HafenCity – New life for Hamburg’s old docks

Hamburg has been one of Europe’s busiest cities for a very long time. Its history goes back to at least the second century AD and since the 12th century it has been a major trading market. For hundreds of years the free port was one of Europe’s commercial gateways and the warehouses along Hamburg’s docks held goods from every corner of the world. Shipping has declined with the rise of other ports but Hamburg’s economic importance has survived. Now it’s the second city of Germany and one of the country’s hubs for media and finance.
One challenge the city faced was how to adapt to the shift of its economic balance. Traffic through the docks slowly declined as Rotterdam became Europe’s main freight centre, and EU trade deals reduced the importance of the free port, so the once prosperous district went slowly downhill. Early in the 21st century the city decided to regenerate the area and in March 2008 the new district of HafenCity was created from part of the old free port. The remaining free port area is a better size to handle the volume of trade passing through it, and HafenCity was freed up for redevelopment.

Impressive architecture, incomparable situation: the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall raises a giant wave above the building of the former Kaispeicher A warehouse
Photo: ELBE&FLUT; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH
When completed, probably in the mid-2020s, HafenCity will have around 12,000 residents and about 40,000 are expected to work there. Contracts have already been signed for most of the major projects but there are still many opportunities in the area’s general redevelopment. Transport infrastructure has already been upgraded to serve the expected residents, with the new U4 underground line opening in 2012, but there’s a lot of growth potential in that sector. HafenCity also includes a major berth from cruise ships which is likely to boost Hamburg’s already significant tourism industry over the next few years.Hamburg’s plans for HafenCity are ambitious. Construction work began in 2007 on the first and largest of the projects, the new Elbe Philharmonic Hall. That’s running several years behind schedule but should finally open in 2016 or 2017; when finished it will be the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg and its distinctive profile is already one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Several other projects have been completed on schedule though, including the new HafenCity University. The 1990s Hanseatic Trade Center was an early stage in the area’s regeneration and was built to match the style of the city’s traditional red brick warehouses.
Like most major redevelopment projects HafenCity’s impact will extend well beyond the district itself. Companies and international organisations continue to relocate to Hamburg, drawn by the city’s atmosphere and modern infrastructure. Germany’s reputation for sustainable development is also a big attraction, with environmental group Greenpeace opening an office in HafenCity in 2011.
Café and Bistro Kehrwieder
Café & Bistro Kehrwieder
Photo: Masoud Ghorbani; Source: Café & Bistro Kehrwieder
Some of the most interesting projects are focused in the Speicherstadt, or warehouse district. Although most locals regard this as a separate area it’s officially part of HafenCity and is also seeing a lot of redevelopment work. The challenge is to preserve the appearance of the brick and terracotta warehouses while efficiently remodelling them into retail premises and office space. The buildings are also constructed on old timber piles and there are numerous loading canals, so it’s one of the old city’s most fascinating parts.
Hamburg is a thriving city with a bright future ahead, and there’s going to be a lot of future demand for construction work as that future becomes reality. HafenCity is the scene of the most active redevelopment but it’s going to have effects through the whole city and beyond. Residential, retail and commercial properties, as well as transport projects, are all being awarded in and around HafenCity and will be for years to come. There’s a wealth of opportunities for anyone who wants to be part of the project.