Placed next to the port of Hamburg, Germany is an old city of warehouses called Speicherstadt. Filled with multi-storey tall and lean brick buildings, the city has preserved the ambiance of 19th century Germany within its streets and architecture. The gothic revival style can be seen in the gable roofs, brick walls, pinnacles buttresses, and large windows. 

Speicherstadt is the world’s largest warehouse complex spread across an area of 260,000 square meters. It was named the 40th UNESCO World Heritage site of Germany back in 2015. Tourists from across the globe visit this heritage site with abundant human history. The winding road network and beautiful buildings along with canals and bridges showcase a carefully preserved chunk of the historic city. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet1
Speicherstadt_© imago stock&people / Christian Ohde_https://www.hamburg.com/architecture/11748606/speicherstadt/

Context

Speicherstadt is located in a densely built urban fabric of Hamburg in Germany, next to Kontohaus, another warehouse district developed in the 1950s. The Speicherstadt warehouse complex was developed along the Elbe river across a group of islands across 1.1km in 1885 and 1927. The combination of warehouse and office scheme was largely utilized and developed due to the port-related activities. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet2
water canals_©KLOOK _https://res.klook.com/images/fl_lossy.progressive,q_65/c_fill,w_1295,h_905,f_auto/w_80,x_15,y_15,g_south_west,l_klook_water/activities/pqjv73hgeyte7zf35mah/HamburgSpeicherstadtandHafencityWalkingTour.webp_

Settled within the HafenCity quarter in Hamburg, it is a narrow strip of land covered by the tall brick façade warehouses built for cargos. The entire strip of land is surrounded by long water canals. The two lands are connected by bridges at different intervals. In the process of revitalizing the inner city area, the government proposed the development of the HafenCity area, the construction of the Elbe Philharmonic Hall was a part of this development project.

History and Political Importance

The sovereign city of Hamburg was a member of the German Confederation since 1815. After the Austro-Prussian War, Hamburg was obliged to join the North German Federation. However, Hamburg and the other Hanseatic cities remained as free ports border due to Article 34 of the North German Constitution

Article 34 was carried over into the constitution of 1871 when the south German states joined the federation. Hamburg was asked by Berlin to join the Customs Union after 1879. In 1881, the Prussian Finance Minister and Hamburg’s Senators jointly signed an agreement which led to Hamburg joining the Customs Union with all its territory, except a permanent free port district. 

Since World War I and II there has been a lot of development and redevelopment in the warehouse complex. The conservative reconstruction ended in 1967. In 2013, an era came to an end when the economic zone of Speicherstadt was dissolved.    

Architecture

The civil engineer of the project is Franz Andreas Meyer and it was his idea to introduce brick cladding walls, gable roof, and terracotta ornamentation. The multi-storey buildings are a fine example of his work. The construction of Speicherstadt city took place in 3 phases. The complex has 15 storage blocks and six adjoining buildings. 

After the establishment of Hamburg Free Port Company, the requirement for storage units spiked leading to the finishing of the 1st phase of construction that was done in just 5 years. The 1st phase of construction covered 60% of the area. All the warehouses are alphabetically named. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet3
Section of the city_ ©Aus dem Hamburger Freihafengebiet, Hamburg 1888, Strumper & Co_ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamburg_Speicherstadt_1888_Querschnitt.jpg

Even today, the buildings have a few elements relevant to the mobility of goods in the past such as cables and pulleys extending from the roof gables that were used to unload the small cargo ships called barges. 

The warehouse district, Speicherstadt has 6 man made canals that acted as connections between warehouses. They surround the foundations of the structures. The foundation for the structures was made using oak wood piles. The piles were placed 12m deep into the marshland of the city.3 million oak piles are used for the foundation which has proved to be very effective due to its natural conservation. The piles underwater have hardened over the years and are estimated to be in place to hold the structure intact. The oakwood is also fire resistant and serves to be highly utilitarian. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet4
Canals covering the foundations_© https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/Hamburg.Speicherstadtzollkanal.2010.wmt.jpg/330px-Hamburg.Speicherstadtzollkanal.2010.wmt.jpg

The warehouse city is also among the first cities to have electricity for industrial use. It was generated from the ‘boiler house’ which was a power station back then. The water distribution system also originated from here and was distributed in close circles for the functioning of the cranes.

Materials used are brick for cladding, copper for the gable roof, and iron for bridges and canals. The binding material that ties the architecture of the city together is the red brick typically called the Hanseatic. The redbrick is also a part of the typical architecture culture of Hamburg city since a lot of buildings have brick used in them. The floors were usually made from wood. The height and flooring type depended on the type of goods that were moved about and stored in the warehouse. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet5
connecting bridges_ © https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/19/Hamburg%2C_Speicherstadt%2C_Wasserschloss_–_2016_–_2971.jpg/330px-Hamburg%2C_Speicherstadt%2C_Wasserschloss_–_2016_–_2971.jpg

Tourism

The UNESCO World Heritage site, Speicherstadt is a must-visit place in Hamburg for tourists. Since 2015, the city has arranged various engaging leisure activities for the public. It includes a Miniatur Wunderland, which is a large model train system for all age groups. It also has a dungeon house showing the history of Speicherstadt in a dramatic and spooky manner. It also has several museums like the Deutsches Zollmuseum(German Customs Museum), Internationales Maritimes MuseumAutomuseum Prototyp, etc.

The German Customs Museums shares stories of customs and smuggling history in Speicherstadt. The Internationales Maritimes Museum has model ships and maps to keep the visitors interested and engaged. The Automuseum Prototyp museum exhibits the automobile history of Speicherstadt over 70 years. The unique SPICY’S Gewürzmuseum, since 1993, is a spice museum that appeals to the visitors to all the senses allowing the visitors to taste and smell the spices. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet6
historic machinery to grind spices_  © https://www.spicys.de/museum/galerie/_

An old coffee warehouse called Kaffeerösterei serves freshly brewed coffee. Café Fleetschlösschen, which was once a customs booth, is now a favourite among photographers due to its picturesque location. 

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet7
Cafe Kaffeerosterei_ ©https://www.hamburg.de/image/3680616/4×3/750/563/98f25c842bdd20b7e35a547e87b4c70e/CA/kaffeeroesterei-speicherstadt–3-.jpg_

Other than museums and cafes, Speicherstadt also offers scenic views by the water canals and the bridges with small ships passing by. Sandtorkai was a modern ship harbour back in 1866 and now it is the traditional ship harbour with 20 different historical ships. 

Wasserschloss or the water castle located at the end of Holländischer Bridge was the only part of the warehouse district that could be used as residential property. This was done to prevent contraband trade in the city. The eye-catching Speicherstadtrathaus or the warehouse district town hall, the headquarters of HHLA transport and logistics was designed by Johannes Grotjan and Hanßen&Meerwein.

Speicherstadt by Carl Johann Christian Zimmermann: City of Warehouses Sheet8
Miniature railroad system_© Mediaserver Hamburg / Jan Traupe_ https://hamburg-news.hamburg/en/location/miniatur-wunderland-hamburg-remains-top-tourist-attraction-survey_

The beauty of the warehouse district can be experienced through waterways on small barges as well as a tour bus that is made available by the local tourism association. The Elbphilharmonie adds value to the context as it houses high-end restaurants with an exemplary example of blended modern and historic architecture. The warehouse district, Speicherstadt in Hamburg is thus a technologically and architecturally well-designed city that showcases the culture and heritage of Germany in the 19th and 20th century.

References

Google Arts & Culture. (n.d.). Architecture of the Speicherstadt Hamburg – Speicherstadt digital. [online] Available at: https://artsandculture.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/architecture-of-the-speicherstadt-hamburg-speicherstadt-digital/AwJi1ThnWLq9KQ?hl=en 

Wikipedia. (2020). Speicherstadt. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speicherstadt.

Hamburg News. (n.d.). Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg remains top tourist attraction: survey. [online] Available at: https://hamburg-news.hamburg/en/location/miniatur-wunderland-hamburg-remains-top-tourist-attraction-survey [Accessed 19 Jul. 2021].

hamburg.de. (n.d.). Speicherstadt UNESCO Site Hamburg. [online] Available at: https://www.hamburg.com/architecture/11748606/speicherstadt/.

www.hamburg-travel.com. (n.d.). Museums of the Speicherstadt Hamburg | Hamburg Tourismus. [online] Available at: https://www.hamburg-travel.com/see-explore/routes-tours/museums-of-the-speicherstadt/ 

Centre, U.W.H. (n.d.). Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus. [online] UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1467/gallery/&maxrows=40

Author

Spandana is an architecture student with a curious mind, who loves to learn new things. An explorer trying to capture the tangible and intangible essence of architecture through research and writing. She believes that there is a new addition to the subject everyday and there is more to it than what meets the eye.

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