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Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus

Speicherstadt and the adjacent Kontorhaus district are two densely built urban areas in the centre of the port city of Hamburg. Speicherstadt, originally developed on a group of narrow islands in the Elbe River between 1885 and 1927, was partly rebuilt from 1949 to 1967. It is one of the largest coherent historic ensembles of port warehouses in the world. It includes 15 very large warehouse blocks as well as six ancillary buildings and a connecting network of short canals. Adjacent to the modernist Chilehaus office building, the Kontorhaus district is an area of over five hectares featuring six very large office complexes built from the 1920s to the 1940s to house port-related businesses. The complex exemplifies the effects of the rapid growth in international trade in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.




1943/44:During World War II over 50 percent of the Speicherstadt is destroyed, in particular during the summer air raids of 1943/44. Subsequent reconstruction initially concentrates on the quay facilities so as to ensure that goods are handled, warehouses are only being repaired at a later stage.

1946–1967:Warehouse blocks A, B, C, J, K, and M, as well as the eastern section of block O, have been almost wholly gutted or destroyed. Blocks A, B, C and J are not rebuilt. The Hanseatic Trade Center now stands where these formerly did. Under architect Werner Kallmorgen and HHLA’s building supervision, however, the bulk of the warehouses are preserved and restored. During reconstruction, the existing timber foundation piles are re-used throughout.

1952/53:Rising conspicuously among the new office blocks are the Freihafenamt at Bei St. Annen 2 (1952/53), and block T on Alter Wandrahm (1967). Their strictly geometrical red-brick façades are characteristic of Werner Kallmorgen’s efforts to revive the Hamburg building tradition using modern methods and materials.

1960:Until the introduction of the container in the 1950s and the restructuring of Hamburg’s port attributable to this, quartermasters and ship’s chandlers characterise the scene in the Speicherstadt. Elaborate warehousing of goods is nevertheless costly and not profitable for bulk goods. Many traditional merchants give up or relocate their companies.

1980:A substantial structural transformation occurs in the Speicherstadt at the beginning of the 1980s. The onward march of the container revolutionises the port and storage logistics, while conventional general cargo handling surrenders its importance. Waterfront barge/lighter traffic has been declining continuously since the 1960s and now collapses entirely. Goods traditionally stored in warehouses, such as coffee and cocoa, are now increasingly transported loose in containers.

1980s: The Speicherstadt develops into the world’s largest storage and trading centre for oriental carpets. Using winch technology, carpet traders operate in a similar manner to traditional merchants when loading and unloading their wares onto/from lorries on the roadside.

Structural change and reorientation

1988:The Hamburg Senate adopts a scheme for privatising the Speicherstadt. After a protest based on the motto “Hands off the Speicherstadt”, initiated by quartermasters and supported by the public, the Senate drops the proposal.

1991:At Kehrwiederspitze, 3.3 hectares are removed from the port area and privatised. The remaining area of the Speicherstadt is listed for protection as a historic monument.

1997:Hamburg’s First Mayor Henning Voscherau presents the HafenCity Hamburg project drawn up by architect Volkwin Marg and Peter Dietrich, then chairman of the HHLA executive board, to an astonished public.

1999: The permanent exhibition Hamburg Dungeon is opened as the Speicherstadt’s first touristic venue. Shortly afterwards, the Dialog im Dunkeln exhibition (2000) and the Miniatur Wunderland model railway exhibition (2002) open their gates to the public. Today, the Miniatur Wunderland is Hamburg’s most popular museum (1.1 million visitors in 2014).

2001:HHLA opts for a strategy of speedier, yet cautious, structural change in the Speicherstadt.

2002:Under the baton of renowned architects gmp, the “town hall” of the Speicherstadt, which serves as the head office of HHLA, undergoes comprehensive renovation and reconstruction.

2003:From midnight on 1 January, the Speicherstadt is relieved of its free port status. Since then, HHLA has been developing and implementing modern utilisation concepts for the warehouse blocks and Kontorhaus buildings. Agencies, publishing houses and other service providers are the first to move into the new facilities.

2007:HHLA’s Speicherstadt properties along with Fischmarkt Hamburg-Altona GmbH become a separate HHLA Group company. Its shares are not traded on the stock exchange and remain 100 percent held by the City of Hamburg.

2008: Textile wholesalers move into the Speicherstadt, swiftly followed by large showrooms. With almost 30,000 square metres, the fashion industry is now one of the biggest user groups of the historic storage lofts.

2008:The International Maritime Museum moves into the premises of Kaispeicher B.

2012:The Speicherstadt is no longer part of the port. The Hamburg Parliament shifts the boundaries of the port on 13 September and adopts a development scheme for the Speicherstadt.

2014: The Speicherstadt’s first hotel opens its gates. To facilitate the new hotel, the former Kontorhaus building at the Sandtorkai and the Hamburg Coffee Exchange are redeveloped.

Nomination by the UNESCO

During a ceremony in the former Coffee Exchange, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier officially handed over the certificate to the acting mayor Olaf Scholz.

In July 2015, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee included the historical warehouse Zone Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus into the UNESCO World Heritage List. They form a unique architectural ensemble that has long been an important tourist attraction in Hamburg’s city centre. The committee, which comprises 21 UNESCO member states, honoured the extraordinary universal value of the inner-city complexes of warehouses and office buildings from the early 20th century. The World Heritage Committee based its decision on the belief that the Speicherstadt and the Kontorhaus District are “an outstanding example” of buildings and ensembles which “illustrate significant stages in human history”. The outstanding universal value of the two monofunctional but complementary areas is reflected in Hamburg’s historic warehouse district with its connecting network of roads, canals and bridges dating from 1885 to 1927 and in the modern red-brick architecture of the office building ensembles for port-related use from the 1920s to 1940s.


World Heritage Info-Point

The info point in the Kontorhaus district provides general information about the World Heritage Site, the specific requirements of World Heritage Sites and the Wadden Sea World Heritage. The virtual reality project “Speicherstadt Digital” playfully conveys the working world of the turn of the century.


Google Arts & Culture presents the Speicherstadt as Hamburg’s historical and cultural heritage in virtual tours. You can even experience a 360° fleet tour!