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Interview: Ballin’s legacy - The shipping magnate who built UIL’s home

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© UNESCO
9 September 2021

Four questions to
Heinz Hueber, great-grandson of Albert Ballin

The heritage-listed Ballin Villa in Hamburg is home to the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Where the successful shipping magnate Albert Ballin once lived, more than 50 people from all over the world now work to promote lifelong learning. On the occasion of Open Monument Day in Germany, we spoke with Albert Ballin's great-grandson, Heinz Hueber, about his great-grandfather and the Ballin Villa.

What made your great-grandfather, Albert Ballin, so special?

His determination, his untiring diligence, his love for his family and closest friends, his circumspection, his social achievements, his creativity, his innovations, his visions, his steadfastness, and ultimately his loyalty. Let me explain:

Determination
He even accompanied the first cruise in January 1891, with his wife Marianne, and played a major role in making the trip a complete success.

 

Untiring diligence
Even when in convalescent care, he always fulfilled his duties. Time and again he had one of his secretaries join him so that he could dictate his correspondence, which was extensive, also including hand-written letters.
Love for his family and closest friends
We can see this from his correspondence with his friends Max Warburg and Dr Ernst Francke and with his daughter Irmgard and son-in-law Heinz respectively.

 

Circumspection
On each of his journeys, and especially on the Hapag ships, he took notes on what should be improved or what needed to be changed in the procedure. 
Steadfastness
He remained true to his faith.
Social achievement
He introduced an invalidity, widows' and orphans' pension fund, as well as a support fund for employees who became invalids and a workers' relief fund in case of illness of family members. He built a residential area for sailors and workers as well as homes for captains in the city of Cuxhaven, had the so called Ballinstadt – Hamburg’s emigration station - built, took care of many people who came to him with their concerns, also supported family members who got into financial difficulties, considered his servant in his will, and much more.

Creativity
He "invented" the cruise and created the "Literary Bureau" which served as a communication
department to promote Hapag's offers.

 

 

 

 

Innovation
He pushed for the development of the P-ships, such as the Prussia, Persia and Palatia, a type of combination ship (passenger and cargo) that promised greater economic efficiency -  and the increased use of twin-screw steamers. He was also keen that the construction of the new ships should take place at German shipyards.

 

Vision
The building of the Imperator, the largest passenger ship in the world at the time, and the Vaterland, still the largest steamship ever built in the world and he recognised early on the importance of the airship.

 

 

 

Loyalty
To his city of Hamburg, his fatherland and above all to "his" Hapag.

 

   

What significance did Villa Ballin in Hamburg have for your great-grandfather and what significance does it have for you personally today?

He wrote to his friend Max Warburg in April 1908 that he had purchased the property in Feldbrunnenstraße in order to have his "old people's home" built. His intention was to create an attractive home for himself and his small family, so that the already "customary" breakfast with Kaiser Wilhelm could take place in an appropriate atmosphere. According to his own records, he had a wall removed in 1912 so that he could set up a large oval table that could seat more than 30 people. The seating plan of the imperial visit of 17 June 1912, drawn up and handwritten by my great-grandfather, is in our possession.

Today, more than 50 staff members of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning work at the Villa Ballin. They are committed to international understanding and learning for young and old worldwide. What connections do you see with your great-grandfather's work?

My great-grandfather was a pioneer of "globalization", as Hapag developed into a "global player", as one would put it today, during his time as General Manager. Through his invention of the pleasure cruise in 1891, he made a significant contribution to the promotion of international understanding and knowledge-sharing. I'm sure he would be very pleased that his house is now being put to such use.

How do you carry on Albert Ballin's multi-faceted legacy?

We have used the difficult months of the pandemic to write two books. One is a book about my grandmother Irmgard, Albert Ballin's adopted daughter. We incorporated the existing letters, photos, documents and diaries into this book. On the other hand, we have written a book about my great-grandfather Albert Ballin, which we have limited to the description of his private life. The books were written for our family and closest friends in order to record the numerous existing documents and preserve them for the family.

Virtual tour of the Ballin Villa with David Atchoarena, UIL Director

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