Learn all about the history of the district in the Speicherstadt Museum, and step outside to discover the remaining Speicherstadt buildings for yourself. Photo: Elbe & Flut, Thomas Hampel
The Speicherstadt in Hamburg
The Speicherstadt was built in three stages between 1885 and 1927, and was officially opened on October 15, 1888. The blocks are named after letters of the alphabet. After its partial destruction during the Second World War, it was rebuilt to match the original design as closely as possible.
Imported goods such as coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, and tobacco were stored here. Today, more and more blocks are being converted into office buildings. Since 2015, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Block O with Sandtorhafen Port around 1890
With its sophisticated uniform design and neo-Gothic brick facades, it stands out significantly in the cityscape and also illustrates the leading position the Port of Hamburg achieved internationally in the German Empire.
Speicherstadt from above, 2004
The Speicherstadt forms a closed quarter out of blocks, each with one long wall connected to a canal and another connected to a road.
Brooksbrücke / Brooks Bridge
Brooks Bridge (1887/88) is one of the original four historic bridges that connected the Speicherstadt to the city center via the Customs Canal. Three of these are still standing today. With its neo-Gothic bridge gate, which was unfortunately broken off in the post-war period, it marked the Free Port border in the city center.
Due to the special trade regulations in the Free Port, Hamburg recorded enormous economic growth and became one of the largest European ports.
Brooksbrücke / Brooks Bridge
The once very lavishly decorated bridge with bridge gate looks more plain today, but no less beautiful. It marks the border to the Free Port area.
The Brooks Bridge Gate, October 29, 1888
The construction of the Speicherstadt helped advance Hamburg's integration into the German customs territory on October 15, 1888. Two weeks later, the German Customs Union was symbolically sealed when Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered a plaque to be placed in the western tower of the bridge.
Kaiser Wilhelm II in front of the plaque
This image provides a closer look at Kaiser Wilhelm II in front of the plaque on the Brooks Bridge.
Silver tools for capstone placement, 1888
For the celebrations, Kaiser Wilhelm II was first handed a silver trowel with an ivory handle and then a ball-peen hammer.
A look inside the Speicherstadt Museum
The Speicherstadt Museum is located on an old warehouse floor in Block L and describes how goods were handled and traded in the past. In 1887, a commodities exchange for raw coffee was founded in Block O.
After the Second World War, the exchange was discontinued because the Hamburg commodities market could no longer hold its own against London and New York. Shortly before the First World War, almost 2 million sacks of coffee were stored in Hamburg.
More than half of these were used for "price support" and were taken off the market in order to stabilize prices. But other goods, such as nuts and tobacco, were stored here as well.
The storage hatches were used to carry goods outside the building upward and transport them directly to the floors where they were stored. The sacks and pallets could be moved up and down using the heavy hook on the building.
The warehouses in the Speicherstadt were mostly rented out to the quartermasters. These were independent storekeepers who stored, sampled, and refined goods on behalf of third parties. Their customers were mainly merchants. But industrial firms could also store their raw material stock here.
By 1996, all quartermasters from the Speicherstadt had migrated to modern warehouses.
Storage of Brazil nuts in a warehouse
Large quantities of goods were stored on the warehouse floors, such as Brazil nuts.
Quartermaster with sampler, 1960s
The sampler for bagged goods has a blunt point which does not damage the threads when piercing but instead spreads them apart. After taking the sample, the threads are pushed back into place. This is where the German word for sample—"Stichprobe"—comes from (literally, "stab test").
Basket of nuts.
Brazil nuts were shipped loose and transported on barges to the Speicherstadt. In order to take them into the warehouses, they were scooped into large baskets which were hung on winches. Once a month, the nuts had to be turned to dry them out and prevent mold.
Block U at the Holländischen Brook / Dutch Brook
This basket of nuts comes from quartermaster Carl Wolter, who specializes in dried fruits and nut kernels. The company was based at the Dutch Brook in Block U until 2001. Carl Wolter now operates a warehouse at the India Port.
A canal cruise through the Speicherstadt
Come with us on a cruise and view the Speicherstadt from the water. The Speicherstadt has six canals running through it which connect it to the River Elbe and to the whole world across the North Sea. That is why Hamburg is also called "the Gateway to the World."
Goods could also be loaded directly onto ships and transported along the canals.The Speicherstadt buildings are connected to the road at the front and have openings to the canals at the back. 20 bridges connect the Speicherstadt to the city, ensuring that goods can also be transported along the streets.
Speicherstadt, building ensemble, 1888–1927
The waterways were just as important as the roads when operating the Speicherstadt buildings.
Coffee exhibition in the Speicherstadt Museum
To completely remove foreign bodies and off-color or over-fermented beans, known as "stinker beans," the coffee had to be handpicked after machine sorting. Special tables were used for this with a conveyor ending in a chute with a bucket underneath.
The sorted tainted beans and other objects were conveyed into small tin containers through recessed slots on the tables on both sides of the conveyor.
Inspection table, 1950s
Inspection tables such as this were usedby companies like Eichholtz & Cons. The complex at St. Annenufer was intended to store raw coffee. For this reason, it has inspection floors on the top floor with skylights, which provided the best lighting for inspecting coffee.
Shop roaster, 1930s.
The L in LE3 stands for "Ladenröster" (shop roaster). The E stands for "electric heating" and the 3 for 3 kg, the typical filling amount when coffee beans were still a luxury. The roasting process took place in the closed drum. The beans were then poured into the open container in front to cool.
Coffee roaster, Kehrwieder 5
Big industrial roasters such as Hamburg companies Tchibo or Darboven dominated the market in the post-war period. Today, small roasters have a chance to succeed again. At Kehrwieder, Speicherstadt coffee roasting has earned a reputation for itself, working together with traditional Probat roasters.
There used to be a lot of nice smells wafting around the Speicherstadt buildings, from tea, coffee, spices, and nuts. You can still experience some of these smells today. The sampling tableware in this panorama from the Speicherstadt Museum is used for tea tasting.
Merchant's Wife at Tea (1918) by Boris KustodievThe State Russian Museum
To compare tea samples, the weight of a sixpenny coin—2.86 grams—is measured per cup, regardless of how potent each tea is. You are also given 5 minutes per sample. Tea tasters have to taste up to 500 samples a day. They never swallow them, of course, but spit them out afterward.
Block G at Pickhuben
There are still tea companies in the Speicherstadt today. At Hälssen & Lyon, who have been based at Pickhuben since 1887, you can look into their tasting room and, if you're lucky, observe a tea taster at work.
A walk through the Speicherstadt
Walking through the Speicherstadt means constantly moving between the past and the present. The bordering HafenCity is a completely new district, established in 2008 and still under development.
Today, bicycles, cars, and buses travel through the Speicherstadt and HafenCity, and tourist ships float along the canals. With the new district still under construction, the routes are constantly changing. In the past, people and goods traveled along the city roads using simple but effective carts.
Block W with Schottscher Karre (c. 1930) by Gustav WerbeckSpeicherstadt und Kontorhausviertel mit Chilehaus
Arbeiter mit Schottscher Karre
The Schottsche Karre was a widespread method of transport before the Second World War, used to transport goods into the city. Thanks to its large wheels, it was easy to maneuver and also suitable for bumpy pavements.
Schottsche Karre, Carl Wolter, 1890s
This Schottsche Karre comes from quartermaster company Carl Wolter, based at the Dutch Brook at the time. Even in the 1950s, this cart was used for transport to the city center or for picking up smaller quantities of goods from the quay sheds in the port.