"It is my intention, under the auspices of the most competent authority of our fatherland, the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Hamburg, to establish a 'Moorish Institute', in short, which, from the first day of its existence, will enter into the direct service of practical seafaring. At the end a Bureau shall be established, where both the outgoing Captain may make the safest enquiries about the peculiarities of the sea route to be taken by him, as determined by experience and science, and the incoming Captain shall find a place of respect, where he may contribute his part to the improvement of our knowledge of the ocean through the new experiences and observations he has gained, and exchange his ideas with those of other expert men in orderly entertainment."
More about the Norddeutsche Seewarte
With these words, Wilhelm Ihno Adolf von Freeden (1822-1894), then rector of the Großherzoglich Oldenburgische Nautical School in Elsfleth, suggested to the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce to found an institute that would meet the needs of shipping in order to make oceanic voyages safer and shorter. With this initiative to establish the "Norddeutsche Seewarte", von Freeden paved the ground for the development of state maritime institutions in Germany. On 1 January 1868 von Freeden began his work as director of the North German Maritime Observatory, which was renamed "Deutsche Seewarte" with the foundation of the German Empire in July 1872.
At that time, the Hanseatic City of Hamburg provided von Freeden with rooms in the Seemannshaus (Seafarers’ House) above the Landungsbrücken and an amount for the procurement of furniture, maps, books and instruments. 28 shipowners also assured him of their support, and the skippers provided meteorological data recorded and observed in diaries. On this basis von Freeden advised captains and recommended individual routes, taking into account the experience of the captains and the characteristics of the ships. Following his advice, the ships were 7 days faster on departure and 4 days on home voyage than fellow sailors on the month-long voyages.
Von Freeden’s role model, US Navy lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, had already analysed old logbooks from 1840 to 1850 and drawn up wind and current maps on the basis of these observations. Thanks to his sailing instructions, which he published from 1851 onwards, ships were able to considerably shorten their routes. From 1868 to 1875 von Freeden produced about 850 such sailing instructions in the tradition of Maury. They were highly appreciated.
In 1875 the "Deutsche Seewarte" was placed under the control of the Imperial Admiralty. The hydrograph of the Imperial Admiralty, Georg Balthasar von Neumayer (1826-1909), took over as first director and expanded the fields of marine science, meteorology and nautical science. His aim was to promote seafaring by means of marine physical and maritime meteorological observations, to examine nautical instruments and collect hydrographic and nautical writings and maps, and to inform domestic shipping by means of nautical publications and storm warnings for both coastal and inland regions – including the processing of the collected material for navigation and science.
More about the Deutsche Seewarte
As a result of the establishment of meteorological observatory stations on the Northern German coast and inland regions as well as regular notices to seafarers, the "Deutsche Seewarte" was internationally recognised. The participation of employees of the "Deutsche Seewarte" in polar expeditions and international oceanographic expeditions underpinned its internationally leading position. Neumayer had headed the institute for 27 years. He knew how to attract outstanding experts and how to profitably combine science and seafaring. Renowned scientists conducted research at the "Deutsche Seewarte" in the fields of nautical science, hydrography and meteorology. These included, for example, Wladimir Köppen, Alfred and Kurt Wegener or Christian Koldewey. The establishment of the Chair of Oceanography at the University of Hamburg was initiated and promoted by the "Deutsche Seewarte".
The increase in marine science tasks necessitated the establishment of the Department of Oceanography in 1911. In 1924, the “Orographic lift and Storm Surge Warning Service” at the "Deutsche Seewarte" picked up its work. From 1919 on, the Reich Ministry of Transport headed the "Deutsche Seewarte" as its supreme employer. In 1935, the weather service was subordinated to the Reich Ministry of Aviation, while nautical and hydrographic services were subordinated to the navy.
After the Second World War, the British occupying forces founded the "German Maritime Institute" in 1945/1946, from which the "German Hydrographic Institute" (DHI) with cross-zone tasks and the "Meteorological Office for Northwest Germany" (MANWD) emerged. While the meteorological work was assigned to the MANWD and the "Meteorological Office" moved into the building of the nautical school at Hamburg harbour, the DHI took over all nautical, hydrographic and oceanographic activities and moved into the former seafarers’ house in 1948. The Soviets established the Meteorological Service (MD) and the Seehydrographic Service (SHD) in their occupation zone.
More about the German Hydrographic Institute
The DHI, as the central institution for all aspects of shipping, also took on the Naval Observatory’s tasks regarding the investigation of ship magnetism, chronometer tests, tide forecasting, the storm surge and storm surge warning service, and geomagnetic observations. On 12 December 1950, the Federal Ministry of Transport assumed responsibility for the DHI in accordance with the decisions of the Allied High Commission. Its tasks included the promotion of maritime shipping and sea fishing through scientific and nautical-technical research, the testing of ship equipment, nautical and hydrographic services, the publication of official nautical charts and nautical publications, and the monitoring of seawater for radioactivity and other harmful substances.
With Germany’s reunification in 1990, under the Unification Treaty the tasks of the DHI were merged with those of the Seehydrographic Service of the GDR (SHD) of the new federal states and in future taken over by the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH). The BSH ist also responsible for the promotion of the German merchant fleet and tasks in the field of flag law, which previously lay with the Federal Ministry of Transport. Accordingly, the BSH has two locations: the BSH in Hamburg with the Departments of Oceanography (M), Shipping (S) and Order of the Sea (O) as well as its own laboratory in Hamburg-Sülldorf for the evaluation of numerous research projects and the BSH in Rostock with the main focus on the Department of Nautical Hydrography (N), the Ice and Water Level Service for the Baltic Sea and the production of nautical charts.
Today, the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) is THE central maritime authority in Germany. As the higher federal authority and departmental research institution in the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), around 900 people in over 100 professions are involved in maritime shipping, oceanography, nautical hydrography, marine environmental protection and offshore wind energy. Five of its own survey, wreck search and research vessels operate in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the North Sea and Baltic Sea. The BSH works in more than 15 international organisations and in more than 170 committees with a maritime dimension.