Hamburg Süd and the International Maritime Museum Hamburg (IMMH) have signed an agreement to catalogue and display the historical collection of the shipping company, which was founded in 1871. Using important images, ship models, documents and other artefacts from Hamburg Süd’s archive, the project aims to make the history of Hamburg Süd accessible to the general public in the form of a permanent exhibition. There are also plans to organize a special exhibition for 2021 to mark the company’s 150th anniversary. In addition, the comprehensive historical collection will be permanently available for research purposes at the International Maritime Museum, one of the leading museums in the maritime sector.

The financing needed for several years of preparatory work as well as the exhibitions has been secured thanks to a major donation from the Oetker family, which owned Hamburg Süd for more than eight decades. In 2017, the family sold the shipping company to its current owner, Maersk, the world’s largest liner shipping company, which is based in Copenhagen. Maersk, too, is providing support to the collaboration.
Plans call for the International Maritime Museum to design an exhibition that will vividly depict the history of Hamburg Süd since its foundation during the years of emigration from Europe to North and South America in the second half of the 19th century, through the turbulent decades between the First World War, the global economic crisis, the Second World War and the post-war era, to general cargo shipping and, lastly, to the age of containerization. Hamburg Süd’s development over these one and a half centuries will serve as an example of what several liner shipping companies from that period also went through. For example, the fates of several thousand people who emigrated in the early years are closely tied with the name Hamburg Süd, and to this day, many of their descendants – mostly from South America – still send inquiries to the company’s office in Hamburg regarding passenger lists. Hamburg Süd’s founders also saw the importance of setting up a reliable liner shipping connection for the safe transport of their commercial goods to and from South America. At that time, the luxury liners of the large shipping companies were the only way to travel from continent to continent. In fact, it wasn’t until the introduction of passenger aviation that shipping companies shifted their focus more and more on transporting goods of all kinds.
Hamburg Süd is famous in this sector for the high quality of its transports of foodstuffs, such as southern fruits, coffee and high-quality meat. Today, the company numbers among the leaders not only in markets such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, but also in those of Australia and New Zealand. The goods are transported from these locations to Europe, Asia and North America, for the most part in the traditional North–South trade lanes.
“From the era of European emigration to that of container shipping, Hamburg Süd had a hand in shaping global trends just as the company itself was influenced by these processes,” says Dr. August Oetker on behalf of the Oetker family. “With our donation, we wish to make this rich, historical legacy as well as the circumstances surrounding international shipping in the 19th and 20th centuries come alive for a wide audience.”
“I have enjoyed very close ties with Hamburg Süd and thereby also with the Oetker family throughout my professional career. So I am pleased – personally but especially as the chairman of the International Maritime Museum Hamburg – that this cooperation has come about. The decision to entrust us with the historical collection is a great honor. The International Maritime Museum views it as its mission to preserve the history of the Port of Hamburg and its shipping companies as a cultural asset, to research it scientifically, and to communicate it to the national and international public. The collection of Hamburg Süd and the donation from the Oetker family represent a great enrichment for us from both a museum and a scientific point of view,” says Peter Tamm, Chairman of the International Maritime Museum Hamburg.
“The Hamburg Süd history and the many stories that have come out of its rich heritage over the past nearly 150 years are exactly that; they are Hamburg stories and they are Hamburg Süd stories. The archives and the artifacts that tell all these stories should remain where they belong. We appreciate the efforts made by the Oetker family and the International Maritime Museum to preserve and present the history of the company and will be looking forward to supporting the efforts,” says Søren Skou, CEO of A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S.
“Our roots lie between the Elbe River and Lake Alster,” says Arnt Vespermann, CEO of Hamburg Süd. “Hamburg Süd is and will continue to be an integral part of the maritime cluster in Hamburg as well as one of its largest employers. And thanks to this collaboration, this will become even more visible to the outside world in the future.”