June 1952 was the first time the "Willkomm-Höft" ("welcome point") greeted a ship on the Elbe: "Welcome to Hamburg, we look forward to greeting you in the Port of Hamburg."
Since that day, several hundred thousand ships from around the world have been recorded on the charts at "Willkomm-Höft" and welcomed and bid farewell with their national anthem. What seems so natural and easy for outsiders required comprehensive and lengthy precision planning. Over 150 national anthems have been played and the greeting text has been recorded in each national language.
The welcoming captains in the command centre provide ferry station visitors a wealth of information via loudspeakers about the ship just greeted or just departed. Their main sources of information are over 17,000 index cards and the daily harbour report. Any change, whether it is a change of owner, conversion or a new use of a ship, is corrected immediately. From 10am until sunset, the central office is occupied by a guard on duty with special knowledge.
The fully automated 40-metre steel pole shows the flag of Hamburg, the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany, the state flag of Schleswig-Holstein and the signal flag UW (have a good journey).
On average more than 50 ships pass Willkomm-Höft every day, i.e. within 24 hours, whatever the day, weather or season. This includes only the fully "salutable" ships, i.e. those sailing on a foreign voyage with more than 1,000 GT. Smaller vessels may only be greeted by dipping the flag.