• Germany's news in English

Harbouring architecture in Hamburg

Sally McGrane · 13 Jul 2010, 16:55

Published: 13 Jul 2010 16:55 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

On a recent sunny evening, a group of about thirty people have gathered near Hamburg’s port to explore the new HafenCity district, which will nearly double the size of downtown when finished.

With construction about halfway completed after starting in 2003, there is already plenty to see, including the spectacular Elbe Philharmonic rising steadily atop an old brick warehouse. Horrendously over budget, it is expected to become the northern German city’s new landmark when done in 2012.

For the tour we’re each given an earpiece, so we can listen in as Gerwin Zohlen, an architecture critic from Berlin, and Enrico Santifaller, an architecture journalist and author, both wearing gray suits and proceeding at a stroll while conducting a leisurely conversation about the results, thus far.

“This glass,” says Zohlen, gesturing at a glass-fronted fishbowl residential tower. “Isn’t it an invitation to indecency?”

“Ja,” says Santifaller. With a damning shrug: “It’s design.”

The HafenCity tours, in which two experts lead an hour and half walking tour through the development, with pretzels, wine and a discussion afterwards, began in 2006. There have been between five and seven tours a year since then, and this year’s tour leaders include Tamo Kunz, the set designer for filmmaker Fatih Akin.

They are, say regular attendees, varied, and always interesting. The tours have proven immensely popular, with up to 80 people paying the €8-price of admission. Tonight, the group leaders seem to be mostly in agreement: “Is it pure conservatism to say: I expect a building to have walls?”

“The building gives the impression that it’s floating. The question is: Do I want to live in a house that floats?”

We come to a stop in front of a completed building that draws less ire.

“There’s nothing here to truly criticize…”

“Still, it’s pretty boring.”

A conversation about the drawbacks of commercial real estate leads to a slight difference of opinion. “You can see it in the architecture—the investors have cut all the details,” says Zohlen.

“Ach, I can’t stand all this ‘evil investor’ talk,” says Santifaller. “These architects walk around, saying, ‘I designed the most beautiful building, but they ruined it.’ Architects know what the limitations are, and they should plan for them.”

Zohlen rolls a cigarette and begins to smoke it.

At one of the main squares, with steps leading down to the water, we stop again. “I find the square and the steps good--ok, a little too big, it could be more intimate,” says Zohlen.

“These lamps are supposed to be cranes,” says Santifaller.

“Oh god, oh god, oh god,”

“Why can’t you just have a normal, nice lamp? That would have been fine, instead of these funny design ones.”

The thoroughly enjoyable banter continues as they group passes through a construction area and almost gets run over by a bus. “This graphic—if you turn them a little, it looks a swastika…”

“The windows look like they’re from Baumarkt…”

“Look at this! The stone façade doesn’t reach the ground”

“Ah! A gap! That’s very embarrassing.”

“The sandstone is nice,”

“But paper thin”

Story continues below…

“The public will swallow anything…”

“It’s not the nicest specimen”

“I don’t like this glass façade: I like to touch things and this I don’t want to touch. I know my soul will slide right off.”

“Why can’t you make a building out of wood?”

“I agree.”

As the sun sets and we come to the end of the walk (“You can see right into that bedroom,” “I don’t want people to see into my bedroom!”), the two men wrap up the discussion. “In conclusion,” says Zohlen, “I think HafenCity is, on the whole, very successful.”

“Yes,” agrees Santifaller, as the light on the Elbe turns pink. “It’s comforting to know that we are capable of producing a successful urban space, today.”

More information: The remaining 2010 walks will take place July 14, August 18, August 25, September 1, and September 15. Meet at 6:30 pm at HafenCity InfoCenter im Kesselhaus, Am Sandtorkai 30. Reserve by email at: kesselhaus@HafenCity.com

Related links:

Sally McGrane (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

18:07 July 13, 2010 by darwiniandemon
It's like walking through a real-life SIM City! Truly astonishing.
17:19 July 14, 2010 by slawek
Yes, HafenCity is always nice for a walk.

However, why not just live there for some time, like I did, instead of just walking around. Paid a visit to the Schilly club or the local pub? - oh, right far too expensive. HafenCity is the greatest catastrophe as far as the community is concerned. There is no infrastructure to keep people together, except if you earn enough money to pay for the local bar, which unfortunately will be full with visitors from the outside. But anyway, the people there tend to keep to themselves. Also, did you notice the local playgrounds? Why isn't there any children around? My guess is, people living there right now, will start leaving sooner or later. There is no flourishing sense of togetherness like in the other areas of Hamburg.

My guess is, the flats will be abandoned in a few years and bought out cheaply by local companies to serve as hotels or accommodation for their commuting employees. SAP is around the corner, isn't it, so these flats might just as well become apartments for their employees in some future.
11:27 July 17, 2010 by whatzup
Ironically an area that was developed at such a great cost to the taxpayer and at the sacrifice of so many important community services in Hamburg will ultimately end up as a barren middle class ghetto.
07:30 July 20, 2010 by JAMessersmith
HafenCity, Hamburg > Harbor City, Los Angeles

Just saying...
21:53 July 20, 2010 by slawek
@whatzup No, I don't think anyone from the middle class can afford living there, also not in the long term. It's rather an agglomeration of the upper class. Right now HafenCity is a quite respectable address. In some future however the apartments might as well become most sought-after office space. The Daimler district in Berlin has a similar history, no one accustomed to Berlin would like living there, so the apartments stay either empty or they simply belong to local companies and are being used by their employees.
Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd