The perfect museum ensemble

What used to be the viewable storage area in the historic “50s sheds” now sparkles with a huge range of exhibits. Museum director Ursula Richenberger is working to reorder the exhibits and showcase them in a new way. With partners such as HHLA, the aim is also to emphasise the modern port.

Shed 50A with the neighbouring Bremer Kai quay is unbeatable as an authentic location for a museum. This is where modern break-bulk cargo handling was practically invented in the early 20th century. Hamburg’s distinctive quay promontory is home to railway tracks with all kinds of rail vehicles parked up, and forwarders still use the loading ramps of the neighbouring sheds today.

When visitors cross the forecourt with its towering, decommissioned HHLA straddle carriers and climb over the flood-protection barrier, they come upon a forest of parked luffing, gantry and half-gantry cranes. Behind this, all kinds of historical vessels bob up and down in the port. Some of those owned by the Hamburg Maritime Foundation or the Museum of Work are even open to visitors. Others are maintained by private individuals or clubs and are  accessible only on very special occasions.


“It’s a real stroke of luck for us that this ensemble around the famous sheds has been so well preserved,” enthuses Ursula Richenberger,43, who took over the management of the Hamburg Port Museum – an offshoot of the Museum of Work – in February 2013. Even the traditional port workers’ canteen and the lavatories in the cellar have only been renovated and have retained their original features.

However, the historic location does come with some disadvantages, too. There is no heating system, so the museum has to close between October and April. In addition, the high-bay storage, which is packed with different exhibits, is impressive but confusing. Museum director Ms Richenberger wants to make the earlier collection, which was opened as the viewable storage area in 2007, “more accessible for the uninitiated”. She is working towards reordering the exhibits and showcasing them in a new way.


Until now, it was primarily the port’s “old hands” who explained the various items to visitors. There are crates with hooks for all kinds of goods, lifting tackle for cranes and hoists, display windows with old calculators, and twistlocks. Most of them are simply on view on the shelves without any kind of labels or explanations.

In future, there will be more information boards to provide details of what all of these items were once used for. A little alcove explaining the job of a diver is already charting the course for the future changes. Various exhibits have been assembled here on the subject of a single topic and a film has been made to document a dive. “We want to show what really goes on in the port by looking at the different jobs people do,” says Ms Richenberger. “Tying in the port as it is today is very important to us so that not everything comes across as historical.”


HHLA is also making contributions here. The company has already contributed plenty of decommissioned items, which have been maintained by the workshops and some very active pensioners. Without the help of the 200 volunteers, the upkeep of this extensive collection would not be possible. In addition, the Freundeskreis Hafenkultur (Friends of the Port of Hamburg) association, whose members include a number of companies, also boosts the museum’s financial resources in times where money is scarce. This is how a sum of €80,000 was collected in order to transport a complete, well-maintained pilots’ waiting room from Brunsbüttel to Hamburg, before refurbishing it and installing it in the museum.

In future, more specially designed exhibits are to be added to the collection, including those that document life in the port today, – for example, films that describe the work of a stowage planner or a gantry crane operator. These films will be provided by HHLA, as will a 40-foot container that will be accessible to the public and will illustrate the advantages of the standardised shipping unit in international trade. 

School pupils will be the main target group. They already make up a significant proportion of the visitors and will in future have more opportunities to understand the port and its operations thanks to entertaining and engaging exhibits.