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About the Museum of work What moves the gateway to the world

More than any other location in Hamburg this listed building complex exemplifies Hamburg’s industrial culture and heritage.

The former factory site of the New-York Hamburger Gummi-Waaren Compagnie of 1871, now a listed building complex, has become home of the Museum of Work. The former boilerhouse, built in 1896, today houses the museum workshops. The “Neue Fabrik” (new factory), built in 1908, accommodates the exhibition halls of the museum. In the “Alte Fabrik” (old factory), built in 1871, a choice of rooms on the ground floor and first floor are available for hire as well as for special exhibitions and events.

The former gatehouse, which still is to be refurbished, holds the museum’s lithographic printshops. The former tin foundry today houses the cultural centre “Zinnschmelze”. More than any other location in Hamburg this listed building complex exemplifies Hamburg’s industrial culture and heritage.

Engine room with a steam engine; 1901-1902. Museum of work

The key landmark is T.R.U.D.E., the former cutter head from the world’s largest tunnel drilling machine, which was used during the construction of the fourth tunnel of Hamburg’s Elbtunnel.

Since 1 January 2008 the Museum Of Work and its branch Speicherstadtmuseum belong to Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg.

Museum courtyard, Cutter wheel T.R.U.D.E. Photo: SHMH Sinje Hasheider

The history of the museum – a museum for everybody

The idea for the Museum der Arbeit first emerged at the end of the 1970s in response to the massive structural changes that were affecting work in industrial nations all over the world, and hence also had an impact on Hamburg. One of the aims of the initiators was to preserve valuable evidence of an industrial culture that was fast disappearing. In the 1970s, calls for the democratization of museums and the way in which history was presented led to the idea of setting up a museum that would be dedicated to “history from below”, to the history of ordinary people; it was to be a museum that was open for everybody.

The museum society was founded in 1980 with the objective of convincing the city to open this new museum. This endeavour was crowned with success in 1982, when the new project was included in the groups of Hamburg’s Historical Museums and the site of the former rubber factory New-York Hamburger Gummi-Waaren Compagnie in Hamburg-Barmbek was rented. The very first job was created; in 1985, the first Open Door Day was held for the general public. The museum has been open since, offering changing exhibitions and courses in the printing workshops, as well as a varied and informative range of guided historic tours of the city and its different districts.

One year later, in 1986, in recognition of its groundbreaking democratic concept the Museum der Arbeit received the Culture Prize of the Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft e.V.. In 1987, the senate of Hamburg decided to keep the museum permanently in the former factory site in Barmbek. A senate decision in 1989 saw the museum being officially elevated to the status of the seventh state-run museum in the city, a change which came into effect on 1 January 1990 and made the museum an independent institution. The permanent exhibition in the “Neue Fabrik” (“New Factory”) was opened at the beginning of 1997; on 1 January 1999, the Museum der Arbeit – like the other six state-run museums in the city – became a foundation under public law.

Poster “Fünf Tage sind genug”; 1955. Graphische Gesellschaft Grunewald GmbH
River piers, 1915.
Poster “Dauerndes Stehen führt oft zu Krampfadern und Plattfüßen”; 1930.

Hands-on experience

The Museum of Work is a living museum; its open workshops and presentations of historical crafts have become the museum’s main characteristics. Educational programmes for children include making elephant-shaped tin pendants or creating colourful pins in the metal workshop and learning about the “black art of printing” in the printing workshops. On Monday evenings, the museum’s open workshops give insight into working conditions in the printing trades in the past. Visitors can also print their own projects supervised by experts. A visit to the bookbinding workshop is always worthwhile; here you can learn how to salvage your favourite book. Roasting coffee, producing candies and working a traditional embroidering machine are popular activities at the weekends.

In the case room. Printing trade. Photo: SHMH Sinje Hasheider
Typefaces. Museum of work

T.R.U.D.E. – The world’s biggest tunnel DRILLing machine

The cutter wheel of T.R.U.D.E (“Tief Runter Unter Die Elbe”), the world’s biggest tunnel boring machine, stands in the courtyard of the Museum der Arbeit as a technical monument. In around 2 ½ years she chewed her way under the Elbe River from Waltershof on the south banks to Othmarschen on the north banks, digging the forth bore of the Elbe Tunnel in the process, right next to the previously built 3 bores of the new Elbe Tunnel. The 2.560 m long forth bore was opened to the public in October 2002.

After the construction project in Hamburg was completed, the machine was used for building a motorway tunnel in Moscow. The cutter wheel was not fit to operate there as it had been specifically designed to match the particular conditions underneath the Elbe and in 2011 TRUDE was brought to the museum courtyard by the Osterbekkanal.

Both Elbe tunnels were outstanding technical achievements and they each presented significant challenges for engineers and workers alike. Although both projects used the very latest technology available at that time, neither would have been possible without the effort and input of the workers.
Regrettably, no tools from the first two projects have survived to document this incredible technical achievement. After the last project – the fourth bore of the new tunnel – was completed, the Museum der Arbeit was determined to preserve a piece of this landmark construction project that plays such a great role in the everyday lives of the city’s inhabitants. With the support of many businesses and individuals, the Museum succeeded in bringing TRUDE’s cutter wheel to Barmbek.

Permanent exhibitions