Lucie Wolner - 2013-01-12
Hamburg is home to one of Europe’s largest urban planning projects: HafenCity. Located near the arts district, this newly created neighbourhood on the banks of the Elbe will increase the size of Hamburg’s centre by forty percent.
On first sight, the sheer size of these immense 19th century neo-Gothic warehouses is bound to impress. Built between 1883 and 1927, the Speicherstadt (literally, the ‘warehouse city’) bears witness to the golden age of Hamburg’s port. Spread out over nearly 370,000 m2, it is indeed a city within the city along the canals of the Elbe. HafenCity is the modern extension of the Speicherstadt. Built on wasteland, the new neighbourhood will make the centre of Hamburg 40% bigger: a colossal undertaking. HafenCity’s crown jewel is undoubtedly the Elbphilharmonie, a philharmonic concert hall designed by celebrated architects Herzog & de Meuron, with a roof that evokes oceanic or musical sound waves. But... construction is taking forever. Initially expected to open in 2010, the latest forecasts mention 2015. Meanwhile, there are guided tours of the budding building on Sundays for those who are willing to don work boots and a hardhat; the visit is well worth the effort. At the foot of the Elbphilharmonie, the quarter is beginning to come to life with production companies and advertising agencies sharing many of the buildings, pavements and footbridges.
The 25hours Hotel was the first to drop anchor on the banks of the Elbe in 2011. The harbour theme continues into the rooms - called ‘cabins’ - where logbooks tell the stories of sailors whose tattoos are reproduced on the wallpaper. A good restaurant, the Heimat Küche + Bar, organises live concerts and is a cheerful addition to the hotel. Delicious Wiener Schnitzel or fish and chips can be enjoyed there amongst piles of kilim carpets suggesting the warehouses that were once filled with rugs from Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.
The cruise ship terminal will soon stand opposite the 25hours Hotel, the university will be next door, and a new metro station is in the works. And it’s impossible to miss the new Unilever building, all decked in glass.
... to museums
HafenCity can be visited by Barkassen, small boats that travel along the canals or harbour alongside immense maritime containers and cranes. It is also a good starting point for visiting the arts district. A short walk away, near the new offices of the famed weekly Der Spiegel, the Deichtorhallen offers contemporary art and photography exhibitions. Not to be missed. A hundred metres further, near the main train station, the Hamburger Kunsthalle brings together nearly seven centuries of art history. The famed museum comprising of three distinct buildings, the first of which was inaugurated in 1869, features a major collection of the works of Caspar David Friedrich, leading figure of 19th century German romantic art.