Port of Hamburg
Review and History

The Port of Hamburg lies on the shores of the Elbe River in Germany about 83 kilometers from the North Sea. It is about 110 kilometers east-southeast of the Port of Bremerhaven and some 58 kilometers southwest of the Port of Lubeck. The Port of Hamburg, with the official name "The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg," is Germany's second biggest city, port, and commercial center. Clearly, the Port of Hamburg has a long history of self-determination. In fact, Hamburg and Bremen are the only two German city-states that retain their medieval independence, a point of great pride for city residents. In 2002, over 1.7 million people lived in the Port of Hamburg, and over 2.5 million called the metropolitan area home.

Hamburg<br>Viewed from a height of 150 meters

Viewed from a height of 150 meters

Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart

The Port of Hamburg is the most important component of the city's economy. Ranking second in Germany after Rotterdam, it is Europe's ninth busiest international port. When Germany was reunified and the Port of Hamburg recovered its eastern hinterlands, it became the fastest-growing European port, and the many consulates in the city reveal its importance to international trade. In addition to the Port of Hamburg, the city has an important civil aerospace industry, with one Airbus plant employing more than 13 thousand workers. Heavy industries in the Port of Hamburg include several shipyards and manufacturers of steel, aluminum, and copper. Media businesses are important contributors to the local economy, with many television and radio stations and some of the country's biggest publishing companies, including newspapers and magazines, in the Port of Hamburg. The city is also home to several music companies and Internet-based businesses.

Port History

In 825 AD, a moated castle appeared on a promontory between the Elbe and Alster Rivers that proved to the beginning of the future Port of Hamburg. Under Emperor Louis the Pious in 834 AD, the castle became the seat of an archbishopric and the base for Archbishop's missions to the heathens in north Europe. The Port of Hamburg was burned by the Vikings in 845 and eight more times over the next 300 years.

Port of Hamburg Panorama

Port of Hamburg Panorama

Photo by Alexander Blum

By the late 11th Century, commerce overtook religion as the Port of Hamburg's reason for being. The founding of Lubeck on the Baltic Sea by Adolf II, count of Holstein, promoted the growth of Hamburg as Lubeck's North Sea port. In 1188, Adolph III of Schauenburg granted a charter to build a new town with a harbor on the Alster River with facilities that could use the Elbe. Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa confirmed the privilege in 1189 with a special grant for trading rights, exemptions from tolls, and navigation privileges.

The Port of Hamburg continued to grow through the 13th Century to become an important Hanseatic League city, second only to Lubeck. The Port of Hamburg was an important center for trade between Flanders and Russia, and it played an important role in protecting the Elbe trade routes by obtaining lands along the river's branches. Over time, it gained control of the river's use and was recognized by the emperor for its special role.

As the Hanseatic League began to dissolve near the end of the Middle Ages, the Port of Hamburg continued its strong growth, surpassing Lubeck as an economic center. In 1558, a stock exchange was created, and the Bank of Hamburg was established in 1619. The Port of Hamburg was so well fortified in the early 17th Century that its business was hardly disturbed by the Thirty Years' War that disrupted much of Europe. By 1662, a convoy system for shipping was operating, and Hamburg's merchants were escorted by men-of-war as they sailed the seas. By the beginning of the 18th Century, 70 thousand people lived in the Port of Hamburg, making it Germany's second most populous city after Cologne.

 Repair work on wooden ships, approx. 1865<br>Hamburg

Repair work on wooden ships, approx. 1865

Photo by Carl Friedrigh Hoge

In 1770, the Port of Hamburg was acknowledged as an immediate imperial city, meaning it had no other overlord than the emperor. The Port of Hamburg also gained islands on the banks of the Elbe that became new docks a century later. However, the city's special status did not last long. The Napoleonic Wars brought an end to Germany's old order, and the city-state of Hamburg was annexed into the French Empire in 1810.

After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, the Port of Hamburg became a state in the German Confederation, officially designated as the "Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg" in 1819. Prosperity returned, and the Port of Hamburg's trade expanded to new territories in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The Port of Hamburg kept its independent status when the German Empire was founded in 1871.

In the 1880s, warehouses were constructed for the new free Port of Hamburg. By the beginning of the 20th Century, about 700 thousand people lived in the Port of Hamburg, and the Port of Hamburg had far outgrown its limits, taking in many smaller towns surrounding its core. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Port of Hamburg began its efforts to become Germany's "gateway to the world" by building new wharves and docks on the Elbe.

Customs ship <i>Gluckstadt</i><br>Deutsches Zollmuseum, Hamburg

Customs ship Gluckstadt
Deutsches Zollmuseum, Hamburg

Photo by KMJ

World War I brought the Port of Hamburg's development to a stop in 1914. International trade disappeared, and its fleet of 1466 ships remained in the port. Furthermore, the Allies demanded that almost all of the Port of Hamburg's ships be turned over as reparations after World War I.

Even after the war was over, development in the Port of Hamburg was limited because it had already developed most of its territory. In 1937, the Port of Hamburg incorporated the nearby cities of Wandsbek, Altona, and Harburg that had been part of Prussia. As the Port of Hamburg planned to develop the new areas, World War II arrived.

World War II brought many Allied air raids that destroyed over half of the Port of Hamburg's facilities and took 55 thousand lives. By the time the war ended in 1945, the priority was keeping the Port of Hamburg and its people alive. Yet the city's people had a resilient spirit, and reconstruction came quickly. City-Nord, the Port of Hamburg's huge new business district was built in the 1960s, and the Port of Hamburg's nightclubs became a popular hang-out for British rock bands. The Beatles appeared there in the early 1960s.

In 1962, a terrible flood killed over 300 people and destroyed much of the old city. In the mid-1960s, the Port of Hamburg's population hit a peak of over 1.8 million before the suburban shift began.

Magdeburger Hafen<br>HafenCity Hamburg, Maritimes Museum

Magdeburger Hafen
HafenCity Hamburg, Maritimes Museum

Photo by Emma7stern

When Germany was unified in 1990, the Port of Hamburg enjoyed increased trade with eastern and central Europe, and the Port of Hamburg enjoyed a long modernization effort. In 1994, the Port of Hamburg became a seat for a Roman Catholic bishopric. Today, it is a proud city with cherished traditions and a vibrant cultural and business life that makes it one of the world's most exciting cities.

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