Creative and cultural quarter

But a stone’s throw from Lohsepark the Deichtorhallen and the Central Wholesale Market, an innovative mix of cultural, creative and sport facilities is emerging here

Homes, offices and retail areas – this trio of urban uses is usually top of the list for urban development projects. New places for sport and creative people, especially in the low-threshold segment, tend to be in short supply. In HafenCity it is different: in Oberhafen quarter, a new, urban, creative nucleus will develop in coming years, supplementing and expanding inner-city provision of space and uses and strengthening precisely these areas.

Long term Oberhafenquartier should create up to 500 jobs in a variety of cultural/creative activities in the existing western neighborhood, that could in future spill over into the Central Wholesale Market site to the east. In the eastern neighborhood, a soccer field and space for school and club sport, of benefit to the whole of inner-city Hamburg, are to be built.

Colorful past

For centuries, Oberhafen was a bargemen’s center. From the 17th century on, Elbe barges bringing the vegetable growers’ produce from the “Vier- und Marschlanden” upriver to the market at Deichtor discharged here. After the Hanover Railroad Station was built in 1872, the neighborhood became an intensively used rail freight location.

Even today the long, low goods sheds, the roads and the lines of the tracks from that time are clearly recognizable. They define the neighborhood and give it its distinctive old industrial charm. 1906, the massive railroad embankment was built, connecting the railroad traffic to the new main station, but also closing off the neighborhood to the west. The only access to date is in the northwest by the Oberhafenkantine, a tin building that was built in 1925 as a canteen for dockworkers and is now a listed building.

Opportunities for the cultural and creative economy 

The first creative pioneers were already on the scene while the railroad was still in use: scenery builders, photographers, various urban players with exhibitions, short film festivals, temporary installations and performances. The real kick-off for the transformation came in 2010 with the revision of the HafenCity Masterplan, which saw the decision not to pursue the previously planned commercial focus, but instead to create new space for the cultural and creative industries and, at the same time, for school and club sports.

That was the start of a long-term and far-reaching conversion process. At a major international symposium in 2011 at Kampnagel arts center, development possibilities for the new creative quarter were explored and options for its direction and use discussed. Subsequently, railroad, port, and building code issues for rezoning and reuse were resolved. DB and logistics companies left and new anchor tenants arrived; a cross-institutional urban working group and a local association, Oberhafen e. V., created the basis for permanent and enduring structures and new forms of cooperation between the two co-developers, HafenCity Hamburg GmbH and Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft mbH, and the local stakeholders. Suitable concepts were selected in three expression of interest processes, each of which created its own special added value for the city and a high degree of diversity overall. A fresh wind was blowing through the neighborhood: Oberhafen was “cool” and, as one of the last unbuilt places in the city, aroused the curiosity of creatives, film directors, start-up founders and free spirits.  

Conceptional diversity

Whether it is large units or small-scale office and studio areas, Oberhafen offers the ideal conditions for creating a lively artistic, creative and cultural location directly connected to Hamburg’s “Art Mile”, the city center, Rothenburgsort and City Süd with the cultural activities and potential developing there.  The casual classical music and jazz location Halle 424 in a mixed-use photo and workshop studio finds space here, as do Erste Liebe Filmproduktion, Parkour Creation e. V. and the music education program LuKuLuLe with children’s and youth work; Gängeviertel e. V. with the coworking space FilmFabrique and the scene club Moloch, as well as the innovative upcycling concept for backdrops and costumes of the Hanseatische Materialverwaltung – developed from a New York and now an established networking hub in the neighborhood with well attended winter bazaars and spring festivals.

In August 2018 the neighborhood’s second food venue opened – the “Hobenköök” combined restaurant and market concept – and is attracting new passing and regular trade. And Oberhafen is even making an important contribution to sustainability in HafenCity. Thermal energy for is being generated in the front part of Goods Shed 4, only recognizable from outside because of its chimney, by the enterprise enercity. Heat output totals 10 MW. Crammed into the tiny space are a combined heat and power unit, two natural gas-powered boilers (offset biomethane gas), a heat accumulation plant, and a substation feeding energy into the local power grid.

Innovative, dialog-oriented development

It is not only the mix of uses that is innovative, so is the transformation process itself. Whereas other creative districts are often marketed on an investor-driven basis, with the risk of gentrification, Oberhafen guarantees permanently reliable, low-threshold rents. This is due to two special features of the HafenCity development: the use of existing buildings at the historic level of about 5 m above MSL (instead of new construction and flood-protected elevation) and the fact that they are owned by the City and Port Special Fund (instead of the land being sold). Rents will not produce surpluses, but they will refinance building renovations in the long term.

Development in the existing neighborhood is continuing in intensive dialog processes with local users, e.g. through participation in the expression of interest process for rental space and in the considerations about the perspectives for the self-management and operation of partial areas. Since spring 2018, participation has also been institutionally consolidated. The user committee 5+1, supported by municipal seed funding, acts as an interface between the municipal companies HafenCity Hamburg GmbH and Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft mbH and the stakeholder community.

New areas for leisure and sport

While only “minimally invasive” renovation and expansion work is being done on the creative quarter’s building fabric, the appearance of the open spaces and public areas will change significantly in coming years. North of Goods Shed 4 the open spaces along the canal have been made safe for traffic, creating new leisure and neighborhood meeting points in an attractive waterfront location opposite the wholesale market. The central area of the rail tracks between Goods Sheds 2 and 3 presents great potential for public use – yet here it is still unclear whether and how retention of the striking roof can be financed, given the expensive fire safety measures this would entail.

Behind the goods sheds and the old roadmaster’s office the face of the neighborhood changes completely: integrated into the tapering land area between the water, the railroad embankment and biotope areas, a soccer field and school sports areas including a 100-meter running track and light athletics facility will be built for joint use by the future Lohsepark school center with its two high schools, HafenCity’s two primaries, and Hamburg clubs. Between the two parts of the quarter a flood-protected crossing with a bridge to the wholesale market and a tunnel through the rail embankment to the subway station at Hafen City University will redefine the transition topographically and open up the creative and sports area for pedestrians and cyclists from the north and south. In the long term this will not only create a new and functional entrée to the quarter, Oberhafen itself will also gain a wholly new significance – no longer an isolated, inhospitable peripheral area, but a well-connected inner-city transformation space.

On-site HafenCity 


Ten sometimes very differing quarters make up HafenCity; each has its own individual profile - and brings new qualities to Hamburg’s city center.

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