Old Elbe Tunnel - History and Facts | History Hit

Old Elbe Tunnel

Hamburg, Germany

Amy Irvine

18 Feb 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Old Elbe Tunnel

The Old Elbe Tunnel connects Hamburg’s Landungsbrücken piers with the port. A nostalgic piece of Hamburg’s history, the tunnel has already celebrated its 100th anniversary and continues to be used today.

History of the Old Elbe Tunnel

The Old Elbe Tunnel was completed on 7 September 1911. At 426 metres-long, it was a technical innovation at the time of its construction and the first river tunnel on the continent, modelled on the Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow.

Built 24 metres beneath the surface, its two 6 metre-diameter tubes connect central Hamburg from the Landungsbrücken piers in St. Pauli (which house the machinery) with the docks and shipyards on the southern banks of the River Elbe at Steinwerder. This was a big improvement for tens of thousands of workers in one of the busiest harbors in the world.

Construction began on 22 July 1907 by Philipp Holzmann, using caissons. These large watertight chambers, (open at the bottom, with the water kept out by air pressure) enabled work to be carried out under water. However, they were dangerous for the workers. Spending time in the high-pressure atmospheric conditions put them at risk if they returned to lower pressure outside the caisson too quickly – leading to decompression sickness and ‘Caissons Disease’. Of 4,400 workers, 3 died, 74 suffered severe cases and over 600 suffered mild symptoms.

During World War Two, the shaft house of the Elbe Tunnel was damaged by bombing raids on the south side of the Elbe. It was only later that the tunnel became a tourist attraction when the ‘new’ Elbtunnel and bridges were built in the 1970’s. Further renovations were done for the tunnel’s centenary.

Old Elbe Tunnel today

Six large lifts either side of the tunnel carry pedestrians and vehicles to the bottom, with the two tunnels both still in operation. Due to their limited capacity, other bridges and tunnels have been built to handle most of the traffic.

The tunnel is used by locals to get to Wilhelmsburg or Altes Land, but there is an observation platform south of the river where you can see panoramic views of the city. Inside the tunnel itself, there are distinctive Art-Deco designs, and the tunnel was honoured as a ‘Historic Landmark of Civil Engineering in Germany’ in 2003.

Getting to the Old Elbe Tunnel

The closest station if approaching the tunnel from the centre of Hamburg is the U3 stop or S1 stop at Landungsbrücken. The nearest bus route is 156, stop ‘Alter Elbtunnel’. A building with a green dome on the Landungsbrücken points to the tunnel itself, the side most people approach from.

Cyclists and pedestrians can cross the tunnel free of charge around the clock.

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