What was … the winch-head?

Speicherstadt has been and remains an innovative logistics location. The rail-mounted winch-head already embodied the principle underlying the container gantry crane: today the warehouses offer a location for events and fashion trends.


1959: On the fourth floor of Block O, his hand clinging tight to the control rod, the quartermaster runs out the winch-head. To be able to move the winch hook, not just up and down, but also to and fro, is something new for him. Below, the bargee hooks up the goods and gives him the signal to hoist these. Level with the hatch, the winch runs back along the rails and lowers the coffee bags into the fourth floor. Successfully used in Speicherstadt, this handling principle was the forerunner of modern container gantry crane technology. For this modern logistics centre, further development of the stationary winch that invariably hoisted and lowered the load hook at the same spot, into a rail-mounted winch that could be run out, was a sensation. The invention satisfied demands from the quartermasters that they should not always be having to produce a "perfect shove" in a confined space so as to manipulate loads weighing up to 750 kilograms into the cargo hatches. Rail mounting also extended handling radius, thus speeding up waterside discharge from the barges, especially. The hydraulic winches of all the warehouses were driven by electric motors installed in the winch-heads from the early 1950s. Power provided by the steam engines in the Kesselhaus on Sandtorkai was completely discontinued in 1953. The faster loading and discharge process enabled the self-employed quartermasters to store the wares of Hamburg merchants especially flexibly, and close to downtown Hamburg, in Speicherstadt. Yet before the innovative hydraulic winch was able to appear in triumph in all warehouses, the spread of the container had caused goods handling to be shifted farther down the river. Even today, Speicherstadt offers its tenants the use of the still fully functioning landside hoisting winches. It is above all the carpet dealers, in a trade with traditional roots in Speicherstadt, who hold certificates of use, also known as winch licences. In addition, modern usage is increasingly reaching the storage spaces of this historic quarter. The old warehouses are today locations for event and dinner-plus-show catering. "Dialogue in the Dark" lures visitors no less than "Hamburg Dungeon" or the "Criminal Dinner" in Speicherstadttheater. Fashion showrooms and artists’ ateliers enrich this historic quarter and bestow a modern flair. Speicherstadt’s successful mixture of tradition and innovation puts it right in line with the trend.