Rebuilding and merger
Rock bottom for the German merchant marine: The German flag, as the aggressor’s, is banned from all the world’s oceans. The merchant fleet, with a pre-war total tonnage of 4.2 million grt, and 1.5 million grt at the end of the war, has to be handed over, except for just 170,000 grt for supplying Germany’s own needs. The maximum size of ships is restricted to 1,500 grt. Lloyd’s first "Bremen" of 1858 had been of 2,674 grt and would have had to be surrendered.
Hapag is now based on Ballindamm: The Hamburg Senate has renamed Alsterdamm to mark the 90th anniversary of the great Hapag director’s birth. The company reaches its centenary but sees "no cause for celebration". Apart from a small nucleus, it has had to give notice to all staff and survives on modest activities. Like NDL, Hapag becomes engaged in catering, towage and also services to seaside resorts.
Great career for a mighty mouse: After the war the 904-grt coastal resort steamer "Glückauf" advances to become North German Lloyd’s flagship. In 1948 Hapag charters her, for its part resuming the coastal resort service to the East Frisian islands. The throng of takers is enormous, and the captain a celebrated seafarer. The 68-metre long "Glückauf" is commanded by Gottfried Clausen, who had twice sailed the Lloyd sail training ship "Commodore Johnsen" around Cape Horn.
The Germans want to cast off post-war gloom, at least temporarily; demand for the first holiday products grows constantly. A large part of foreign territory remains out of the question, but Hapag and Lloyd, their travel agencies now collaborating and also constituting two of the founders of what later becomes Touropa, join partners in offering relaxing holidays by special train to Mittenwald, Ruhpolding and Oberstdorf in the German Alps.
The most stringent restrictions for German shipping are now relaxed. In view of their limited tonnage, Hapag and NDL avoid costly rivalry and together return to the old trades, even with no operating agreement. The 2,399-grt "Hamburg" is launched as the first post-war newbuilding for Germany and for Hapag. The liner trade to New York is resumed, initially as a cargo-only service.
Instead of the provisional "pennant C", the West German merchant fleet is permitted to hoist the black-red-gold flag of the infant Federal Republic. Yet shipping’s semi-political role is largely played out. Cars and aircraft are supplanting ships as symbols of dynamism, yearning for faraway places and a new start. Hapag puts the freighter "Odenwald" into service and six more of the same class follow. NDL takes delivery of six motor freighters as its first post-war newbuildings.
Return to the company’s own Kuhwerderhafen, now rebuilt; return to the North Atlantic: Hapag mans the 21,000-grt "Italia" for Home Lines on the traditional route to New York. As overseas traffic begins to revive noticeably with the German Wirtschaftswunder, NDL, which had initially wished to give up the North Atlantic service, now wants to resume the New York service as rapidly as possible.
Comeback in the most important trade bar the Atlantic: Hapag and NDL open a joint service with monthly sailings to the Far East with Lloyd’s turbine-powered ship "Weserstein". From 1955 the two shipping companies are already offering a service at ten-day intervals. In 1954 it is also the "Weserstein" that for the first time returns to the old Imperial Mail Steamer route to Australia.
Jubilation at Bremerhaven’s Columbuskaje: The Swedish passenger motor vessel "Gripsholm" is handed over to NDL. She is owned by an alliance between the Bremen company and Svenska Amerika Linjen and is to be manned by Lloyd. As the "Berlin", she is the first passenger liner under the German flag on the North Atlantic since the war. So once again the legendary key-and-anchor flag flies from a great passenger ship.
Back on all the major routes: Ten years after the end of the war, Hapag and NDL are again operating services virtually all over the world, mainly on a joint basis. Hapag has 25 of its own cargo ships on liner services, while NDL has 27 ships. With the German Wirtschaftswunder, overseas foreign trade is growing rapidly. Hapag acquires a stake of almost 28 percent in the new Deutscher Flugdienst GmbH.
The ending "Stein" for ship names has become something of trademark of the NDL fleet. It may make them easier to remember but can cause problems. Since there can be no question of inventing names, place names are required. With the fleet growing rapidly, these are becoming scarce. Each time a launching is in the offing, entire departments can be found frantically checking out atlases.
Bremen can celebrate again: North German Lloyd reaches its centenary and bids for its next large passenger ship, namely the former luxury liner and troop transporter "Pasteur", which the French government wishes to sell. Uproar in France: The pride of La Grande Nation under the flag of its wartime foe? The liner goes to Bremen, nevertheless, and receives a warm reception when she calls at Cherbourg as NDL’s flagship "Bremen" in 1959.
Hapag does not wish to resume passenger liner services on the North Atlantic and instead concentrates on its traditional core business, the cargo services. The company also shows the flag in sea tourism again with the elegant snow-white luxury cruise ship "Ariadne". Owing to the very high fares, even for this exclusive market, demand for her remains limited. The ship is sold in 1960.
There had been no change in North German Lloyd’s management after the end of the war. Richard Bertram and Johannes Kulenkampff are still heading the Company. The chairman of the Hapag executive board since 1953 has been Werner Traber, who comes from a family of Hamburg shipowners. He will play a substantial part in determining the fortunes of Hapag and later Hapag-Lloyd AG for almost two decades.
Both Hapag and also NDL again pay dividends of six percent. NDL, having achieved turnover of DM 259 million, regards its reconstruction as completed for the time being. The Hamburgians, with a turnover of DM 286 million, want to further build up their fleet, just now comprising 49 ocean-going vessels, with three more under construction. Both shipping companies see themselves as increasingly threatened by flag protectionism by many nations.
NDL also returns to the cruise business. Initially the company offers a classic, dispatching its "Berlin" to the Norwegian fjords. The cruise to Northern waters, once made famous as the Kaiser’s annual holiday, proves to be a great attraction still. Yet even on cruise routes the former "Gripsholm", launched way back in 1924 and not really up to standard on the North Atlantic, is already almost a dinosaur.
In Bremerhaven the technical side of North German Lloyd has become the Lloydwerft shipyard, a successful supplier on the international market. The company’s largest shore operation possesses two large dry-docks and specializes in rebuilding and repairing even very large ships. Employing up to 1,900 workers, it nevertheless comes under growing pressure owing to the expansion of international shipbuilding capacities.
The combined cargo-passenger ships deployed on the Far East route become unviable. They can no longer handle the growing volume of cargo, while passengers increasingly prefer to cover the long distance by air. Hapag and NDL aim to launch a weekly express service with freight-only vessels. Hapag awards contracts for seven 10,900-grt fast cargo ships, each with a capacity of 12,600 tons.
NDL has acquired a third large passenger ship, the Swedish "Kungsholm", eleven years old. Refitted as the "Europa", she is to be deployed from 1966 both in the cruise business and on the Transatlantic passenger service to roughly the same extent. The NDL executive board continues to back the latter, offering its large liners on a bigger scale as a comfortable supplement for jet aircraft.
The end of the North Atlantic passenger trade is becoming more and more obvious, yet NDL nevertheless takes over the "Kungsholm". The newbuildings for the Far East route are coming into service. Hapag invests heavily in its West Indies service, placing orders for ten new 7,500-grt ships with a service speed of 17.5 knots. These are modern, optimally equipped but conventional freighters. Time is running out for them.
Arrival of the box: The US shipping company Sea-Land’s containership "Fairland" sails to Europe for the first time, berthing at Bremen’s Überseehafen on 6 May. Still viewed by European shipping companies with scepticism, within a few years the normed container for combined sea and land transport causes a revolution in the transport business. Many shipping companies will fail to survive.
The Far East remains a dynamic growth region. NDL deploys its "fast runners" of the "Friesenstein" class on this service. With a service speed of 21 knots they cut the round voyage time from 120 to 105 days. With larger tank capacity, refrigerated holds, a car deck and a heavy-lift derrick, these may be optimally equipped for this region – but not for transporting and handling containers.
Hapag and NDL cooperate more closely than ever before, embarking together on a new era. On 25 October the "Weser Express" from Bremen inaugurates the first European full container service to New York for Hapag-Lloyd Container Linien. The "Elbe Express" from Hamburg follows two weeks later. The structure of shipping is changing so rapidly that speculation is rife in the industry that the unavoidable Hapag-Lloyd merger is coming very shortly.
NDL enters the bulk shipping market. While the Hapag-Lloyd merger is still publicly denied as "absurd", it is being discreetly negotiated in Hamburg and Bremen. One thing is clear. The future belongs to container transport and investments on the scale required cannot be made by one shipping company alone. Cooperating for many years in a "friendly marriage of necessity", the Hanseatic rivals accept the implications.
Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft and North German Lloyd merge on 1 September, retroactively from 1 January. This marks the end of a Hanseatic interplay of competition and cooperation that had lasted 113 years, set benchmarks in world shipping and propelled the two rivals to the top. And it also marks the start of the history of the premier German shipping line, Hapag-Lloyd AG, based in Hamburg and Bremen.