Speicherstadt Warehouse District – a new Unesco World Heritage site in Hamburg
Can you believe that Hamburg’s old warehouse district is one of the newest Unesco World Heritage sites and the first certified site for the German city? Well yes, when you consider that the Speicherstadt Warehouse District in Hamburg is the largest and one of the most historic ports in all of Europe. Hamburg’s waterfront is filled with magnificent and well designed brick buildings with intricate masonry and architectural details, all the warehouses have all been converted into modern commercial spaces. Extensive canals run through most of the warehouses, giving them a romantic throwback to a bygone era. Imported goods from around the world would arrive from sailing vessels to be stored in these temporary warehouse before distribution to Europe. When I visited late in May, government officials had just completed an extensive application process for Unesco certification to the historic warehouse and waterfront along Hamburg’s harbor . The Unesco designation was granted as of this writing (July 2015).
Touring the Speicherstadt Warehouse District
I arranged to have a guide from the local tourism office to give me a tour of the old warehouse district and busy waterfront area. Having a local guide is a nice way to way to learn all about the history and background of the warehouses, the significance of the port and how important this first UNESCO designation would be for Hamburg city. It’s interesting to know that even though over 50% of the buildings were destroyed during World War 2, the remaining buildings in the district have survived and retained many of their original features and details. The cohesive, old-world look of the entire district has attracted a variety of new commercial enterprises in design, internet, and technology. These new gallery spaces, office buildings and showrooms amply serve modern needs and commerce. There are also several warehouses that have been converted into museums: the International Maritime Museum, Miniatur Wunderland (miniature railroad), Afghan Museum and the Hamburg Dungeon.
Free trade zone
Since its beginning in 1888, Hamburg’s port was created as a free trade zone for in transit goods. and subsequently developed into the largest known warehouse district in the world. This free trade designation placed Hamburg on the world map as an important trade partner for products shipped from all around the world into Europe. Hamburg’s historical success as a port city and warehouse district continues into modern times, due in part to the trade-free zones, which kept goods free of levy during storage while in transit. Today, Hamburg remains one of the busiest ports in Europe. Its container cargo business is second only to Antwerp, which is Europe’s largest
Brick design details
While touring the district, I was actually surprised to find a lot of beautiful design aesthetic to the brick warehouses and other ornate façade details. Building owners took pride and status from impressive architecture and elegant details. On many buildings you will find detailed craftsmanship: embellishments using ironwork, masonry details and patterns, large windows and front entry portals. Many facades prominently display ceramic guild icons which represent Hamburg’s various trades.
Beautiful embellishments to the front entry of a warehouse building
The harbor city hall of Speicherstadt
Cruising the Elbe and Hamburg harbor
After my tour of the Speicherstadt Warehouse District, I spent the rest of the afternoon taking a nice cruise around the harbor. I love taking the local ferries including Hamburg’s ferries which have fast and regular service to all the many ports along the harbor area and waterfront communities. The weather was quite unruly with dark clouds threatening to create a downpour at any moment. But the threatening skies actually drew me out on deck to wait for magic moments. This ferry tour was probably my favorite part of the day. The interesting weather allowed me to capture the drama in a variety of compositions along the river route.
A view of the main Hamburg harbor and central district
The eclectic mix of classical brick buildings and uber-modern architecture along the harbor and waterfront areas is compelling and vibrant. Hamburg’s city landmarks are best viewed from a vantage point on the water. The Dockland Office Building at Elbmeile makes a particularly dramatic statement
I took a return ferry back to the main port and went out to the bow of the ship to take in the views of the city skyline. Below, the large tower of St. Michael’s church dominates the skyline. This church is a symbol of Hamburg, and is considered to be one of the finest Hanseatic Protestant baroque churches in Germany.
Arriving back at the main harbor area of Hamburg with the historic ship RICKMER RICKMERS, which has been converted into a living museum. I’m attracted to beautiful ships like this and the red, white and green trim really added a refined element to Hamburg’s harbor area. If you’re looking for more things to do in Hamburg, check out the link for more inspiration of what to see and do in the city.
Thanks for visiting and checking out my post on Speicherstadt Warehouse District – a new Unesco World Heritage site. If you enjoyed the post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons around the post. Thank you to Hamburg’s tourism office for arranging the UNESCO tour and harbor cruise when I visited. All thoughts and opinions are my own.