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WHAT WERE ... THE 50-SHEDS?

In the early 20th century, they were perfect examples of modern warehouses; since the 1980s, however, they have been gradually falling into dereliction. When Shed 53 actually had to be demolished, the Hamburg Maritime Foundation and HHLA stepped in to preserve this historical heritage.

 
Sheds 50 to 53 on Kleiner Grasbrook stood between Hansahafen and Indiahafen, which were the last docks to be built for sailing ships, in 1893. Luckily, construction on the docks took place much later, resulting in the creation of the most modern port warehouses at that time. Between 1908 and 1912, four identical sheds were built, each one around 270 metres long and 48 metres wide. They could each hold the cargo of two ocean-going vessels, which moored right beside the sheds and were unloaded using electric half-gantry cranes. The sacks, barrels and crates usually left the sheds again very quickly by cart or on the dock train, which ran on a railway directly beneath the riveted steel arches of the cranes.

Unlike the ornate architecture of the Speicherstadt historical warehouse district, the storage sheds had a very sober appearance, with long window fronts in the central block that allowed work to be done in daylight. Only the housing for managers and clerks had a more prominent appearance. Some apartments were built so that the valuable goods were not left unsupervised.

In the Second World War, the 50-sheds were only partially damaged and later modernized. They became the property of HHLA, who employed hundreds of dock workers there up until the 1970s. Since the 1980s, there has hardly been any use for the break-bulk cargo sheds. There was an increasing danger that they would become derelict and Shed 53 even had to be demolished in 2002.

In order to save the historical ensemble from further demolition, the Hamburg Maritime Foundation took control of Sheds 50 to 52 and the clerks’ house that year and ensured that the site was designated as a historical landmark. As former owner of the site, HHLA contributed around half a million euros towards the building work to preserve it. The recently unveiled information boards, which explain the historical and current development of the area, were also funded by HHLA.

The extensive restoration of the area is continuing today. Most of the sheds are still used for storage purposes, while the elaborately restored Shed 52A is used by the restaurateur Klaus Gerresheim for various events with up to 3,000 guests. The most well-known tenant, however, is the Hamburger Hafenmuseum (Hamburg Port Museum). There is probably no other place in Europe where the traditional break-bulk cargo handling of the 20th century can be shown so authentically. For this reason, the extensive collection of port memorabilia belonging to the Museum der Arbeit (Museum of Work) was given its home in Shed 50A.