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Historic Warehouses

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Hamburg, in Germany’s north, is famous not only for the Reeperbahn, its port and the Jungfernstieg, its magnificent boulevard, but also for the landmark Speicherstadt, a heritage warehouse district from the 19th century.

Lustrous red brick buildings with turrets, bay windows and green copper domes jostle for space. They rise above thousands of oak pilings in the midst of the port of Hamburg, and those who stroll among them, through the cobblestone alleys, will catch the scent of roasted coffee and the salty water of the river Elbe. Above their heads, seagulls cry and tell of the nearby ocean. Welcome to Hamburg’s Speicherstadt, the largest warehouse complex in the world! Two miniature castles of Wilhelmian splendor await the visitor, along with a profusion of exhibits, restaurants and cafes which have found a home on the creaking floors of the old warehouses.
The Speicherstadt arose after the Hanseatic city had lost its free trade status and joined the German Customs Union in the mid-19th century. Since the citizens of Hamburg wanted to continue to store tobacco, coffee, cocoa and spices free of duty within its free port, they built sky-high warehouses on two islands in the river Elbe. Approximately 20,000 people had to be moved to accommodate the project. Hamburg was henceforth known as Germany’s “Gateway to the World”. In 1991, the Speicherstadt was classified as a historical monument; in 2015 UNESCO® declared it, together with the neighboring Kontorhaus district, a World Heritage Site.

Castles in the Speicherstadt

The Speicherstadt boasts two castles: the fairytale miniature Wasserschlösschen (moated castle), with its delicate clock tower, was built at the location where Wandrahmsfleet (canal) and Holländischbrookfleet meet. It was built in 1899 in Brick Expressionism style, and it housed not royalty, as may be suspected from the splendor; in fact, it was the guardians of the winch who lived here and who were responsible for maintaining the hydraulic warehouse winches. A green varnished door with latticed windows leads to the inside of the building. Visitors find themselves inside a quaint shop with creaking floorboards and shelves that are several meters high. Here, in the Teekontor (“tea office”), tea from all over the world is offered for sale. More than 250 varieties are available, and accordingly, the scent of many flavors wafts through the air: caramel, rooibos, bergamot. The staff are happy to explain which mixes can be found in the beautiful bags with the melodious names. Elbufer (bank of the Elbe River), for example, tastes of peppermint, blackberry, rose, lemon and raspberry.

Those who can’t get their fill of small castles can walk a few steps to the Fleetschlösschen on the corner of Brooktorkai and Sankt-Annen-Brücke. Located between the mighty warehouses, directly next to a pedestrian crosswalk, the little house with the pointed roof looks more like a forgotten toy. Inside the building – the former seat of the customs office – you will now find a café. It is worth having a break for a while, even outside, to take in the view of the waterway and feel for a moment like the resident royalty.

History with a scare-factor

Long lineups have formed in front of the “Warehouse of Culture” at Kehrwieder, which confirm the statistics of visitor numbers: the “Dungeon”, a chamber of horrors, and “Miniatur Wunderland®” are two of Hamburg’s most popular attractions at the Speicherstadt. In the “Dungeon”, actors illustrate the history of the Hanseatic city. Visitors relive the great fire of 1842, the execution of the pirate Störtebeker on Grasbrook Island in 1401, or the era of the plague. The “Miniatur Wunderland“, on the other hand, houses the world’s largest computer controlled model train complex. It comprises 15.2 kilometers of track, 260,000 figurines, 130,000 trees and 1,380 signals – even 900 couples trysting in the woods.

Sparkling beauty of the Elbphilharmonie

In the immediate vicinity of the Wilhelmine splendor of redbrick Gothic, you will find the Elbphilharmonie – the heart of Hafen-city, the new quarter framed by Speicherstadt, Elbe and Mönckebergstraße. Elphi, as it is endearingly known, is now considered to be Hamburg’s new landmark; as a glass wave, it towers above an old warehouse in which, until the 1960s, cocoa, coffee and tea had been stored. In the evening hours, it glistens like a crystal before a pink sky, and the stars who perform here are also in awe. “Gorgeous!”, exclaims Soprano Cecilia Bartoli, who has sung Rossini and Vivaldi in the concert hall that is built to resemble a vineyard. “I hope to come back to Hamburg many times in the future!”

Particularly beautiful, and accessible without a concert ticket, is the observation deck plaza along the juncture connecting the brick warehouse to the new glass construction. It leads you around the building in the open air, and its view of the bell tower of St. Michaelis church and the busy cranes in the port of Hamburg are simultaneously priceless and free, as is the ride up to the plaza. It leads through a tunnel studded with glass sequins on the only curved escalator in the world. Afterwards, the concert house and the view of Hamburg can be appreciated from the water: simply walk over to the dock “Elbphilharmonie” and take ferry 72 to Landungsbrücken. Ahoy!

let’s go! Typical Speicherstadt: all things delicious and precious