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Prominent people on board

From writers to Nobel Prize laureates to famed artists – numerous famous people travelled aboard Hapag and North German Lloyd (NDL) ships. Even Albert Einstein was one of the passengers.

After the founding of Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hapag) and of North German Lloyd in the mid-19th century, millions of people had used the two companies’ vessels to turn their backs on Europe and above all, to emigrate to North or South America. By the end of 1913, NDL had transported more than ten million passengers across the world’s oceans. During the brilliant era of large, luxurious ocean liners between the 1890s and the Second World War, the presence of celebrities on board made voyages by ship widely reported and discussed social happenings. Politicians, nobility, company chiefs, athletes and international stars of the film and music world booked passages aboard ships that were no less far-famed.

The German heavyweight boxer Max Schmeling travelled on Hapag and NDL vessels many times.

Since there was still no long-haul air travel at the time, ships offered the only opportunity for travelling to other continents – for writer Mark Twain, among others. He was just as adventurous as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, heroes of his novels, and made extensive journeys. In April 1878, he embarked on Hapag’s steamship "Holsatia" before continuing from Hamburg to Venice, covering long distances on foot and writing “A Tramp Abroad” about the trip. After another crossing in June 1892, Twain noted about North German Lloyd’s “Havel”: “This is the delightfulest ship I ever saw. If I were going to write a book I think I would take a room in the Havel and ferry back and forth till the book was finished.”

Twain’s German fellow-author Karl May also trusted North German Lloyd. In 1899/1900 the creator of Winnetou, Old Shatterhand and Kara Ben Nemsi made an extended voyage aboard NDL’s imperial mail steamships “Preussen”, “Gera” and “Bayern”, also covering a section of his route on board Hapag’s steamship “Hamburg”. In 1908 Lloyd’s steamship "Grosser Kurfürst" took him out to New York. 

"I feel that I must thank you most especially for the great courtesy and unfailing attentiveness that you and your esteemed staff have rendered to myself and my travelling companions", wrote Albert Einstein, the famous physicist and Nobel Prize Laureate, in a letter to the head of Hapag in March, 1931. “Stringent order is combined with excellent taste and a congenial atmosphere. The cuisine can only be described as seductive – too good for a simple man”, was his verdict on the “Deutschland”, aboard which he and his wife Elsa had crossed the Atlantic. At the end of 1931 and in 1932, the Nobel laureate twice more sailed to the USA as a Hapag passenger. What Albert Einstein was unaware of as he embarked on his final voyage was that he was never again to return to Germany. The Nazis came to power during his stay in the USA and the Jewish scientist then settled there.

The service on board the Hapag liner "Deutschland" left a lasting impression on Albert Einstein.

Similarly, one of US-American president John F. Kennedy’s most bitter political rivals at the time of his presidency “tested” Lloyd’s good service in February 1959: Only a few weeks after the triumph of the revolution, the young Fidel Castro gave the crew of the “Berlin” an almighty fright by unexpectedly appearing with a heavily armed escort aboard the ship, which was anchored off Havana. The commotion was unfounded: Castro was treated to first class hospitality, gave autographs, and in the end company headquarters could be notified that his stay of several hours had proceeded most harmoniously. Today, however, we are aware that it was on board the ship that a love affair commenced between the young revolutionary and Marita Lorenz, the captain’s daughter. In the book “Dear Fidel” and the eponymous feature film, she tells her tragic story up until her supposed involvement with the Secret Service and the preparations for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

A welcome toast for an unexpected guest: Fidel Castro being welcomed on board the "Berlin" in 1959.

In the 1950s passenger liner shipping was increasingly supplanted by the rise of intercontinental air travel. With the sale of the “Bremen” at the beginning of 1971, Hapag-Lloyd terminated its transatlantic passenger liner service. Yet the planks of the "Bremen" had proved the career springboard for Siegfried and Roy, the magician duo. In 1959 they joined the ship’s crew as steward and waiter, respectively. As a sideline, Siegfried was soon entertaining passengers with his skills as a magician, taking on Roy as his assistant. Even then, they already had the idea of working with wild cats instead of the customary rabbits and doves for the performance. Brought on board by Roy, a leopard named Chico made a beginning. Until 1964 the two men continued to work at sea, and later they developed their glittering Las Vegas shows with lions and tigers. 

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