Hamburg – The Birthplace of Cruising

Cruising was invented in Hamburg: Albert Ballin, director of the Hamburg-America Line, introduced the genius idea of using his transatlantic vessels that usually stayed in the harbor during the winter month to send people on a "pleasure cruise" across the Mediterranean Sea. Search for traces and discover the history of cruising in Hamburg – from the first "pleasure cruise" to today's big cruise liners.

Discover History

"Escaping the cold winter of the north – that was the plan"


When the passengers of the first excursion of HAPAG boarded the AUGUSTA VICTORIA on January 22nd in 1891 in Cuxhaven it was bitterly cold outside. The Wind pulled heavily on the travel dresses of the 67 ladies and blew the man’s 176 heads away. However, the guests didn't mind the downsides of the departure. They were the pioneers, ready to go on a 57-days pleasure trip with exotic destinations like Gibraltar, Alexandria, Beirut and Constantinople.  

Before that time no one would ever have dreamed of going on a vessel just for fun. On the Atlantic Ocean the waves were rough and the ships were shaking. Even in first class, the comfort was sparsely. Boat trips had been an unavoidable evil on the way overseas. Hamburg’s shipping company HAPAG owned their money with the transportation of emigrants to the new World. In the Winter, these vessels remained useless in the harbor of Hamburg cause transatlantic journeys were decreasing with the upcoming November storms.

"The management committee thought that I wasn't quite right in the head"

How could one use the vessels all around the year? The ambitious shipowner Albert Ballin (1857-1918) presented his idea of using the AUGUSTA VICTORIA for a pleasure trip into the Mediterranean in front of a head shaking management committee. Most of is colleagues thought that he “wasn’t quite right in his head”, remembers Ballin later. But he not only convinced his colleagues of his idea, he even managed to get the emperor Wilhelm the 2nd to appear in person at the the day of departure in Cuxhaven.

The journey was a full success. Well-dressed wifes of officers, lawyers and business man were strolling on deck, enjoyed the smell of lemon trees and danced along the music by the orchestra that played on deck. Apperantly Ballin himself took care of champagne and caviar for all passengers during the whole journey.

If this pioneering journey has really been the birth of cruising or if the competitor “Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company” (today called P&O Cruise), that offered a cruise to Malta, Athen and Alexandria in 1844, is the real pioneer is still being discussed today. The P&O cruise was a onetime thing, the journey with the AUGUSTA VICTORIA was the start for many more pleasure trips at the sea. For the people of Hamburg, Albert Ballin is the true inventor of this maritime pleasure. This is not changing -… .. the american author Mark Twain has taken part in a two month long cruise in 1867. Later he wrote about his experiences on board of the vessel in his book “The Innocents Abroad”.
 Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte

"Das Direktorium glaubte, ich sei in meinem Oberstübchen nicht ganz richtig"

Wie nur sollte man die Schiffe auslasten? Der ehrgeizige Hamburger Reeder Albert Ballin  (1857-1918) präsentierte seinen kopfschüttelnden Kollegen im Direktorium die Idee, die AUGUSTA VICTORIA im Winter auf „Vergnügungsfahrt“ ins Mittelmeer zu schicken. Die Mehrheit im HAPAG-Direktorium glaubte, „es sei in meinem Oberstübchen nicht ganz richtig“, erinnerte sich der Visionär später. Es gelang ihm aber nicht nur, die Kollegen zu überzeugen. Er schaffte es gar, dass Kaiser Wilhelm II. am Abreisetag persönlich auf der Pier in Cuxhaven erschien. 

Die Reise wurde ein voller Erfolg. An Deck flanierten standesgemäß gekleidete Offiziersgattinnen, Juristen und Kaufleute, bei Landausflügen freute sich die betuchte Klientel am Duft der Zitronenhaine, und abends spielte die Bordkapelle zum Tanz. Ballin soll sich persönlich darum gekümmert haben, dass es an Champagner und Kaviar nie mangelte.

Ob diese Pionier-Reise in den Orient tatsächlich die Geburtsstunde der Kreuzfahrt gewesen ist – oder ob die Vaterschaft der „Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company“ (heute P&O Cruises) zuzuschreiben ist, die bereits 1844 eine Kreuzfahrt nach Malta, Athen und Alexandria angeboten hatte, darüber streitet man nach wie vor. Die P&O-Kreuzfahrt war ein einmaliges Unterfangen, die Reise der AUGUSTA VICTORIA der Auftakt für eine Vielzahl von „Vergnügungsreisen zur See“. Für die Hamburger gilt Albert Ballin als der Erfinder des maritimen Vergnügens. Daran ändert auch die Tatsache nichts, dass der amerikanische Autor Mark Twain schon 1867 an einer mehrmonatigen Kreuzfahrt teilgenommen und später seine Erlebnisse an Bord des Dampfseglers in seinem Werk „Die Arglosen im Ausland“ veröffentlicht hat.

© Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte

Champagne and Caviar for everyone

© Hapag Lloyd AG Hamburg

With his first luxury cruise Albert Ballin didn't only revolutionized an industry but at the same time invented a completely new business line. Except form a few years ata jewish school and his diplomatic talent he had no references. Until the death of his father in 1874 he had worked in his company selling cheap boat tickets to foreigners. With 22 the ingenious boy owned two ships, with 31 he became director and with 41 general director of HAPAG. 

In 1894 Ballin enjoined the first Nordland cruise up to the Lofoten, followed by the first journey to the Caribbean in 1896, that back then was called West India. In 1899 Ballin wrote in a letter: "Tomorrow I will sign a contract with the company Blohm & Voss to build e vessel that will be the only one like this in the world.  A big yacht that is neither made for packages nor cargo but only for first class passengers. This vehicle will provide a comfort that has never been reached in the world’s history of ships before." 

However, the first ship built only for cruises called PRINZESSIN VICTORIA LUISE was only leaving Hamburg for its maiden voyage via New York to the Caribbean in 1901.  HAPAG was carefully paying attention to the spelling of the name of the emperor’s daughter that was written on the nose of the ship. The vessel "AUGUSTA VICTORIA" was named after the emperor’s wife who however was called "Auguste". Apperently, she neither liked ships nor the jewish ship owner Ballin.

The tv show „Love Boat“ brought new life into the business of cruising

Also other shipping companies like the north German Lloyd from Bremen or the British Cunard Line entered the business. For everyone, the First and the Second World War had heavy economic impacts. After 1945 the passanger ship was still the most popular vehicle on long distances, yet it was already forseeable that the airplane would soon replace the cruise. 

However, the economic boom in the 1960s and the fact that people suddenly had more leisure time was leading the shipping companies to their heydays. In 1070 HAPAG and the company Lloyd merged and became an early joint venture called Hapag-Lloyd. 

From 1977 "Love Boat" was bringing even more achievements to the business of cruising – as did the German ZDF show called "Das Traumschiff" by Sascha Hehn that inspired the minds of potential passengers. In the 80s the books of commissions were filling up. Up until those days cruise passengers had been wealthy people who could afford the expansive ticket. Later the prices were falling and also middle class people were able to go on a cruise. New destinations like the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Amazonas were added. 

Cruise Companies like Aida Cruises, Tui Cruises - Mein Schiff and Phoenix have made this way of travelling popular and also affordable. 1,8 million Germans are cruises every year. 24 million in the whole world. And it can all be traced back to the HAPAG office in the Hanse city. 

© Hapag Lloyd AG Hamburg

Experience history

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    Experience history

    Discover the exciting history of Hamburg's cruises on this tour!

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    BallinStadt - Emigration World Hamburg

    The museum located at the spot of the former emigrationhalls shows the moving history of five million emigrants.

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    International Maritime Musuem

    The international maritim museum Hamburg located at the listed Kaispeicher B hosts a model of the PRINZESSIN VICTORIA LUISE and an exciting ship-piloting simulator where visitors can steer a ship themselves. Have a look at the original cabines of the MS HANSEATIC and the SEA CLOUD II, that are exhibited in the museum.

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    Blohm+Voss

    With the harbour ferry you drive along the docks of the shipyard Blohm+Voss. From august 2017 sightseeing tours for visitors will be offered.

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    Rickmer Rickmers

    The tall sailing ship RICKMER RICKMERS and the museumsship CAP SAN DIEGO are viewable symbols of the maritime histroy of the port of Hamburg. Both ships can be visited!

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    Museumshafen Övelgönne

    At the Musuemshafen Oevelgönne in the district Othmarschen traditional ships like PRÄSIDENT FREIHERR VON MALTZAHN, the fire ship ELBE 3, the steam towboad CLAUS D. and the ice breaker STETTIN.

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    Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte

    In the middle of the most beautiful park area of the city, you can find the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte. The museum, that is one of the biggest city historiy museums of Europe, is naturally dedicated to the maritime history of the city.

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Your Hamburg Tourismus Team