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Hamburg’s Speicherstadt Becomes UNESCO World Heritage

Hamburg’s Speicherstadt historical warehouse district was designated along with the neighbouring Kontorhaus area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 5 July 2015. The warehouse district, which is more than 125 years old, is a lively area and is used creatively for a diverse range of purposes. HHLA Real Estate is ensuring that the Speicherstadt is a commercial success and that it continues to attract millions of visitors as an area of historical value.


Not much is stored anymore in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt, the world’s largest historical logistics centre. While there are still some traditional warehouses where tea can be sampled and rugs traded, most of them are now filled with tourists and museum visitors, advertisers, fashion buyers and, since the end of 2014, even hotel guests.

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. Thanks to its careful renovation as a landmarked building and its original interior architecture, the four-star hotel allows visitors to travel back in time.

Klaus Hadaschik, Managing Director of HHLA Speicherstadt Immobilien GmbH, sees the opening of the hotel as another important step towards the future. He believes that sustainably developing the buildings is the best way to protect them as landmarks: “In order to preserve such a unique district as Hamburg’s Speicherstadt, we need to further develop the 300,000 m2 of floor space here.” It is not always easy to strike a balance between retaining the traditional features of the buildings and making vital enhancements. As the owner, however, HHLA has more than 125 years of experience in looking after the historic warehouse buildings.

 

Entire District Landmarked since 1991

The “reinvention” of the Speicherstadt, which was a key part of the modern port from 1885, began with an initial radical attempt by the Senate of Hamburg in 1988. It approved a plan to privatise the Speicherstadt, 90 percent of which consisted of fully leased warehouse space at the time. The resistance from rug traders, port inspectors, ship chandlers and the general public, however, was strong and took the Senate by surprise. It quickly dropped its plans and landmarked the entire Speicherstadt in 1991. The only area to be privatised was the Kehrwiederspitze.

Over the following years, the speed of structural change within the area increased. Much of the merchandise was moved to more modern and efficient warehouses. By the year 2000, only 49 percent of the warehouses were being used as conventional storage spaces. Urban planners began to realise the potential that this resource offered. An initial test run in 1997 to see how the warehouses could be used in the future was an outstanding success: The major exhibition “Titanic – der Mythos” (“Titanic – the Legend”), along with the first office conversions in Block W, showed where the Speicherstadt’s journey could lead.

 

Opening Up the Area for Attractive Urban Use

In 2001, HHLA decided on a plan to actively develop the Speicherstadt, which is still being implemented today. A bridge is to be built between Hamburg’s existing city centre and the new HafenCity. The aim is to open up the area for use as an urban centre while retaining its unique historical charm. As the project developer and tenant, HHLA Real Estate has succeeded in achieving both of these goals.

An important milestone for expanding the district’s range of uses was reached on 13 September 2012 when the Hamburg Parliament removed the Speicherstadt from the port zone. This means that the district is no longer reserved for “port-related uses”, which has significantly simplified efforts to develop it further.

 

Culture and Coffee Moves into the Warehouses

A key element of the structural change within the area is its diverse cultural and creative scene, including the flagship locations of Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg Dungeon and Dialog im Dunkeln, big and small advertising agencies and a large number of showrooms for fashion labels and artist’s studios. The tenants value the particular style of the tall Neo-Gothic brick buildings, surrounded by canals which rise and fall with the tide.

A nocturnal lighting concept organised by the Licht-Kunst-Speicherstadt association provides the entire area with an extremely effective backdrop during the hours of darkness. Photographers gather at captivating locations at twilight seeking the best places to take “typical” photos of Hamburg.

Despite all the charm, the old buildings continue to provide the best conditions for storing particularly sensitive goods. Thanks to the rug dealers, the Speicherstadt is the world’s largest centre for oriental rugs. “Our aim is to link in with this Speicherstadt tradition,” says Klaus Hadaschik.

 

A Living History

The historical district’s status as a free port, which separated it from the city centre from 1888 until 2002, no longer plays a role. The only reminders left are the remains of the old customs fence and the checkpoint beside it with dummy customs officers. The past is kept alive in a range of different museums and exhibitions – for example, the Speicherstadt Museum, the Customs Museum, the Spice Museum and the Kesselhaus. “But we’re not a museum park here!” stresses Hadaschik, the Head of Real Estate. The Speicherstadt is a living place and needs to continue changing. To that end, the HHLA developers are renovating the historical buildings sensitively. In partnership with new users, they adhere to the strict landmarking requirements, such as the retention of characteristic elements including cast iron windows and beamed ceilings. At the same time, they are thinking far ahead in terms of long-term material preservation and future life cycles.

 

UNESCO World Heritage Site: A Lot Done Right!

Since 5 July, the Speicherstadt and neighbouring Kontorhaus district with its Chilehaus building have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only the most outstanding places that bear witness to human and natural history are given the title, with fewer than 800 World Heritage Sites worldwide. It is the first such site in Hamburg.

For Hadaschik, the UNESCO designation is a major honour and, of course, recognition of all the work that has been done: “It shows us that we have done a lot of things right.” As a result, there will be little change in the day-to-day work of the HHLA Real Estate team. “We must continue to adhere to the strict requirements of the landmarking authorities, which is also in our own interest,” says Hadaschik. “We will press ahead with our long-standing goal of opening up the Speicherstadt to our visitors and, in particular, interested tenants.”