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Urban working

From a raw port to a modern place of work

It is over 150 years since, in 1866, Sandtorhafen opened as Hamburg’s first modern harbor basin, enabling steamships to come right into the city. The ships came alongside where the Traditional Ship Harbor in the Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai neighborhood is today, making fast at the newly built quaysides and being loaded unloaded with the aid of cranes. It was a total novelty, as it made it possible to load goods direct from the ship onto rail wagons (or trucks) or to store them in the nearby sheds of the Speicherstadt, built in 1883. The port workers’ jobs were very varied: loading and unloading was done by longshoremen; lightermen transported cargo on flat, open barges; wharfmen handled cargo on the quayside or stacked it awaiting onward transport; warehousemen stored the goods. At the end of the 19th century there were about 25,000 dockworkers employed in the port of Hamburg north of the Elbe, plus a further 20,000 or so working in the shipyards.

In the Second World War 70 percent of the warehouses and 90 percent of the sheds in the port were destroyed. After the war they were rebuilt, in modernized form. When contained shipping was introduced at the end of the 1960s, work in the port changed dramatically. The port basins and storage areas in today’s HafenCity were too small for the new, larger contained vessels. Dedicated container terminals were built south of the Elbe. The harbor basins, quays and shed in Sandtorhafen could still be used by conventional shipping, and goods were still stored and processed here and there, yet the importance of the port areas close to the city center rapidly diminished. The 1997 decision of the Senate to develop HafenCity on the former port area marked its final death knell.

Mix of uses

Since the 2010 revision of the HafenCity Masterplan, the assumption is that there will be 45,000 jobs in HafenCity. This means there will soon be far more people working in HafenCity than at its peak as a working port.

In comparison to many other waterfront projects (such as Canary Wharf in London) HafenCity is not being developed as a purely commercial location. Instead, the district is characterised by a fine-grained mix of uses – work, residential, education, culture, leisure, tourism and retailing. This diversity of use is not only evident in HafenCity as a whole but also within its individual buildings, where living, office use, retailing, culture and catering are accommodated in a variety of combinations. A particular focus in developing HafenCity, therefore, is on the publicly accessible ground-floor uses in each building, e.g. retail stores, restaurants and bars, various services and galleries. The requirement to consistently provide five-meter ceiling heights in lower stories, anchored in the purchase agreements and development plans, the reduced floor value rates for ground-floor spaces, and the obligation for developers to seek suitable users create the conditions for a vibrancy and mix that is already a constant feature.

Corporate location

Meanwhile about 930 companies have based themselves in HafenCity and around 15,000 jobs have been created. Corporate headquarters and offices of companies from a whole range of sectors can be found in HafenCity. No particular cluster strategy was pursued when attracting companies, though smaller clusters, especially in the media, logistics and energy sectors, have developed. The maritime sector in the broadest sense includes for example Kühne + Nagel, COSCO SHIPPING Lines, the shipping company Eukor and DNV, one of HafenCity’s largest employers with 900 staff.

The headquarters of other major companies can also be found in HafenCity, for example Gebr. Heinemann, the BUSS Group, and Engel & Völkers. Companies such as Greenpeace and Enerparc, both from the sustainability and sustainable energy field, have either based their headquarters in HafenCity or are currently building them. IT companies and services represent a further sector focus in HafenCity, whose representatives include DATEV and Kühne + Nagel’s IT services. In addition to major corporations, HafenCity is characterised by a multitude of small and medium-sized enterprises that have rented office space here. 

New worlds of work

In recent years HafenCity has increasingly become a popular location for start-ups and innovative business ideas with a great potential for growth. Venture capital funds and young founders ranging from digital 3D programmers to analog fashion labels are examples of the nimble, market-oriented companies that value the inspiring surroundings and especially the creative vicinity of other companies in HafenCity that they find here. Small artisan manufacturers such as the Abelé fashion label, Sir Leder Michel and Holzwerk have already discovered HafenCity as a location. Blockchance Campus in the Campustower is Hamburg’s first co-working space for blockchain. Joining it is the fintech hub Finhaven and the Foodlab in Watermark Tower. The latter is a globally unique co-working space for founders from the food scene.

Elbbrücken neighborhood is becoming a real start-up hub. This is the place for companies pursuing innovative concepts and looking for offer for meeting the demands of the future world of work. Enerparc AG, for instance, will also reflect its diverse project and team-oriented working methods in its building, and the internal structure of the new headquarters will create a communication-based working environment that flexibly adapts to different working methods. A similar path is being pursued by the office building under construction in the immediate vicinity, EDGE HafenCity, which will offer modular workspace equipped with smart technology that can be rented flexibly (regarding space and time) by long-term major users or temporary co-workers. Probably by far the most visible step towards the workplace of the future will be taken by HafenCity at its eastern extremity. The Elbtower is a symbol of this transformation, a mixed-use high-rise that will house at least 2,700 workplaces, ranging from small co-working units to modern and flexible office space for major tenants on the tower stories.

Hotel concepts

Another major employer is the hotel sector with a wide variety of hotel concepts. Six hotels in HafenCity and one more in neighboring Speicherstadt have already opened, offering more than 1,300 rooms in total. In the next few years, eight further hotels with well over 2,100 rooms will join them.

Provision ranges from the luxury hotel in the Elbphilharmonie to a congress hotel by the Elbe bridges and also quite specialized hotel concepts. The JUFA-Hotel, for instance, appeals specifically to families, the Stadthaushotel is to be an integrative hotel, while the 25hours hotel group picks up the historic theme of the area with its Altes Hafenamt branch.

Knowledge and education

HafenCity also has an exceptionally high proportion of knowledge and educational institutions. These are not only attractive as employers themselves, but also ensure a better balance between family and work for parents, for example through the care they provide for children and young people. At the same time, secondary and tertiary educational institutions provide the companies based in HafenCity with a first-class potential pool of interns, student assistants and graduates.

In addition to HafenCity University (HCU), various private universities have based themselves in HafenCity: Kühne Logistics University (KLU), Medical School Hamburg (MSH), the International School of Management (ISM), and the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. Other educational institutions, such as the prevention center for the BGW and the VBG, two of the largest employers’ liability insurance associations in Germany, are also planned for the Elbe bridges. In addition to Katharinenschule, which has been established in HafenCity for years and attracts pupils not only from HafenCity itself but also from neighboring areas, there will be another primary school in future, as well as the HafenCity school campus with two secondary schools at Lohsepark.

In future

Within just over 30 years, a new, highly mixed-use Hamburg district is being created on the HafenCity site, which is not only an excellent place to live and socialize. Working here, surrounded by water and greenery, is also highly attractive. HafenCity invites you to relax or go shopping during your break, to go to a concert or have a beer with your colleagues after work - and in between offers space for high-quality output, creative achievements and synergies. All this was unthinkable a good 150 years ago. The port was raw, noisy and dirty. At most, people lived on the neighboring Elbe islands of Kehrwieder and Wandrahm. The northern Grasbrook area further south was reserved for hard work. Today, none of that is noticeable.

The whole district is in constant dialog with its users – it breathes, it is alive, and it offers every possibility for creative further development. At the same time, buildings are emerging that answer the demands of an ever-changing working reality. They are smart and flexible, promote interaction and innovation, and work to further establish the workplace of the future in the heart of the city center.



At the interface with the Speicherstadt and the main rail station, Brooktorkai/Ericus is a popular corporate location

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