Buitenhof 20, 2513 AG, The Hague
In the prestigious Lloyd’s Hall, shipping company Norddeutsche Lloyd sponsored a press centre during the Hague Peace Conference of 1907. Also shipping magnate Albert Ballin actively mediated to avert the disasters of modern naval warfare.
“Can the vast, the boundless sea be the appendage of one kingdom alone?”
– Hugo Grotius
A name shield on the façade of cinema Pathé still refers to the prestigious hotel Des Deux-Villes. The restaurant wing was built in 1904 for hosting the festive diners of the Second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 and the expected future conferences. In the central Art Nouveau hall, the Bremen-based shipping company Norddeutsche Lloyd sponsored a fully equipped press centre, with post office and telegraph connections to Reuters /Associated Press.
A Dutch journalist reported that “a beautifully elaborated miniature of a Lloyd’s ship dominates the room, maps and lists with information about the voyages offered by this company can be found everywhere”. Trained as a lawyer, the German shipping magnate Heinrich Wiegand was not only interested in advertising. The big steamboat lines saw vital interests in strengthening international law, both in the sphere of maritime law, and in restraining modern naval warfare. The maps and shipping lists in Lloyd’s Hall illustrated Hugo Grotius’ principle of Mare Liberum (Freedom of the Sea, 1609): “Can any nation have the right to prevent other nations to communicate with each other?”
Lloyd’s Hall became the sinew centre of the Peace Conference, enabling direct talks between diplomats, journalists and pacifist opinion leaders. The undisputed press campaign leader was William T. Stead, the pioneer of modern investigative journalism and tabloid mass media. Stead’s daily Courrier de la Conférence de la Paix instantly reported the negotiations and side events of the conference. The main result, the consolidation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, was largely due to the pressure of public opinion.
When the conference failed to produce any result in slowing down the naval arms race, Lloyd’s competitor Albert Ballin of the Hamburg-America Line Company (Hapag), actively engaged in mediation. Making use of his exceptional business skills and his close access to German Emperor William II, Ballin tried to prevent the war by bilateral British-German talks. Shortly before his death in 1918, Ballin was still urging the Kaiser to accept US President Wilson’s terms of peace. Hapag-Lloyd (the merger of both companies) still highlights Ballin’s peace diplomacy as part of its company history.