Speicherstadt, or the Warehouse district, is a part of the UNESCO world heritage. The red-brick houses in line by the various canals produce the impression of unity and power. Well, I personally expected more from this district, and I am sure that it is not one of the most romantic places on the Earth. Nevertheless, it is worth visiting at least to see the architecture styles there. And maybe it is better to visit this place on the board of some ship- you'll see more from Hamburg!
Hamburgs "Speicherstadt" is the largest historic warehouse area in the world; it came into existence when Hamburg joined the "German Zollverein" tariff union in the late 19th century, as a designated customs-free storage area for imported goods. The red-brick Speicherstadt houses are 5 levels high, connected by small bridges, and all face a waterway on one side. Today, the area is no longer exempt from customs, but contains plenty of tourist attractions (like the Speicherstadt Museum, Hamburg Dungeon, Spice Museum, Miniature Museum...).
If you ever want to test the robustness of an interactive museum display, then just introduce a toddler and see how it holds up!
Such was our experience with the enjoyable Spicy's Spice Museum in Hamburg's Speicherstadt. Small Daughter was a year old, had just started to walk and was keen to get stuck into everything ... including the museum displays. Sacks of spices that had been provided so that visitors could see and touch and smell the contents proved to be a magnet for a newly independent little girl, and despite my best efforts at crowd control, the floor was presently strewn with a mix of spices - including black pepper corns, which turn out to be as lethal as ball bearings when encountered underfoot by the unsuspecting ...
But I digress ...
The spice trade has always been a highly lucrative one that was once considered so important that it fuelled the conquest of the New World, and Hamburg has long been one of the world's major ports with respect to the import of spices. The museum's website claims that it's the world's third largest spice port, although it's not clear whether this is by weight, volume or value. Which is interesting really, since despite the fact that Hamburg has paid a pivotal role in spice import to Europe over several centuries, traditional German - especially Northern German - food tends not to feature much in the way of imported exotic spicing in its savoury dishes (which tends to be reserved for cakes and biscuits). Presumably the majority of spices were offloaded and onshipped to other destinations rather than being consumed locally.
The museum is fun and informative, and one of the highlights is that it gives you the opportunity to touch, sniff and sample over 50 spices (see above). The other attraction is that it allows you to experience the interior of one of the characteristically tall, thin warehouses that make up the Speicherstadt (which literally means 'city of warehouses') and is also a good refuge if the weather is less than clement.
On face value, a Customs Museum sounds duller than dishwater and I certainly wasn't greatly enthused at the prospect when it was first suggested to me ... but as with most things in Hamburg, it turned out to be enormous fun.
Hamburg has been one of the world's great ports for centuries, so it's no great surprise that customs excise (and the revenue generated by it) has been a very lucrative business for the city. As those of us who have ever exceeded our duty free allowances know, paying customs duty is unpleasant at the best of times - particularly when you're importing high value and/or illegal merchandise.
The museum provides a comprehensive overview of the German customs and excise service, which is surprisingly interesting. However, the undisputed highlight is the section that deals with smuggling, and whilst I know that one should not celebrate criminal behaviour, I confess to a sneaking admiration for the sheer ingenuity that has been applied in trying to circumvent the law. The exhibits provide a fascinating insight into the intriguing game of 'cat and mouse' between customs officers and smugglers as one side tries to outsmart the other, and happily, you don't have to speak German (or be able to read the captions) to marvel at the ingenuity and sheer nerve involved!
Highly recommended, especially as a refuge in bad weather!
Unfortunately the museum website wasn't available in English, so some practical details for those who don't speak German. At the time of writing (December 2011), the museum was open between 10:00 and 17:00 every day (except Monday). Admission was €2, but free to those under 18.
The Speicherstadt is a district of century old warehouses, whose brick walls are turned a glorious shade of red by the autumn sunsets. It's considered one of the most evocative places in Hamburg, and much of it is difficult to reach except by boat. So if you are going to take one boat tour, make sure it's one that includes the Speicherstadt (although equally expect those to be very popular and book ahead).
It was once a 1.5km long free trade area, built so that ships could unload without paying customs. Today it's one huge tourist attraction in itself, with lots of museums, most notably the Maritime Museum built into one of the old warehouses.
When a friend of mine from Australia came to visit and the question of, " what should we see" came up it was hard to decide. She was only in town for a day and a half. She wanted something fun but also wanted a museum or something historical. The first thing that popped into my mind was the Dungeon.
Its been open about 3 or 4 years now and while Ive thought about going I have never taken the time. So my friend and I and I got up early on a Sunday morning to stand in line in the cold for tickets. Right now I can tell you if you want to go buy your tickets in advance. The line wasnt that long but if you have them ahead of time you will get inside a lot quicker.
They take you in to buy your tickets in your group (or couple) because first you get your picture taken decapitating your friends. Next onto the ticket line where you pay and then they leave you in a fairly dark room where you wait to be let in to the main portion. They take groups of 30 people at a time.
I wont tell you everything that goes on because I dont want to spoil it for you but you do get to re-live the dark parts of Hamburg's history such as the black plague, the fire, the flood, and Klaus Stoertebecker's execution. Stoertebecker was the infamous pirate who raided the Hanseatic League's ships. All in all its a lot of fun and the actors they have are great. Sometimes you have to tell yourself, "This isnt real."
I dont think I would recommend it for younger children but older kids and teens would probably enjoy it a lot. Although the actors speak German the signs inside and the film parts are subtitled in English.
The Warehouse complex, the historical Speicherstadt is the world's largest single stretch of warehouses built in the 18th century.
Goods from all over the world entered Europe, duty-free for further transport all the way into the mid of 1900s. Coffee, tea and spices were especially stored in this complex.
About 70 % of this area was destroyed in the WWII. In 1991 the Speicherstadt gained status as a historically registered site. In 2003, the duty-free border was pushed back to the Elb Bridge thus the Complex was no longer in the duty-free zone.
Today, the Speicherstadt is home to several museums and exhibitions. To name some ; Hamburg Dungeon, Miniatur Wonderland, Dachbodenbande toy museum and the Speicherstadt Museum.
Eisenbahn-Wunderland is one of the best-known attractions in Hamburg, although it was built just in the year 2000. Inside the old Speicherstadt / the old warehouses in the free-trading-zone you may watch miniature-trains, villages, great landscapes from all over the world and everything is moving and looks really great.
Everything is planned there to the smallest detail, you may watch the fire-brigades of Hamburg fighting against the fire, a stadion with a soccergame going on, you may even see love-affais in the cornfields, bank-robberies etc. etc. etc.
Every half hour the big lights are turned off and you may see the landscape beautifully lighted almost like in reality...
The late 19th century harbour storages fill a whole quarter of their own. The Speicherstadt (Storage City) was in danger of being demolished a few decades ago but has in the meantime been restored. The brick storages were built in times of historism. Their facades are decorated with balconies, oriels and towers with some neo-medieval elements. The few post-war buildings fit in well. Canals alternate with streets so the storages can be accessed both from water and land. They are used by traders who buy and sell goods like coffee, tea, oriental carpets, spices and similar.
One of the historical storages has been turned into a coffee and spice museum which I recommend visiting. You get to see the interior and learn a lot about these goods and overseas trade in past and present.
Speicherstadt is part of the free port, so carry your ID or passport. Usually there are no controls at the checkpoints on the bridges but sometimes they do check.
The old buildings look pretty in bright sunlight but trust me, the true flair shows best on a chilly grey autumn day with fog drifting over the canals and through the empty lanes. This is a setting for detective movies or even love stories.
The Speicherstadt is, or better: used to be, my favourite sight in Hamburg. In recent years some modern event culture has infiltrated the old harbour quarter. There is a ghost train in one of the old storages, galleries of modern art, modern cafes and similar Schickimicki stuff. The so special flair is being destroyed. It will be ruined entirely when the new quarter, the Hafen-City behind the Speicherstadt which is now under construction, will have been completed and some thousands of yuppies have moved in.
More photos in my Speicherstadt travelogue.
Around 1880 is became nessecary to separate an area near city and harbour for the free-port. Red-Brick warehouses were build, where before had been an old town with buildings from 17th century. This old houses have been destroyed and people had to move elsewhere.
Now the warehouse district with old and also very new buildings is no longer free-port but still houses some old trading firms with carpets, coffee and tea. It has become an area, where people can live in expensive flats, where the new Elb-Philharmony is being build and where the big cruiseships stop for a visit of Hamburg.
The small channels between the houses are called Fleet and can bee visited by boat.
There also some very interesting museums and attractions: Spicy's spice Museum, Speicherstadt-Museum, Hamburg Dungeon and Miniatur Wonderland (the world largest model railway)
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