ThePport of Hamburg
The Port of Hamburg is the undisputed number one among German ports and ranks third in Europe behind Rotterdam and Antwerp. The UN/LOCODE is DEHAM, where DE stands for Germany and HAM are naturally the first three letters of Hamburg.
The location of the port of Hamburg
Although the port of Hamburg is a seaport, it is not located directly on the open sea, but on the Elbe, more precisely on the Lower Elbe. We are talking about a tidal port, which means that the tides also affect the port of Hamburg. It is about 100 kilometres to the mouth of the Elbe into the North Sea.
The area of the Port of Hamburg is 7,200 hectares. The eastern part lies in Billwerder Bay and the Holzhafen or at the level of the Elbe island of Veddel. From there, the port area extends westwards to the outer district of Finkenwerder on the southern bank of the Elbe. Also part of the port area are the landing bridges on St. Pauli as well as the customs canal, the Speicherstadt and the fishing port in Altona.
The port area extends to the south as far as Harburg, Wilhelmsburg and Altenwerder, so that one can speak of a decisive part of the city of Hamburg.
The reason for Hamburg’s status as a seaport is the deepening of the Elbe. This is dredged again and again so that ships with a draught of up to 15 metres can enter without any problems. Irrespective of the tide, the draught is still 12.80 metres, which means that even large container ships can load in Hamburg.
History of the Port of Hamburg: the background
In the ninth century, there was no more than a small landing place in Hamburg that was not even on the Elbe. It was .the estuary of the river Bille into the Alster, where ships anchored and which finally received the right to harbour in 1189.
If you want to get a picture of the former port today, you can do so in the former Reichenstraßenfleet in the old town. A characteristic feature is that the area rises towards the Alter Fischmarkt and the Cathedral Square opposite the Petrikirche. The first harbour facilities were located on this Geesthöhe, which lasted until the twelfth century.
At that time, one was content with a landing stage of 120 metres length and six metres width, that of course was made of wood. Traces of the Reichenstraßenfleet can be found in the Kleine and Grosse Reichenstraße as well as at the Kattrepelsbrücke, Rolandsbrücke and Börsenbrücke.
The fact that the site was chosen in the first centuries is also evident from the construction of an artificial harbour basin, which was completely destroyed in the First Julian Flood in 1164
History of the port of Hamburg as a city history
The twelfth century brought Hamburg an enormous upswing. In 1188 the previous settlement received its town charter and one year later the port was officially founded. Hamburg was granted exemption from customs duties and fishing rights and advanced to become the most important trading centre in the region.
This was preceded by the relocation of the port to the main arm of the Alster under the aegis of the Counts of Schauenburg and Holstein. Gradually, settlers were recruited and Hamburg literally overtook Lübeck, which was still very important at the time.
In general, the early history of the Port of Hamburg is also a history of competition. In the meantime Stade was one of the opponents, but Hamburg was able to expand further and in the 13th century built a customs house, a weighbridge and a crane.
As early as the 14th century, the port of Hamburg was expanded to the mouth of the Alster and in 1351 a secure entrance to the Elbe was built at Niederbaum. The fact that the trees could be flipped over meant that it was and still is called a tree wall, which is still a central place in Hamburg’s old town today.
The construction of a defensive tower on the island of Neuwerk in 1310 was also important. The island is strategically located in the mouth of the Elbe and secured the trade routes and Hamburg’s dominance over the Elbe.
Early trade connections in the port of Hamburg
It goes without saying that the up-and-coming port of Hamburg was no longer limited to domestic trade at an early stage. Even before the founding of the Hanseatic League, it was a veritable “global player” with connections to London, the Scandinavian empires, Iceland and southern Europe.
By land, cloth from Brabant, linen from Westphalia as well as salt from Lüneburg and lots of wood came. Hamburg also developed into a location for beer breweries, which earned the city the title of “Brewery of the Hanseatic League”.
Also early on, regular trips between the port of Hamburg and Rouen, Berlin, Amsterdam and Bremen became established.
Hamburg as a Hanseatic port
Hamburg’s membership of the Hanseatic League trading association was never officially certified. Nevertheless, the city took part in the first Hanseatic Congress in 1356 and in all subsequent meetings. In 1482, the port of Hamburg was granted staple rights and enforced them against the claims of the cities of Harburg, Stade, Buxtehude and Lüneburg before the Imperial Court.
If one takes a look at early statistics, the impressive number of 2,610 ships leaving port in 1629 is already evident. Shortly before, the port of Hamburg had been extended into the Elbe and the Baumwall was now also stronger.
The Port of Hamburg until 1945
In the 18th century, the port of Hamburg was extended several times by so-called “Duckdalben”, i.e. fortification piles in the Elbe, and goods were handled directly on the water. By this time, a separate Hamburg bank and the Hamburg Admiralty had long since been founded and countless trade agreements existed.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Hamburg was the second largest city of the then German Empire after Vienna. Colonial goods were imported and soon the first shipping companies and shipping lines were established. Especially the industrialization of the 19th century caused an enormous boom, as from then on, iron ships with steam propulsion could reach their destination much faster and with more capacity.
In the Port of Hamburg, the expansion was reflected, among other things, in the growth towards St. Pauli. The landing bridges there were first built in 1840 and in the middle of the 19th century a system of connecting canals, rail connections, cranes and quays was created.
Railway connections in the direction of the Berlin railway station had existed since 1866, and the Elbe bridges had been used by train since 1872. At that time, around 5,200 ships landed in Hamburg every year, although their size was naturally much larger than that of earlier ships.
Important for the expansion of the Port of Hamburg was the development of Sandtorhafen as well as Grasbrookhafen, Magdeburger Hafen and Brooktorhafen on the Great Grasbrook in the second half of the 19th century. This period also saw the construction of the impressive Speicherstadt, which was officially opened in 1888. At the same time, port facilities were also built on Kleiner Grasbrook and Steinwerder, and in 1911, today’s Old Elbe Tunnel was opened, through which port and shipyard workers could reach their workplaces.
The 1920s saw the Dradenau, Finkenwerder and Waltershof as expansion areas and Francop, Moorburg and Altenwerder also became port areas. As a result of the Greater Hamburg Act, the Hanseatic city grew considerably and both Harburg and Altona became part of the city and its harbours were thus also part of the port area.
The Port of Hamburger Hafen today
After the end of the Second World War, the port of Hamburg changed its shape.
Previously integral port areas such as the Great Grasbrook and in general the areas in the east increasingly lost their importance. One of the reasons was the emergence of container shipping and the construction of the Burchardkai Container Terminal (CTB) from 1968.
In 1974, the Köhlbrand Bridge, the new Elbe Tunnel and the Kattwyk Lifting Bridge were built, and other container terminals gradually followed. The port of Hamburg has increasingly shifted downstream along the Elbe and the area west of the old Elbe tunnel in particular is gradually being converted.
Above all, HafenCity is a good example of how former port areas are being transformed into a mixed residential area in a prime location.
What cargo is processed at the port of Hamburg?
Today’s port of Hamburg is primarily a container port.
Statistics show a share of around two thirds of the total volume for this sector. This is followed by grab goods and liquid goods and, at some distance, suction goods and general cargo.
By far the most important trading partner of the Port of Hamburg is China. It is followed by Singapore, Russia and Sweden, as well as Finland, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Poland and India. The number of ships arriving in Hamburg every year is around 18,000.
The largest vessels in the port of Hamburg
The largest ship that has ever docked in the port of Hamburg is the CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery. In March 2018, the container ship with its length of 400 metres and width of 59 metres landed at Burchardkai. It can carry 20,600 standard containers (TEU) and has a draught of 16 metres.
The first container vessel to land in Hamburg was the American Lancer with a length of 213 metres and a capacity of 1,200 TEU.
The CSCL Globe, the largest ship in the world at the time, had already landed in Hamburg in 2015. The dimensions are 400 metres in length, 58.60 metres in width and the capacity of this ship amounts to 19,100 TEU. In 2013, the CMA CGM Marco Polo with its 396 metres and 16,000 TEU was the guest of the CMA CGM Marco Polo and superlatives can also be expected in the future, after all, Hamburg is one of the world’s most important ports.
It is also worth noting that since 2019 the world’s largest tanker for liquefied natural gas (LNG) for the flexible supply of shipping has been christened in Hamburg. LNG is not yet a very common fuel, but the christening in the Port of Hamburg and its operation by a Hamburg-based company underscores the company’s determined look into the future.
The world’s largest cruise ships also land in Hamburg time and again, and in November 2019 the “MSC Grandiosa”, the world’s second largest cruise ship, was inaugurated in the Hanseatic City. This ship measures 331.43 metres and is 43 metres wide. The draught is 8.75 metres and up to 6,334 passengers can go on board.
The landing of the world’s most famous and largest cruise ships can be traced by means of a calendar created especially for this purpose. Throughout the year the giants of the seas moor in Hamburg and can be admired.
Who manages the port of Hamburg?
The port of Hamburg has always been owned by the city and is managed by the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA). This port authority and institution under public law is the owner of the port properties and is primarily responsible for the maintenance, expansion and management of the infrastructure.
Around 1,800 employees work for the HPA and, if you like, it is a successor to the Admiralty. The first foundation of a Hamburg Port Authority took place under the British military administration shortly after the end of the Second World War, the foundation of today’s HPA dates back to 2005.
Equally important is HHLA or Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG. The logistics company was founded in 1885 and – nomen est omen – takes care of logistics in the Port of Hamburg. It employs 5,937 people worldwide and since 2007 the company has been partially privatized and listed in the SDAX.
HHLA also operates three of the four container terminals in the Port of Hamburg, namely in Altenwerder, Burchardkai and Tollerort. The company also operates in Odessa, Muuga (Estonia).
The third “pillar” on which the fortunes of the Port of Hamburg rest is Hafen Hamburg Marketing (HHM). As the name suggests, this association under private law is responsible for marketing the location, which also includes tourism. HHM also carries out market research and is responsible for publications about the Port of Hamburg.
The list of companies and authorities that make up the Port of Hamburg is rounded off by the harbour pilot, the ship reporting service and the nautical centre. This triad is largely responsible for ensuring that shipping traffic runs smoothly and safely.
All ships of 90 metres in length and 13 metres in width and all tankers are considered to be subject to compulsory pilotage. In concrete terms, this means that between Blankenese and Teufelsbrück a pilot goes on board and acts in an advisory capacity.
Visits to the port of Hamburg
If you are interested in the port of Hamburg and its history, there are several places to visit. The oldest part of the port of Hamburg still in use is the inland port with its harbours, which have existed since the 14th century. Not far away is the Speicherstadt, which is considered the world’s largest historical warehouse complex. Together with the Kontorhausviertel, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an impressive example of architecture in the Wilhelminian period.
Of course, Hamburg also has a harbour museum, which is located in the area of the former free port, and a harbour tour is also possible at any time under various themes – including the container harbour or bus trips along the harbour facilities.
Last but not least, the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken, the Old Elbe Tunnel, the fish market as well as the museum harbour Övelgönne and ships like the Cap San Diego or the lightship are to be mentioned and round off the experience of the port of Hamburg.