Hamburg has for many centuries been one of Europe’s principal maritime trading centres, and the Speicherstadtmuseum (Warehouse City Museum) celebrates the outstanding architecture that characterises a part of the port that was rebuilt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015.
Hamburg had for centuries exercised the privileges of a free city, but new arrangements had to be made after it became part of the Germany Empire in 1871. The city authorities decided in 1883 to create new harbour facilities, originally a custom-free zone, in the Kehrweider area of the city which necessitated the re-location of some 20,000 people. The first part of the scheme was implemented in 1885-88 by Freihafen-Lagerhaus-Gesellschaft (Free harbour and warehouse company), predecessor of Hamburger Hafen und Logistick AG (Hamburg Harbour and Logistics company). The principal engineer was Andreas Meyer (1837-1901) and the architect was Carl Johann Christian Zimmerman (1831-1911).
The warehouses in the city of warehouses are in the Gothic style in red brick, with numerous small towers and alcoves, decorated with glazed terracotta figures. Each building can be entered over dry land or from the canals that intersect the area. The Speicherstadt extends over 1.5 km and is reckoned the largest warehouse complex in the world. The second phases were built in 1891-96 and in 1899-1927. About half the area was damaged by bombing in the Second World War, but was subsequently rebuilt, and from 2008 it was re-developed as part of Hamburg’s Hafen City programme.
The museum, in block L, which dates from 1888, was founded in 1995 by Henning Rademacher, and displays goods, tools and equipment associated with the trades carried on in the warehouses including rubber, cocoa, tea, spices, carpets, and, particularly, coffee. It is a private branch of Hamburg’s Museum of Work. Visitors can tour the Speicherstadt on tour buses or on canal boats, and at night the whole area is illuminated.
The Speicherstadt includes several other museums amongst them the International Maritime Museum, the Deutscher Zollmuseum (German Customs Museum), Miniatur Wunderland (a colossal model railway) and the Hamburg Dungeon.
The World Heritage designation also includes the nearby Chilehaus, a ten-storey office block built in 1924 for a company importing saltpetre from Chile, one of the best examples of the Expressionist style, designed by Fritz Hoger (1877-1940).