Explore the history of a port-city in miniature models.

Hamburg in 1050

On this model of Hamburg from the year 1050, the fortifications have been expanded and the settlement, protected by them, has grown between the Alster and the Bille. We can see merchant ships moored on one fortified riverbank. This first harbor on the Bille laid the foundations for Hamburg's importance as an international port.

Hamburg around 1400

We are inside a historical ship, the so-called "Hansekogge".

The bulbous stern of the "Hansekogge" (Hanseatic cog ships) allowed plenty of space for loading goods and raw materials. Standardized barrels were the "containers of the Hanseatic period." Almost everything was transported in them: herring, knives, gold bars, and pieces of ore.

The pirate Klaus Störtebeker, whose head we see at the side of the ship, is a legend in northern Germany. Even today, people like to tell the tale of the gold treasure that he supposedly hid in the masts of his ship. There is indeed historical evidence that the Baltic and the North Sea were swarming with pirates around 1400. Hamburg's merchants tried to protect their goods by travelling in groups, protected by armed escort ships.

Hamburg in 1531

The wooden tower was built in 1531. It is part of Hamburg's ancient waterworks, which consisted of a pump driven by a waterwheel, and a tall water container—the wooden tower. The old waterworks supplied running water to the homes of certain wealthy citizens. The first customers were the local breweries here, which were able to guarantee the quality of their beer thanks to the clean water—after all, beer was the Hanseatic city's biggest export.

Hamburg in 1535

Take a look around our model of the mills!

At the end of the 12th century, the Alster was dammed to drive corn mills. During the decades which followed, the town was systematically expanded. In 1235, the Alster was dammed for a second time at the Reesendamm, part of what is now the Jungfernstieg promenade. The model shows how a number of meal and grain mills had been established there by around 1535. There are two corn mills, one of which mainly served the local population, while the other was largely reserved for brewers and bakers. Alongside them is a polishing mill, where suits of armor made of metal plates were manufactured and polished, and a carpenter's workshop, on the wide forecourt of which tree trunks are being sawn and chopped to make a mill wheel.

Hamburg in the year 1644

We see a densely populated Old Town with the cathedral, the churches of St James, St Peter, and St Catherine, the New Town—still sparsely populated with many gardens—the port, and, above all, the encircling fortifications with 22 bastions, which was Hamburg's major building project in the early 17th century. The investment paid off immediately, because Hamburg was largely protected from the Thirty Years War which raged across mainland Europe until 1648.

Hamburg in the 17th century

Both politically and economically, Hamburg experienced a massive upturn in the 17th century. From the middle of the 16th century there had been a general increase in shipping on the North Sea, but Hamburg also opened up brand new sea routes. Ships now sailed directly to England, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, and served all Mediterranean ports. The resulting trade brought immense wealth to Hamburg.

Just imagine, all of this was done only by windpower!

The Reeperbahn, which is nearly a kilometer long, is still the most famous street in Hamburg's red-light district, St. Pauli. At the beginning of the 17th century, rope makers began to settle here on public land outside the gates, between Hamburg and Altona. In seafaring, a "Reep" was a rope or hawser. Making a rope like this required a stretch of straight road about 300 meters long.

The fibers would be twisted together on these long ropewalks, and counter-twisted—under great tension—alternately to the left and to the right. Ropes were in great demand: a single sailing ship about 50 meters long would need about 6000 meters of rope of different thicknesses.

Hamburg before the Great Fire of 1842

This model shows how Hamburg looked before the Great Fire of 1842: an early industrial port city, still with no railway service, but instead with a sheltered port upstream on the Elbe for tall ocean-going ships. For safety reasons, the steamships, which were innovative in their time, had their own landing stages further down the Elbe. There were no quay walls in the harbor. Instead, the ships would moor at so-called "Duckdalben," consisting usually of several massive oak piles rammed into the harbor's seabed.

In the early hours of May 5, 1842, the horrifying Great Fire started and destroyed the city, as it was known before, in just 82 hours. The closely-built half-timbered houses with highly combustible goods inside kept on feeding the fire. When it was rebuilt, the burnt part of the city was laid out in modern style with broader streets, gas-powered street lighting, and a central supply of fresh water. Hamburg was making its way into the modern world.

Between 1850 and the 1930s

Between 1850 and the 1930s, nearly 5,000,000 emigrants left the country via the port of Hamburg. Most of the passengers boarding the Frisia in Hamburg were emigrants.

In the middle of the Frisia's stern sat the steamship's engine: a gigantic machine with a boiler and coal bunker. It occupied over a third of the total area of the ship. In addition to the engine, the ship also had sails.

Middle of the 19th century

By about the middle of the 19th century, the mooring posts in the Elbe had become so busy, and the delays in handling goods while they were reloaded on to barges so evident, that construction of a new and modern port became unavoidable. The Sandtor harbor was created, an artificial harbor which, with its solid quay walls, land-based storage sheds, cranes, and rail connections, guaranteed faster cargo handling.

Ships would sail into the harbor and moor directly on the quayside. Using cranes—although at that time still also with the help of the dockworkers’ muscle power—goods were directly reloaded for onward transportation by road, rail, or inland waterway.

At the new docks, steam powered ships sailed directly to their mooring place. Loading and unloading began as soon as the ship was secured. If necessary, work at the port continued by night, as it still does. If goods need to be stored or sorted before onward transportation, they are put in the huge storage sheds.

Hamburg's city center today

Strolling through Hamburg's city center today, it is hard to miss the Mönckebergstrasse. It is one of the main shopping streets and links the station with the Town Hall market, but this was not always the case. The Mönckebergstrasse is a relatively new idea from the early 20th century, a time when the city was just recovering from the cholera epidemic which broke out in 1892.

With the Mönckebergstrasse as a new transport axis, the face of the inner-city changed dramatically after 1910. What was once a cramped residential area became a modern business district with huge office buildings and banks. Under the auspices of planning director Fritz Schumacher, who, incidentally, was also the architect of our museum, the old alleyways disappeared and the residents gradually moved into Hamburg's new residential districts.

American-style office buildings were built in the so-called "Hamburg counting houses," which were no longer the headquarters of individual companies but were leased by several companies. Modern fittings such as pneumatic tube mail systems and paternoster elevators made these buildings particularly attractive to their tenants.

Credits: Story

Projektkoordination und Umsetzung: Anna Symanczyk, Martina Fritz
Texte: SHMH
Fotos: SHMH

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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