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WHAT WAS ... THE FORMER CUSTOMS FENCE?

A three-metre high chain-link fence reinforced with barbed wire once stretched along the quay walls on Zollkanal (Customs Canal). This relic secured the Freeport status of Speicherstadt.

 

Topped by several strands of barbed wire, the three-metre fence of massive wire netting obstructed the view across Zollkanal to the superbly restored warehouse blocks for long decades. Since 2010 Tourists are no longer scared off by the fence dating from the 1960s but will be able to stroll along it from Kehrwieder as far as Neuer Wandrahm. The Customs fence was previously as indispensable for the warehouses in Speicherstadt as the attractiveness of the quarter remains today for visitors and potential tenants. Over the impressive length of 17.5 kilometres, it surrounded the world’s largest Freeport that began in Speicherstadt and extended as far as beyond the Köhlbrand River. At the handful of crossings, Customs officials were on duty to ensure that no undeclared goods were transported out of the Freeport. People were almost entirely free to cross but had to allow for the limited opening hours.

For a long time the Customs border was a guarantor of Hamburg’s astonishing ascent as a trading metropolis. It became necessary with Hamburg’s accession to the German Customs Union in 1888 to permit the merchants based there to pursue their accustomed free trade in goods with foreign parts. Imported goods could be stored duty-free, processed and shipped onwards. Yet the first essential was to build and equip the required storage warehouses in Speicherstadt. Founded in 1885, HHLA’s predecessor, Hamburger Freihafen- und Lagerhaus-Gesellschaft (HFLG) took responsibility for the task. The company operated the world’s largest and most modern logistics complex of the day, extending this several times on account of the heavy demand for storage space.

When the Customs border was shifted out as far as Veddel in 2003, HHLA forged ahead with structural transformation of the meanwhile listed Speicherstadt. Creative and fashion companies moved in, the culture warehouse lured more and more tourists – yet the old Customs fence remained. This ugly relic was not just an eyesore, its state deteriorated. It was only HHLA Real Estate’s agreement to provide considerable support and to tackle the project that brought down the wall in Hamburg that had so long ago cut through the city centre. Only in front of the Customs museum on Kornhausbrücke will the high, pale grey fence be preserved – like the former Customs post – as a listed monument.