Port of Hamburg - History and Facts | History Hit

Port of Hamburg

Hamburg, Germany

Amy Irvine

18 Feb 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Port of Hamburg

Hamburg is the third largest container port in Europe, and the 17th largest container port in the world, covering an area of 28.57 square miles.

History of the Port of Hamburg

Founded on 7 May 1189 by Frederick I, the port is almost as old as the history of Hamburg itself. Located at a strategic location near the mouth of the River Elbe, the Port of Hamburg become the most important trading centre in the region, and was able to maintain its own tax and customs regulations for a time.

During the age of the Hanseatic League from the 13th-16th centuries, Hamburg was considered second only to the port and city of Lübeck in terms of its position as a central trading point for sea-borne trade. Following the emergence of transatlantic trade, Hamburg became Central Europe’s main port and hub for transatlantic travel for centuries, and the leading German port of trade by 1871.

The Free Port, established on 15 October 1888, enabled traders to ship and store goods without going through customs, further enhancing Hamburg’s position in sea trade with neighbouring countries. During this time, the Speicherstadt warehouse complex was built (1880s) as part of the free port and to cope with the growing quantity of goods stored in the port.

Hamburg shipyards lost fleets during both World Wars. During the Second World War, forced labourers and concentration camp prisoners were deployed in the port, and the port suffered tremendous war damage, with 90% of quayside sheds destroyed and two-thirds of all warehouses made unfit for use.

During Germany’s partition (1945-1990), the port lost much of its hinterland and consequently many of its trading connections. However, since closer European integration, the port has gained strength, and is one of the world’s largest and busiest sea ports.

Port of Hamburg today

Today, the port is primarily a container port, with China its most important trading partner. It receives around 8,000 ship calls per year, almost 300 berths and has a total of 43 kilometers of quay for seagoing vessels. It receives more than 2,300 freight trains per week and has 4 state-of-the-art container terminals, 3 cruise terminals and around 50 facilities that specialise in handling bulk cargoes. There are about 7,300 logistics companies based in the city itself.

The port is also one of Hamburg’s largest attractions, both as a port but also as a backdrop for modern culture and the port’s history, with various museum ships, musical theaters, bars, restaurants and hotels.

Getting to the Port of Hamburg

Although clearly easiest by boat(!) there are various sites to see around the port area that can be accessed easily by walking from the city itself. The Speicherstadt warehouse complex, a large wharf area of 350,000 m² floor area is on the northern shore of the River Elbe. It remains the largest warehouse district in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The port also has a harbour museum and sites such as the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken, the Old Elbe Tunnel and the fish market.

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Historic Sites in Hamburg

Discover some of the best historic sites in Hamburg, Germany - from its famous port to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the world’s largest warehouse complex at Speicherstadt.