St. Annen 1, the town hall of the Speicherstadt

The administrative building of HHLA, opened in 1904, is the magnificent centrepiece of the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district, as well as a cleverly converted office building.

Everyone at Hamburger Freihafen und Lagerhausgesellschaft (HFLG) agreed that the new main administrative building should be no less than magnificent. Even the “old” head office building, opened in 1887 at Am Sandtorkai 1, was designed to be “more airy and attractive” than the neighbouring Warehouse Block O at the personal request of Minister Johannes Versmann. It was therefore embellished with oriel windows, pediments and panels from sandstone, but it soon turned out to be too small.

HFLG, HHLA’s predecessor which was established to build and service the Speicherstadt, grew just as quickly as the warehouse complex entrusted to it. After London and New York, Hamburg was number three on the list of world ports. The desire was to create an impression and the company Hanßen & Meerwein was commissioned, together with architect Johannes Grotjan, to build St. Annen 1.

Hanßen & Meerwein had already built the playfully designed head office and was one of the architects behind the “real” Hamburg town hall. No wonder that the building supported by 463 wooden posts was soon referred to as the “Speicherstadt town hall”. Of course the name plays on the importance of HFLG in the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district, but also the architecture adopts the German town hall style prevalent at that time. The clock tower is also clear evidence of this intention, which dominates the tightly packed warehouse blocks like the belfry of a medieval town hall. 

When St. Annen 1 was inaugurated on 1 June 1904, customers had reason to be happy. A magnificent building had been erected for 600,000 Reichsmark (around 45 Mark per cubic meter of enclosed space). In the style of eclecticism (historicism that makes use of elements from different eras), Roman archways were combined with renaissance windows and baroque adornments. The gable in a heavily decorated style carries the HFLG coat of arms, the coat of arms of the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district, so to speak. 

The interior was designed largely in the art nouveau style. Tiles, doors and wooden panels highlight the curved forms of the style that was fashionable at that time. No expense was spared when it came to the building material, with fine bricks from Saxony, grey Oberkirchen sandstone and copper for the steeple tops and black slate on the inside with embedded fossils.

The multifaceted yet harmonious composition has been impaired over the years by pragmatic touches for office use. However, the building survived the heavy air raids during the Second World War unscathed although many warehouse blocks in the immediate vicinity were destroyed.

St. Annen 1 was then renovated and restored to her former glory for her 100th birthday. The order was given to the award-winning office gmp (von Gerkan, Marg and Partner), which also built Hamburg Airport, Berlin’s main railway station and the Chinese National Museum in Beijing.

gmp’s task was to enable the building to be used for modern-day purposes while preserving and highlighting its historic architecture. In 2001 and 2002, new meeting rooms and offices were created and a characteristic glass ceiling arched over the foyer, which was originally an open atrium. An old fire bell from the Kaispeicher A warehouse can be found here as a reminder of the past.

New offices were created in the adjacent building by linking up former yards. This was certainly a challenge because the warehouse lofts let in relatively little light with their characteristic timber construction made from softwood. For this reason, the interior was equipped with a wash block and meeting rooms.

Despite the tasteful, modern interior design, it is still possible to recognise the function of the former warehouses. The hatches, which are windows today, are directly opposite. On one side, the quayside, the goods were delivered, temporarily stored and then, on the other side, transported to the street with a winch.