the Reeperbahn one wet and rainy afternoon. In a misguided attempt to recapture a feeling for the magic of the Beatles, I made the pilgrimage to a museum dedicated to their early sojourn in Hamburg. Beatlemania doesn’t stint on display space, but whatever it was about the Fab Four that turned me into a convert failed to materialize for me on that miserable afternoon.


It may be time to put “Backbeat” in my DVD queue and watch the story unfold up on the screen. Or simply let go of the Beatles infatuation. The sixties have been over for half a century, and the two remaining members of the group are not doing much of interest anymore. The Yellow Submarine may putter along in the back of my brain, but the magic of “A Hard Day’s Night” is no more.