Curiosa from the harbour of Hamburg

Curiosa from the harbour of Hamburg

We from Transport Talent have our location in the heart of Hamburg St. Pauli. Today it is one of the city‘s trendy neighbourhoods, but it used to be home to dock workers in earlier times. Hamburg without its harbour, that is something completely unthinkable. So, within our column „From the Gate to the World to the Harbours of the World", it seemed natural to write about our own city at least once.

Bridge builder
Talking about a city with countless bridges and canals, people would immediately think of Venice. And yet, regarding the number of bridges, Hamburg is the fort-runner in Europe. 2500 bridges span numerous rivers, canals and dikes in and around Hamburg. This makes Hamburg the city with the most bridges in Europe, counting more bridges than Venice, Amsterdam and London together. But of course, in a way every harbour city is kind of a bridge builder, as it opens up ways to foreign lands and distant continents, and brings us foreign products and unknown cultures close to our homes.

Hamburg is home to the world‘s only museum for spices. There could not be a more suitable location than the around 130-year-old warehouse in the largest warehouse district of the world. In the spices‘ museum „Spicy“ one can learn everything about spices and condiments from around the world.
The classical spice trade, that one would imagine like back in European colonial times, does not exist anymore, of course. Today, huge quantities of spices arrive in large container loads in the big harbours of the world, thus in Hamburg as well. From there, pepper kernels, vanilla beans and co. move on to the processing industry. If needed, they are cleaned once more, ground, sifted, mixed and packed into the usual customary packings that everybody knows from the super markets or deli. In 1991 a small and very simple museum was opened in an old company building in some other part of the city. The purpose was to prevent the traditional ways of trade and production of sinking into oblivion. With a lot of effort, in 1993 it was possible to finally move to the warehouse district Speicherstadt which now belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage. Nowadays, the Spicy Museum welcomes visitors from Hamburg and all over the world.

A small isle in the Wadden Sea is home to Europe‘s oldest lighthouse. It was built on the isle Neuwerk in 1300, offshore the Elbe estuary in the North Sea. This maritime area belongs to Hamburg and thus makes the pharos the city‘s oldest building. In the first centuries of its existence, its job was mainly to protect from pirates and marauders who upstream the Elbe river otherwise would have invaded Hamburg and other Hanse towns along the river. Only in 1815 its function was altered and it took up the job as lighthouse.

Commercial city
Due to more than 6200 exporting enterprises, Hamburg is listed Germany‘s number one commercial city. In a wide range you will find companies of the aerospace industry, cosmetics industry, trading enterprises, manufacturers of electronic devices and medical products, companies in the food processing and beverage industry, naming just a few branches – but all of them are of international magnitude. However, there are a lot of small and medium-size enterprises that also make their contribution on the international stage, e. g. as suppliers for the metall-working and chemical industry around the globe.

Espionage to look at
The biggest non-nuclear submarine is berthed in – the harbour of Hamburg. Built in Sovjet times and launched in 1976, the U-434, that is actually named B-515, was part of the Russian marine for over thirty years. In 2002 it was taken out of service, investors bought it for a million euros. Certain technical equipments were removed by the Russian side, of course. It was modified according to the needs, and now the submarine is accessable to all interested visitor and amateur spies at St. Pauli Fish Market.

Workshop afloat
There are not only ships in the harbour of Hamburg that make a stopover for loading and unloading. In the docks of several shipyards, there are also ships that still are to be built, to be repaired or rebuilt, be it freight ships or yachts. But how does a floating dock work? At first, the dock is floated. Thus it immerses that deep into the water that a ship can come in easily. In the next step, the water is pumped out of the tanks and the floating dock rises out of the water together with the ship. Doing so, repair works can be accomplished on the underwater parts of the ship as well.

The North Range
The so called North Range consists of the sea ports Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremen plus Bremerhaven and last but not least Hamburg. Around 80% of Europe‘s import and export are handled in these ports. The harbours supply north-western Europe with goods from overseas. The port of Hamburg also supplies a considerable part of middle and eastern Europe. All of them have container terminals. On the one hand, they do compete among each other as they are all of global importance but located quite close to each other. On the other hand, all of them sometimes face capacity limits. So according to the container‘s destination or other restrictions (for example strictly fixed arrival times), it can be an interesting alternative for the haulage contractor to unload the containers in one of the ports of the Mediterranean or of the Black Sea.

50 years of container handling
Someone might wonder why containers are reeded. The answer is pretty simple: It makes them more resistant to the high exposures, e. g. through constant handling or vibrations on the vessel. Today, containers have a lifetime of around twelve years. They experience a lot on their travels around the world within this period. For the harbour of Hamburg, these colourful reeded boxes have been of great importance for 50 years, because they are the basis for annual handling numbers into the millions (9 mio. the last year). But these boxes are important for every Hamburg citizen, too, as well as for every European, one could say. For they bring us a lot of things that we have integrated into our daily life and just take for granted: coffee, cocoa, fruits, fish, technical devices, cars, sofas – without the containers we would lack a lot of those things we have got used to. For example, a 40-foot container carries 8.000 sneakers or 28.000 litres of beer. Nowadays, ocean liners with a length of around 400m carry up to 21.000 20-foot standard containers. When in 1968 the first container vessel berthed in Hamburg, it was the „American Lancer“ by the way , it had a length of 213 metres and carried merely 1.200 containers. As a conclusion, the ship size has doubled within the last 50 years, whereas the cargo capacities have increased 18-fold. Naturally, this is reflected in the price, too. In the very beginning of the containerization, the transportation costs constituted on average 10% of the product price, nowadays it is barely 3% or less. Transporting a tablet computer from Asia to Hamburg, e. g., can cost as little as 20 euro cents.

Historical cranes at the „Elphi“
Since approximately a year and a half, Hamburg has its new landmark: the Elbphilharmonie, or in short Elphie. A lot of people, however, seem to forget that the Elphie is not completely new. This stately building that soars into the sky with its waves made of glass, has an old bottom part built of brick stone which if very traditional for Hamburg, and it is nothing else than an old warehouse. In order to let this old storehouse have some company from old times, three listed cranes where installed on the southern side of the Elbphilharmonie, where they also used to be back then. Into the 1990s, these cranes loaded sacks full of coffee and cocoa beans into the inner parts of the warehouse. During the last years they were repaired and restored in several projects and now have taken their new old place.

You can continue reading about more ports of the world in a series on our blog.
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