Speicherstadt Quarter UNESCO Site
Speicherstadt (lit. warehouse city) is the world's largest complex of warehouses and spans an area of 260,000 sqm. It was built into the Elbe river between 1883 and the late 1920s, on thousands of oak poles, as a free economic zone in Hamburg's port. The beautiful neo-gothic brick architecture of Speicherstadt makes for an exciting contrast of the neighbouring HafenCity Hamburg's modern steel-and-glass constructions. Since 2015, Speicherstadt, along with Kontorhausviertel and Chilehaus, proudly bears the title of Germany’s 40th UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the Committee, Speicherstadt — with its buildings and network of streets, canals and bridges — is an 'extraordinary example of representing one or more eras of human history'.
Speicherstadt throughout history
In 1871, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg became a part of the German Empire, yet was able to maintain its own tax and customs regulations. This privilege remained in place until 1881, when a new customs union was installed. From this point on, only the freeport area along the Elbe river was exempt from import sales taxes and customs. The final annexation of Hamburg by the German Empire was scheduled for 1888, which meant the city had seven years to create new storage capacities inside the freeport area. Before the construction of the warehouses could begin in 1883, around 24,000 people had to be evicted and around 1,100 houses had to be torn down.
On October 29th ,1888 Emperor William II. inaugurated Speicherstadt on so-called 'Emperor’s Day', even though only the first building phase had been completed. Interrupted by World War I, Speicherstadt was finished only in 1927. During World War II, Operation Gomorrha destroyed the western part of Speicherstadt. Reconstructions were finalized in 1967. On January 1st, 2013 an era came to a close: The free economic zone of Speicherstadt, which covered almost a fifth of Hamburg’s entire port area, was dissolved.
Sightseeing in Speicherstadt
Today, Speicherstadt hosts a broad array of leisure activities, like Miniatur Wunderland, an enormous miniature railway system which is immensely popular with all age groups. Hamburg Dungeon offers a scary trip through Hamburg’s history. Deutsches Zollmuseum tells the story of customs and smuggling and Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg offers thousands of model ships and maps. Automuseum Prototyp boasts rare prototypes from 70 years of automobile history and Kaffeerösterei is all about coffee. In this former coffee warehouse you can even take part in a coffee tasting with freshly-brewed beans from all over the world.
Also outside the old warehouses there is plenty to see: In the long canals between the former storage buildings, smaller ships make their way through the area and at Traditionsschiffhafen (lit. traditional ship harbour) at the Sandtor quay you can see up to 20 different historical ships.
At its opening in 1866, Sandtor quay was the first modern dock in the city, where ships could be loaded and unloaded directly from the pier.
One of the most popular photo scenes in Speicherstadt is Wasserschloss (lit. water castle) at the end of Holländischer Brook, which was constructed between 1905 and 1907. Back then it was the only part in the warehouse district that could be used as residential property. This rule was designed to prevent contraband trade in the port area. Additionally, Speicherstadt was not adequately protected from flooding. Today it is used gastronomically and for tea trade.
Due to its picturesque looks and central location Café Fleetschlösschen, a former customs booth on Brooktorkai, has also become a favourite among photographers. Also among the more well-known buildings in Speicherstadt is the river police station on Kehrwiederspitze. It was constructed in 1902 and now serves as the filming spot for national tv station ZDF’s show 'Notruf Hafenkante'.
Last but not least there is the eye-catching 'Speicherstadtrathaus' (lit. 'warehouse district town hall'), the headquarters of HHLA transport and logistics. The beautiful office building was designedby Johannes Grotjan and Hanßen&Meerwein, who have also contributed strongly to the construction of Hamburg City Hall.