To meet the special requirements of the freight and steerage passenger traffic on the New York line the NDL aquired two types of steamers known as the Rhine class and the General class
The "General" class comprised the steamships "Zieten
" and "Scharnhorst
". The "Zieten" was launched at Schichau's yard, Dantzic on July 12 1902, the "Seydlitz" at the same yard on October 25, the "Roon" on November 1 at Joh. C. Tecklenborg's yard, Geestemünde the "Gneisenau" on at the "Vulcan" Company's yard, Stettin, and the "Scharnhorst" in 1904 at Joh. C. Tecklenborg's yard. The steamers of the "General" class were 137 meters long, 17 meters wide and 12 meters deep. They were first class passenger and cargo steamers. Their registered tonnage was about 8000 tons, and displacement 13,500 tons. They were designed for the service between Bremen and New York, and to act as auxiliary steamers in the Imperial lines to East Asia and Australia. They had accommodation for about 90 first, 70 second and 2000 steerage
The appointments of these vessels were characterized by a light and distinguished style, special regard had been given to the conditions of a voyage in the tropics. Each ship had two quadruple expansion engines
of an approximate total of 5,000 indicated horse power. For loading and discharging there were 6 steam winches and 4 steam cranes. The speed of the steamers was about 14 knots. The crew numbered about 150. The steamers were provided with all modern improvements, thus securing the greatest possible degree of safety. They were fitted throughout with electric light, and every provision was made for passengers' comfort and welfare.