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WHAT WAS ... A QUARTERMASTER?

The quartermaster checked high-value goods imported from all over the world before storing them on the upper floors of the Speicherstadt for Hamburg merchants. He was notable above all for his outstanding knowledge of the art of storage.

 

When the warehouse hatches on Holländischer Brook are opened nowadays, Italian designer garments and Indian paminas stir in the breeze. Precious fabrics are stacked on stained oak parquet that is in vogue with the clientele from the world of fashion. The presence of faraway countries still pervades the warehouses. Yet the quarter has been transformed.

 

Horst Röschen still knows the former Speicherstadt that smelled of coffee and spices. He started his apprenticeship as a quartermaster there in 1950. He was just 14. "He’s a trifle skinny, but we’ll cope with that," murmured the boss at the time to himself and his colleagues. "So I acquired my post as quartermaster," recalls Röschen quite clearly. Friedr. Leinau Söhne at Holländischer Brook 5 and 6, the company to which he was articled, specialized primarily in storage of green coffee. This high-value import from Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia arrived in the Speicherstadt on a barge or a lorry. A barge could transport up to 100 tons of coffee packed in jute sacks. "We used the hoisting winch at the warehouse block to haul the sacks up from the barge into the upper floors of the warehouse," says Röschen. Seven sacks were tied into one ‘heave’ beforehand and hauled upwards. In front of the open hatch at a dizzy height, this was given a powerful shove to set it swinging and then deposited on the warehouse floor as it swung back. "Before we stored the wares that had meanwhile been weighed, we used a sample scoop to check individual consignments. After all, we were responsible for the goods that we had accepted," recollects Röschen. One of his jobs was also to upgrade the goods. "On request from the client we would upgrade the coffee. This involved mixing the different varieties and then sewing up the sacks again by hand." Only then did the goods go into interim storage on the oak floors pending orders from the merchants for collection.

 

"Filled almost to bursting, the jute sacks were almost impossible to grasp without using some tool." The sack grab or the Zuckerklatsche were accordingly essential implements for the quartermaster. "It was back-breaking work that really made you sweat," says Röschen, who took 16 slices of bread with him every day.

 

At 17 he completed his apprenticeship and transferred as a quartermaster to H. Glimmann & Cons. in Warehouse Block S. Even today the derivation of the word Quartiersleute has not been wholly clarified. Traditionally, four people would get together. One would lend his name to the enterprise and the other three would trade as Consorten, or partners. Röschen joined HHLA in 1955. "I might have earned 90 marks a week there, and therefore 30 marks less than before, but for that the job was more secure." In retrospect, Röschen is glad about his decision. He was employed in warehouse Block X, where it was mainly tobacco, but also tea, hides or wine that was stored. "There was I was able to really build up my in-depth knowledge of the goods."

 

From the end of the 1960s, containerization made the manual storage of sacks and crates superfluous. So the job specification of the Hamburg quartermaster was transformed into today’s warehouse logistics specialist. That was a coveted job qualification at HHLA.