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HISTORY OF THE SPEICHERSTADT

25 May 1881: After a long dispute, Hamburg signed the treaty with the German Empire regarding its duty-free trading, but kept its customs authority status and the right to establish a free port. In these enclaves, Hamburg merchants retained their privilege to store and process imported goods without paying duty.

1883: The Kehrwieder and Wandrahm districts to the south of the city centre and financial district were chosen for the construction of the “Speicherstadt” historical warehouse district. Starting in 1883, the Kehrwieder and Wandrahm districts were cleared of around 1,000 houses and over 20,000 inhabitants for the construction of the warehouse blocks. The city relocated those affected, often without compensation, and the creation of new housing was left to the free market.

1885: The HFLG (Hamburger Freihafen-Lagerhaus Gesellschaft) shipping company was founded for the construction and neutral and transparent rental of the warehouses under uniform direction. Sufficient premises had to be created in the free port zones before the end of duty-free trading in 1888 for storing and processing the goods that had previously been distributed across the entire city.

1888: On 15 October 1888, Hamburg implemented its customs-free zone and Kaiser Wilhelm II came to perform a formal ceremony on 29 October. The ceremony took place on the Brooksbrücke bridge, where the first part of the Speicherstadt and the new free port were inaugurated.

 

1885–1927:The construction of the Speicherstadt was split into three phases between 1885 and 1927. By 1889, 60 percent of the warehouse spaces (blocks A to O) had been completed between Kehrwiederspitze and Kannengießerort. Warehouse blocks P, Q and R on St. Annenufer and Neuer Wandrahm were built in the second construction phase from 1891 to 1897 and in the third construction phase from 1899 to 1927, which was interrupted by World War I and the years of inflation that followed, the area to the east of the Bei St. Annen street was completed (blocks S to X). The original plan was for a fourth construction phase (blocks Y and Z), which was to be built on the Ericusspitze starting in 1905, but this was never realised.

1904: The new HFLG administrative buildings, designed by Johannes Grotjan and the Hanßen & Meerwein company, were built between 1902 and 1904. The architects also contributed largely to the Hamburg Rathaus, which is why the Bei St. Annen building carried a noticeable resemblance to it and gained the epithet “The Speicherstadt Town Hall”. The façades feature Gothic and Dutch Renaissance quotes, as well as numerous decorative elements and a clock tower. The administrative buildings were built on 463 oak piles.

1927: 24 warehouse units with around 300,000 square metres of warehouse space were completed and bridge gates marked the free port borders and created a striking “Warehouse City” skyline. The warehouses were used for the duty-free storage of goods, which could be transported by road and via the canals. Railway tracks also led through the region to the neighbouring Sandtor port. Colonial goods such as tea, coffee and spices were primarily stored in the warehouse lofts, where they were also refined and repackaged. In addition to the storage spaces, commercial rooms were used as the offices for the warehousing and trading companies. Most of them were on the lower floors, in the main buildings and in the H and O blocks.

 

DESTRUCTION IN WORLD WAR II AND RECONSTRUCTION

1943/44: During World War II over 50 percent of Speicherstadt was destroyed, in particular during the summer air raids of 1943/44. Subsequent reconstruction initially concentrated on the quay facilities so as to ensure that goods were handled, warehouses only being repaired later.

 

1946-1967: Warehouse blocks A, B, C, J, K, and M, as well as the Eastern section of Block O, had been almost wholly gutted or destroyed. Blocks A, B, C and J were not rebuilt. The Hanseatic Trade Centre now stands where these formerly did. Under the architects Werner Kallmorgen and HHLA’s building supervision, however, the bulk of the warehouses were preserved and restored, but in some cases that applied only to the facades (Block M). Only the upper part of Blocks D, E and L had been slightly damaged, and these were reconstructed in detail. We have their solid construction and the numerous firewalls on the different floors of the warehouses to thank for the preservation of even a few warehouses from being gutted. During reconstruction, the existing timber foundation piles were re-used again throughout.

 

1952/53: Rising conspicuously among the new office blocks were the Freihafenamt at Bei St. Annen 2 (1952/53), and Block T on Alter Wandrahm (1967). Their strictly geometrical brick facades are characteristic of Werner Kallmorgen’s efforts to revive the Hamburg building tradition using modern methods/materials.

1960: Until the introduction of the container in the 1950s and the restructuring of the Port of Hamburg attributable to this, quartermasters and ship’s chandlers determined the scene in Speicherstadt. Elaborate warehousing of goods is nevertheless costly and not worthwhile for bulk goods. Many traditional users had to give up or move their companies.

1980: A substantial structural transformation occurred in Speicherstadt at the beginning of the 1980s. The onward march of the container revolutionized the port and storage logistics, while conventional general cargo handling surrendered its importance. Waterfront barge/lighter traffic had been declining continuously since the 1960s and now collapsed entirely. Goods traditionally stored in warehouses, such as coffee or cocoa, were now increasingly transported loose in containers. Yet in the 1980s Speicherstadt developed into the world’s largest storage and trading centre for Oriental carpets. Carpet traders operate in a similar manner – using winch technology – to traditional user groups when loading and unloading their wares onto/from trucks on the road side.

 

Structural change and reorientation

1988: The Hamburg Senate adopts a scheme for privatizing the Speicherstadt. After a protest with the motto “Hands off Speicherstadt”, initiated by quartermasters and supported by the public, the Senate drops the proposal.

1991: At Kehrwiederspitze, 3.3 hectares are removed from the port area and privatized. The remaining area of Speicherstadt is listed for protection as a historic monument.

1997: Hamburg Mayor Henning Voscherau presents the HafenCity Project drawn up by Architect Volkwin Marg and Peter Dietrich, then Chairman of the HHLA Executive Board, to an astonished public.

1999: The Hamburg Dungeon became the first permanent tourist attraction in the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district. Shortly after this, the Dialog im Dunkeln exhibition (2000) and the Miniatur Wunderland (2002) were opened. The Miniatur Wunderland has become Hamburg’s most popular museum (2014: 1.1 million visitors).

2001: HHLA opts for a strategy of speedier, yet cautious, structural change in Speicherstadt.

2002: HHLA Headquarter Bei St. Annen 1 was renovated and restored for her 100th birthday by the award-winning office gmp (von Gerkan, Marg and Partner).

 

2003: From midnight on 1 January, Speicherstadt is relieved of its Freeport status.

2007: HHLA’s Speicherstadt properties along with Fischmarkt Hamburg-Altona GmbH become a separate HHLA Group company, its shares not being traded on the Stock exchange and remaining 100 percent held by the City of Hamburg.

2008: The International Maritime Museum is moving into Kaispeichers B.

2012: Speicherstadt is no longer part of the port. Hamburg’s parliament shifts the boundaries of the port on 13 September and adopts a development scheme for Speicherstadt.

2014: One of the most exciting projects for the development of the district was the opening of the first hotel in the Speicherstadt at the end of 2014. The former Kontorhaus building located on Sandtorkai offers guests contemporary comfort and state-of-the-art hotel culture.

 

2015: Hamburg’s Speicherstadt historical warehouse district was designated along with the neighbouring Kontorhaus area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 5 July 2015.