The Port of Bremerhaven lies on both banks of the Geest River as it enters the eastern Weser estuary about 70 kilometers from the North Sea in northern Germany. The Port of Bremerhaven is about 20 nautical miles east of the Port of Wilhelmshaven on the western banks of the estuary and about 276 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam. In 2003, over 118 thousand people lived in the Port of Bremerhaven.
The Port of Bremerhaven is the seaport for the city-state of Bremen. While is a new city by European standards, it has long been an important port for trade, and it one of Germany's principal seaports. The Port of Bremerhaven is the fourth biggest container port in Europe and the world's sixteenth largest container port. More cars move through the Port of Bremerhaven than any other European city but Rotterdam.
In 888 AD, Saxon King Arnuf gave the town of Bremen the right to have a market. Located at the last ford across the Weser River, there was a natural harbor where merchants settled. Merchants traveling to the Netherlands, England, and Baltic seaports signed a contract with the archbishop in 1220 to get safe passage to the North Sea.
There were settlements, like Lehe, in the area of the Port of Bremerhaven in the 12th Century. They were small villages built on islands in the estuary. In 1358, the city of Bremen joined the Hanseatic League. By 1389, the city of Bremen was the de facto capital of the lower Weser region, and one of its trading partners was the country of Norway.
In 1410, Bremen was granted the privilege to set buoys and beacons on the Weser to direct maritime traffic, signaling the beginnings of the Port of Bremerhaven. Emperor Charles V granted "stacking rights" to the city in 1541, meaning that all trade goods had to be unloaded and offered to the local merchants before they could move on. The same year, the privilege of free maritime traffic for Bremen merchants on the Weser was renewed, although they paid a Weser Tax to Oldenburg.
By 1619, the first artificial harbor on the Weser had silted up, so construction began on a new harbor at the mouth of the Aue to accommodate the increasingly larger volumes of goods traveling the Weser.
In 1653, Swedish forces captured Bremerlehe. Despite Emperor Ferdinand III's orders, Christina of Sweden did not return Bremerlehe to Bremen. The Swedes continued to hold the settlement and surrounding area, and they developed plans for a fortified town on the site that later became the Port of Bremerhaven.
The Port of Bremerhaven became a municipality in 1827 when the three towns of Bremerhaven, Lehe, and Geestemunde were combined. The City of Bremen bought 89 hectares of land at the mouth of the Weser from the Kingdom of Hanover in order to protect its share of Germany's foreign trade. The Port of Bremerhaven was founded as a shelter for the city's merchant marine, and it became Bremen's second port. The first ship to arrive at the new Port of Bremerhaven in 1930 was the American Draper. However, the port entrance on the Weser soon began to silt over again.
Construction of a new harbor, dimensioned to accommodate the steam ships that were replacing sailing ships, started in Bremerhaven began in 1847. The first American steamship, the Washington, moored outside the "Old Harbor" which was too small for the larger ships.
The Port of Bremerhaven was an important harbor for emigration in Europe. The volume of trade and emigration through the Port of Bremerhaven to North America, the new town grew fast. The Port of Bremerhaven became the base for the Navy of the German Confederation in 1848.
In 1860, the Weser railway station was completed, connecting Bremen and Hanover to the Port of Bremerhaven and making the transfer of goods into inland German possible. In 1871, the Port of Bremerhaven received a boost when the Kasierbrucke, a rail bridge across the Weser, was completed. Although the port was modern, the Weser fairway was just two meters deep, and it froze over in the winter, bringing traffic to a stop, and cutting the Port of Bremerhaven off from important North Sea trade routes.
In 1886, Bremen's chief civil engineer, Ludwig Franzius (German), proposed a novel solution to the problems of silting that confronted the Port of Bremerhaven. His proposal allowed the tides to clear the silt from the riverbed. Work began on the project in 1887, and it still ensures the flow of traffic from the Port of Bremerhaven to the North Sea. In 1888, the Europahafen was opened with a 120-meter wide, 2000-meter long harbor basin, and a depth of five meters, opening the Port of Bremerhaven to the latest modern sea-going vessels.
The first construction phase of the free port began in 1906, and additional construction in the Port of Bremerhaven continued throughout the first decade of the 20th Century. From the end of World War I until the beginning of World War II, the Port of Bremerhaven gained a new grain facility, a banana facility, the Nord Lock, and the Columbus Quay.
The Port of Bremerhaven was an important base for the Nazi's Navy, the Kriegsmarine, during World War II. As a result, much of the city was destroyed when the Allies undertook the Bombing of Bremen. However, the Allies protected important parts of the port to leave a harbor they could use to supply their forces after the war. In 1947, the Port of Bremerhaven became part of the federal state of Bremen, and it is part of today's city-state. The City of Bremen has owned the Port of Bremerhaven since 1927, although Bremerhaven is responsible for its own administration.
In 1957, the Port of Bremerhaven began to handle roll-on/roll-off cargoes. The following year, construction began on a second passenger facility. In 1966, the first container ship called at the Port of Bremerhaven, and construction for a riverside quay and container terminal began in 1968. The new quay and terminal opened for business in 1971.
The decade of the 1970s saw several new facilities in the Port of Bremerhaven that would support the growing cargo volume. These included a new container terminal with a thousand-meter riverside quay, a new roll-on/roll-off facility at Europahafen, a general cargo terminal, an Auto Terminal at Kaiserhafen, and expansion of the existing Bremerhaven container terminal.
Port of Bremerhaven growth continued in the 1980s and 1990s. The Speckenbuttel foreign trade center was opened in 1981. The grain facility was expanded and modernized. In 1983, an extension was added to the container terminal that made it the largest closed container-handling facility on the continent. A new banana facility opened at Verbindungshafen in 1984, and a new cold storage facility was added to the container terminal in 1986.
In 1994, construction began on a third container terminal with two berths for large container ships and a 700-meter long quay. The facility was inaugurated in 1997. In 1998, a new industrial park was created near the Port of Bremerhaven. In 1999, the federal government deepened the Weser River, opening the navigation channel for the largest class of container vessels to the Wilhelm Kaisen container terminal in the Port of Bremerhaven.
Thus far, the Port of Bremerhaven has seen many changes in the 21st Century. The free port status of the Port of Bremerhaven became obsolete and was revoked in 2000. In 2002, the deep-water container port in Wilhelmshaven, to be named JadeWeserPort (German), was approved by the state governments of Lower Saxony and Bremen, and work started on the new port in 2003.
The new Columbus Cruise Center Bremerhaven was opened in 2003, and the Columbus Railway Station was upgraded to make the new center a world-class facility for German ocean-borne tourism. Also in 2003, the third container terminal was opened, bringing the total riverside quay length to 3.2 thousand meters.
In 2004, the first pile was driven for the fourth container terminal to accommodate the world's biggest container ships. This effort is the most ambitious construction project ever undertaken by the Port of Bremerhaven, and it represents the biggest investment project on Germany's coast.
In 2005, construction began on the Osthafen expansions to provide urgently-needed space for handling of automobiles in the Port of Bremerhaven. The new facilities occupy an area of 6.1 hectares and have three berths for deep-sea carriers up to 270 meters long.