During the early 20th century, the world started to seem smaller thanks to increased mobility. Countries and cities with direct access to the world’s oceans that became the most important hubs for trade, culture and innovation. Hamburg was one such city, gaining the nickname of Germany’s “Gateway to the World”, being a centre for trade and the manufacture of many of the country’s ocean liners.
The Hamburg America line was the transatlantic shipping enterprise that included the Blohm & Voss-built SS Hamburg and her sister ship SS New York. But one of the most exciting of the German liners was the SS Bremen – named for Hamburg’s neighbouring city – and one of a pair of ocean liners commissioned by the Norddeutsche Lloyd Line (NDL) for transatlantic passenger service in 1929. Both Bremen and her sister ship Europa – later renamed Liberté – were among the first of a new breed of large, expensive liners with a low streamlined profile and modern interior design.
On her July 1929 maiden voyage, Bremen made the journey from Bremerhaven to New York City in four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes, taking the westbound Blue Riband – the prestigious prize for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean – from RMS Mauretania with an average speed of 27.83 knots. On her next voyage she captured the eastbound Blue Riband with a time of four days, 14 hours and 30 minutes, the first time a liner had broken two records on her first two voyages.
Recalled by the Kriegsmarine high command on 30 August 1939, Bremen spent the following two years being used as a barracks ship before being set alight by a crew member and eventually broken up in 1946. It was a sad end to a magnificent ship that in her heyday had carried society’s finest, from actors Cary Grant, Henry Fonda and Marlene Dietrich, to businessman William Randolph Hearst and boxers Jack Johnson, Max Schmeling and Jack Dempsey. Even Winston Churchill sailed on the Bremen when he travelled to New York in 1931 for a lecture tour of the US.
Among the list of transatlantic passengers of the early-20th century was a trio of German entrepreneurs – engineer August Eberstein, merchant Alfred Nehemias and stationery trader Claus Voss. Inspired by the mechanical innovations they discovered in 138 the US, the three men came together to develop a non-leaking writing instrument and founded Hamburg’s Simplo Filler Pen Company. In 1910, the company name changed to Montblanc, after the highest peak in Europe, representing the founders’ aim to produce the highest quality objects offering ultimate performance and unparallelled craftsmanship.