Gottfried and Viktoria Fischer with their four children departed Hamburg on the Caesar in November 1854. Johann departed from the same dock on the Steinwärder in November two years later. It is cold in November in Northern Germany, and the morning that the Fischers departed was foggy.
A hundred and fifty years later, but now over a decade ago, “our ship,” the Anastasis, was docked at the nearby port of Cuxhaven, and I remember how bitterly cold the winds blowing in from the North Sea were, even in early autumn. I imagine that November breezes could be quite uncomfortable. Here is how the ship’s Dr Middendorf described the departure of the Caesar. My ancestors were amongst the confused and cowering passengers, wondering what lay ahead on this voyage to another world.
As I came on deck on the morning of our departure from Hamburg, the anchor had already been weighed, the singing of the sailors had finished and the tug steamer had already begun its work. The houses on the bank appeared through the thick fog as wavering outlines, and the tips of the masts disappeared in a grey haze. The sun, just risen, hung blood red between the long rows of ships; a weak strip of light quivered on the smooth surface of the water. We were now out of the harbour and the details of the town and neighbourhood slid slowly past us.
I was in a peculiar mood. – strange to say, it was almost indifferent. It seemed to me so natural and ordinary that I was now setting out into the wide world, as if I had thought of nothing else and done nothing else for years…
For almost the whole morning I walked up and down on the deck… One climbs from the stern deck down a steep stairway and then, over a railing, one can get a clear view down below. I often stand at this railing. Down below there was a confused turmoil. The passengers cowered in tight groups. No-one could find their way in the muddled throng – no purpose and no order, because nobody knew how to sort themselves out in what, for them, were wholly novel circumstances.
The following sketch from a wonderful website by Maggie Blanck captures the chaos and excitement of leaving.