The history of the German Emigration Center began 175 years before it opened: After 1830, Bremerhaven developed into one of the busiest ports of emigration in continental Europe. Over 7.2 million people departed the port on a ship to start a new life on the other side of the world. In 1985, engaged Bremerhaven citizens established the Freundeskreis Deutsches Auswandererhaus (Friends of the German Emigration Center), formerly the Förderverein Deutsches Auswanderermuseum (German Emigration Museum Supporting Association) to dedicate a museum to this important chapter in history. The Initiativkreis Deutsches Auswandererhaus (German Emigration Center Initiative), formerly Initiativkreis Erlebniswelt Auswanderung (Emigration Museum Initiative) has supported the museum project since 1998. The German Emigration Center officially opened on 8th August 2005.
The bold and innovative museum concept views people and their experiences not as a part of, but as the heart of history. The interior and exterior of the museum were designed by the Hamburg architecture firm Andreas Heller Architects & Designers. In 2007, the German Emigration Center was honored with the European Museum of the Year Award from the European Museum Forum.
The first extension to the building was unveiled on April 21st, 2012 with an extended permanent exhibition that casts light on over 300 years of immigration to Germany. This social issue will be explored in more depth and on a more comprehensive scale with a focus on peaceful coexistence in a nation of immigrants with the opening of another new building funded by the federal state and city governments on 26th June 2021.
Academic research and information on historical and current aspects of migration can also be found at the Academy of Comparative Migration Studies (ACOMIS), which was also established in 2021.
The German Emigration Center is a public-private partnership project: The main building was constructed with funding from the state of Bremen and city of Bremerhaven in 2005. The first extension was then built with financing from the federal government, state of Bremen and funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the operating company in 2012. The site was donated by the city of Bremerhaven. Thanks to renewed support from the federal government, the state of Bremen and the city of Bremerhaven the second extension in 2021 was made possible. The German Emigration Center has been operated by Deutsches Auswandererhaus gemeinnützige GmbH since 2017.
Chair: Dr. Helmut Gold, Director, Museum für Kommunikation, Frankfurt am Main
> Matthias Ditzen-Blanke, Publisher and Managing Director, Nordsee-Zeitung, Bremerhaven
> State Councillor Carmen Emigholz, Senator for Culture for the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen
> Lord Mayor Melf Grantz, Magistrate of Bremerhaven
> Prof. Dr. Jochen Oltmer, University of Osnabrück, Institute for International Migration and Intercultural Relations (IMIR), Osnabrück
> Nils Schnorrenberger, Managing Director, Bremerhavener Gesellschaft für Investitionsförderung und Stadtentwicklung mbH (BIS), Bremerhaven
> Dr. Simone Blaschka, Director of the German Emigration Center, Bremerhaven
> Andreas Heller, Andreas Heller Architects & Designers, Hamburg / Operator, Deutsches Auswandererhaus gemeinnützige GmbH, Bremerhaven
> Jack Masey †, Metaform Design International, New York, USA
Friends and benefactors
The German Emigration Center Foundation, founded in 2006, is a key promoter of research and exhibition work. It funds research trips in Germany and abroad, conferences, special exhibitions and related publications.
Together with Initiativkreis Deutsches Auswandererhaus e.V. (German Emigration Center Initiative), the Foundation acquired a painting by genre painter Felix Schlesinger. The painting, “In the passport and police office before emigration” from 1859, highlights one of the most important aspects of emigration in the 19th century: getting a passport. Today, the work can be viewed in the ‘Transit’ section of the museum – the transition between the old building to the new, from emigration to immigration.
The Foundation has awarded the Calliope Prize for Practical Migration Research since 2015 together with the German Emigration Center. The prize, endowed with a 20,000 Euro, promotes academic work on immigration to Europe or European emigration overseas.
The key drivers behind the establishment of the German Emigrant Center, Initiativkreis Deutsches Auswandererhaus e.V. (German Emigration Center Initiative) and Freundeskreis Deutsches Auswandererhaus e.V. (Society of Friends of the German Emigration Center) remain major benefactors to the museum and its projects to this day. The museum has also developed an extensive network of committed benefactors (institutions, companies and private friends).
Today’s ‘Friends’ has its roots in the former Förderverein Deutsches Auswanderermuseum (German Emigration Museum Supporting Association), established in 1985, and has been supported on the political and national stage by the Initiativkreis Deutsches Auswandererhaus (German Emigration Center Initiative), formerly the Initiativkreis Erlebniswelt Auswanderung (Emigration Museum Initiative) since 1998.
The museum’s diverse and research-related library is just one of the major contributions made by the Friends of the German Emigration Center. In addition, they regularly complement the accompanying program of the German Emigration Center with Sunday matinees featuring the latest research and debates with experts.
The initiative remains a key benefactor to the Foundation and funds a variety of museum programmes for schools in Bremerhaven.