Being an islander, I couldn't imagine not living in a port. I've lived full-time in two cities and two ports, one of which, the latter, is only a port in the loosest sense today. It's not so much the notion that you could leave from the port, however, more some sort of irresistible and intangible combination of sea air, nostalgia, dockside industry. Because even a working port is far less a place to leave from than a railway station or an airport, and the landscapes a really working port carries in its train - containerisation, distribution sheds, refineries - are as depopulated and unforgiving as they are sublime. Mostly I find the same things everywhere in ports, an essential eeriness in their heart caused by the absence of actual workers in the docks, the automation of the process leaving large swathes of the space becoming mere marinas. Hamburg has been subject to all the same processes, but somehow it feels different - it has learned to aestheticise its own automation. It is the first city I've ever seen that fetishises its container port, that wants you to look at modern shipping. It's also a city of extreme tensions and almost overwhelmingly brilliant architecture, so is getting the full treatment, in two parts for ease of digestion, themselves divided into two parts.
The port, though it is no longer at the old and much mythologised 'Free Port', is still very near to the city centre, and visible from much of it. Yet there's more to the seeming prosperity of central Hamburg than this continuity. The British comparison that constantly comes to mind here is Liverpool, and the difference is huge, fascinating and worrying. In 1930 these cities were roughly the same size, with a port of a similar size, considered themselves somewhat independent and apart from the rest of the country inland, and both had rapid transit systems - the Hochbahn in Hamburg (subsequently expanded into an extremely extensive and reliable U and S-Bahn) and the Liverpool Overhead Railway (demolished in the 1950s and never replaced). There are certain differences also, in that Hamburg also had extensive manufacturing industry, something only belatedly imported into outer Liverpool by Ford and ICI, and the Elbe may (I don't know) be a more functionally useful river than the Mersey, but that in itself doesn't explain the disparity. Over the next 50 years Hamburg's population would nearly double, Liverpool's would decline by half. It's the biggest reminder that there are differences within capitalism, there are parts of it where Social Democracy has genuinely created a better environment to live in, without of course eradicating the inequities and contradictions that are fundamental to capitalism. An Anglo visitor often gets the sense that Germany, both left and right, doesn't know how lucky it is to have avoided the radically unequal and radically disurbanising 'Anglo-Saxon' model.
But it should always, always be remembered that Social Democracy is built on blood, built on the suppression of the European Revolution of 1919-23, ushering in an unstable reformed capitalism which ended we know where ten years later. In Hamburg this is particularly acute. In October 1923, with the Weimar Republic facing hyperinflation and French occupation, the Communists and some left Social Democrats planned an insurrection, called off at the last minute out of fear that they wouldn't be able to hold the capital. News of the cancellation didn't reach Hamburg in time, and the city had several days of Civil War as a result. The upshot, before the Communists' capitulation, was widely agreed to have been a draw.
The most architecturally fascinating area I walked through in Hamburg was something called the Kontorhausviertel, the Central Business District. It was planned after the war by the architect Fritz Schumacher, under the city's Social Democratic administration, but it's hardly a socialist space. It is, however, in excelsis, the style that accompanied the 1919 German revolution - the intense and apocalyptic expressionism that exploded in groups like the Arbeitstrat fur Kunst. They called for an organic, jagged, insurgent architecture, one of biomorphic forms, crystals and weird neo-Hanseatic overornamented brick. Its main exponent in Hamburg was Fritz Hoger, who would after 1933 become a fervent Nazi. They still didn't give him any commissions.
The 'icon' of the Kontorhausviertel, an image that anyone interested in the Weimar Republic will have seen at least once, is the Chilehaus, where accidents of planning - the oddly shaped plots parcelled out by Schumacher to various corporate clients - created an instantly memorable form, the pointed 'stern' of a horrifying, dreamlike warship of concrete and clinker. Buildings in ports that look like ships, especially in the 1920s, are usually smooth and streamlined - and there's nothing streamlined about this dark, cranky, clattering, Nietzschean vessel.
Inside, all of them have deeply atmospheric public spaces, in the form of wide courtyards, but crucially, they're public spaces that could be suddenly enclosed and gated off if necessary.
The other buildings around all conform to their allotted sites in a similar way, which is oddly reminiscent of a Baltic spin on Hugh Ferriss' apotheoses of the New York Zoning Code - form being dictated by planning laws, which paradoxically create something freakish when taken to an illogical conclusion. Any freakishness is fully and completely exploited by the architects, by encasing every available surface in free, non-style bound ornament, which while undeniably influenced by Hanseatic architecture, mostly disappears into its own world of expressionist nauticalia, with a notable aggression seen most clearly in Chilehaus, and also in the fortress-like Sprinkenhof.
Architecturally, this is one of the great secrets of the Weimar Republic, a completely original ensemble that breaks all of the rules of 'classical modernism' - instead of providing an image of reformed and rationalised capitalism, it gives a bizarre and contorted face to a piratical seafaring capitalism.
What the architectural textbooks don't mention, even those of Tafuri and the Venice School, which see things like the Chilehaus as a pathos-ridden attempt to 'enchant' the processes of monopoly capitalism, is that the city had a brief civil war at the exact same time this huge district was being laid out. It is utterly central - the entrance to the port is on the other side of a dual carriageway, the Hauptbahnhof a short walk. Curiously, there's no mention of it in the two books I've read on the rising, Larissa Reisner's Hamburg at the Barricades and 'Jan Valtin's remarkable Out of the Night. The map in the former showing the areas controlled by the insurgents certainly doesn't feature it, and there is a very large police station in the middle - the first building built there, in fact.
The blocks without Hoger's involvement are a little more sane, although all of them are hard, huge and metropolitan, sharing with Liverpool the sense of approaching, but refusing to make the leap into, the skyscraper's terminal velocity, and with a concentration on sheer mass and horizontality that is quite unAmerican.. Today it's a strange area, the proximity to the dual carriageway that runs along the Elbe perhaps leaving it a little lost, with the space in front of the Chilehaus, which should be some kind of Fritz Lang vortex, lost to a car park. In the 4-5 days I spent here I kept getting drawn back to this place, forsaking the charms of apparently excellent Indian restaurants and squats for the sake of it. It's partly the sheer pleasure in surface offered here, you could spend hours just looking at it, constantly finding new details and angles; the flowing space underneath and through these gigantic business headquarters, deceptively unlike the Secured by Design spaces of today; but also, and unsurprisingly, because you can read it like a history book.
The later additions, while equally dirigiste and equally determined to wipe out whatever might have remained of a medieval street plan here before 1922, are different to the 1922-30 Kontorhausviertel. There's the serried CIAM blocks that step down the main road, which have a certain monumental presence, and also retain the movement under and across in the arcades that run underneath; and there's the Nazi architecture just behind. The blocks designed in the late '30s by Rudolf Klophaus keep the scale and the courtyards, but lose the 20th Century Gothic weirdness, contenting themselves with neo-Biedermeier detail and in the one above, absurd oversized gables.
What interest there is in Klophaus' Third Reich Kontorhauses is the figures that surmount the entrances to the offices and courtyards, which have a gentle whimsy most unexpected given the empty bombast and conservatism of the rest of the elevations. On one of the buildings they provide a strange nostalgic gallery of Hamburg types of the late 19th century, charming in their detail and costume...
EUtopia Revisited: HafenCity
'An uprising passes by without trace in big cities. A revolution has to be great and victorious if the traces of havoc, its heroic abrasions and white bullet scars or walls pock-marked by machine-gun fire are to be preserved in stone and iron, if only for a few years'.
Larissa Reisner, Hamburg at the Barricades (1924)
One of the great puzzles about the security-obsessed urbanism of the 21st century is the constant thought - what exactly are they so afraid of? The last time there was a revolutionary situation in Hamburg was 1923, and as we can see, at that point the city's capitalist class was erecting structures which, however threatening they might have been in aesthetic, were also deeply permeable and accessible. Now, when all they have to fear is a couple of thousand squatters, the new district, HafenCity (in unfortunate Deutschlish), has private security, and is easily sealed off from threats to public order. This is even more peculiar in cities which haven't even had a 1923, in a Liverpool One or a Broadgate...
Architecturally, the HafenCity is entered off the wide road that sweeps past the Kontorhausviertel. The first thing you come to is the Speicherstadt, a warehouse district that is equivalent in grandeur to Liverpool's Stanley or Albert Docks, although rather than the imposing engineer's classicism of those we have a twisted Gothic functionalism, which no doubt had lots of inadvertent effect on the 1920s' Neo-Gothicists. They're flats and offices now, of course, but in the way they cleave to the water, they still create a creepy and eldritch atmosphere. Around them, new squares are half-finished, linking them to the stunning new developments beyond.
Some of the new structures defer to the Speicherstadt, as with this clinker-clad car park, which of course junks the spiky detail which gives it much of its pleasure...
...and new infrastructural interventions link the two versions of the harbour.
HafenCity is one of the largest - according to some accounts, the largest - regeneration schemes in Europe, although mercifully they don't use the phrase over here. It comprises a huge swathe of Dockland, but the differences with Anglo-Saxon dockland schemes are as interesting as their similarities. Both basically serve the same constituency - an urban upper-middle class, which apparently here involves a disproportionate amount of OAPs - as presumably, this is the only clean, safe and perhaps more importantly, quiet space in the centre of Hamburg, if you can afford it. In planning terms it's certainly not a chaotic Thatcherite free-for-all, but something more complex. The most straightforward way of describing it is as a landscaping project - here by Benedetta Tagliabue's firm EMBT - weaving together a series of small plots, with offices and/or flats along each bit of dockside, with more wilful stand-alone architecture at the edges.
This is some local pirate and hero whose name I have forgotten. He was moved here, presumably to try and give the area some of the city's badass spirit, notably lacking in a scheme such as this.
EMBT's landscaping is far and away the most original part of HafenCity - especially choice are the lamp-posts, which swing around tracing peculiar waves around the place, perhaps so as not to have any bourgeois strung from them (Hamburg has more millionaires than any other German city). That said, there's something peculiarly climatically unsuited about all these terraces, which don't seem to have factored in the north German rain.
The seating in particular, moulded, concrete and Gaudi-esque, has a relational aesthetics infantilism to it - that strangely annoying 'just lie back!' It's used well enough though, and any arguments that the place might be desolate or depopulated because of its class homogeneity can be seen to be misguided - even unfinished, it's a massive tourist draw, with open top buses passing over the once-closed dock bridge. Yet it must be said that compared with the manky 'public realm' that defines any large British regeneration project - Salford Quays, Glasgow Harbour, Tyne Quayside - the place has at least made an effort. It's confident, it doesn't have the hint of desperation, the palpable worry that the developers might disappear if you insisted on getting in a decent landscape architect.
Perhaps the random outbreaks of complicated, abstracted and fragmented brickwork which punctuate and pockmark the spaces are Tagliabue's reference to the Hanseatic tradition, or perhaps they're just general whimsy. They feel at odds with the Mediterranean whiteness of the rest of the landscaping, although again, the steps and inclines are unusually imaginative.
So in the photograph above you can both see how EMBT's wilful, informal approach is rather uneasy meeting the standard-issue EU high-spec boxes that their purpose is to interconnect. You can also see just how much they encourage use, while never being cramped or trying to produce a simulation of bustle. They create a spaciousness, as they should being next to a port.
At certain moments, perhaps as an outbreak of wildness against all that pragmatism, the lamp-posts give way to lunatic outbreaks of alien violence, swinging around to attack the tourists. The nomenclature of the area reinforces a certain imperialist theme park air - everything is Vasco de Gama this, Marco Polo that, Magellan here, Sumatra there...
This seems especially apparent in Coffee Plaza. Again the cultural misunderstanding that comes with being an Auslander is useful here, in that I first assumed that it was called Coffee Plaza because there'd be a Caffe Nero or a Costa Coffee nearby - the ultimate representation of the turning over of large parts of the city to bland expanses serving expensive hot drinks. Obviously it's a reference to what was once kept in the warehouses on the site, but the blandness of the architecture - step forward Richard Meier, with a coffee-bean shaped ground plan, apparently - helps the initial impression, as does the sudden absence of EMBT's civilising influence. Another space not designed by them is accommodating ad hoc, unplanned use, as post-68 urbanists will be excited to see. A pop-up church, why it's practically a mom-and-pop store. Note, as previously attested, ageing congregation - the 'yup' in the yuppiedromes here may be a misnomer.
The novelty of HafenCity, however, and the thing that differentiates it from other examples of regenerative town planning for the extremely comfortable, is the extreme proximity of industry. Some of it is literal spitting distance, although I suspect this Richard Rogers-style yellow painted machinery is slated for elimination as the dromes expand across the Hafen. It could be just as urban ornament, but it might be something more fundamental.
In some cases, it's just a matter of leaving a few cranes around, which is familiar from every bit of dockside redevelopment...
Yet they're faced by gigantic and entirely functional cranes very nearby, dwarfing the polite architecture on the other side of the Elbe, as part of a sprawling industrial complex which the luxury flats look out on rather than shun.
So it is accommodated by the use of Container Chic, as in the small and presumably temporary cruise terminal by Renner Hainke Wirth (there is another, much larger one upriver at Altona designed by Alsop).
So rather than just watching the picturesque cruise ships, the area seems to encourage the contemplation of shipping, something usually hidden away from view, the secret nervous system of capital suddenly as much an object for tourism as anything else.
Accordingly, the office blocks which are mixed in in post-Jane Jacobs mixed use manner are sometimes occupied by the shipping companies - to see a name like China Shipping, which is usually emblazoned upon a container, emblazoned upon a building, is a surprise to say the least. The building itself, designed, like lots of HafenCity by mild-modernists Bothe Richter Tehrani, is probably the best of the complex, a piece of ruthlessly sleek modernism, with tacked-on ornamentation deliberately evoking the processes from which the owners make their money, much as the Chilehaus or the Klophaus blocks evoke the overseas trading and buccaneering which made them possible. The shift in register from a creepy and piratical style to this fetishised mechanisation is appropriate.
Further inland at the Speicherstadt at the HafenCity visitor centre, you can examine the plans for HafenCity, which involve extending an already vast complex even further along the harbour, which - unusually for such things - also entails a tube extension and some new university buildings, a reminder that here, as with EMBT's (privately patrolled) public spaces, at least some compromises have to be made with notions of public service, in amongst all the luxury flats and corporate offices.
The university buildings themselves are by OMA, in their deliberately spectacular rather than deliberately boring mode. The fact that it is not an office block for something incredibly malevolent at least spares us the effort of listening to Koolhaas explaining how critical and ironic it is, and from this bit of wood it's at least possible it'll be an interesting building...
At the other end, meanwhile, the models show the 'Chicago' Quarter, which will be redeveloped with skyscrapers at a safe distance from the historic city. Brochures nearby explain the historic links between the two cities and their architecture, with obligatory photographs of the Chilehaus - although surely the German-US connection goes through Berlin, via Mies and Hilberseimer, and an architecture far more severe than the tortured ornamentation of Fritz Hoger; the glassy structures in the brochure certainly imply so. Anyway, that is the gist, but it might not come to pass anyway - the City Future Council, a body which includes 90 NGOs and business representatives (including HafenCity GMbH) has urged immediate rejection of the expansion plans, for their prioritisation of the automobile, lack of green space, its homogeneity in class terms, and its enormous expense. It could be that what we see here is a finished project.
At the edges, larger buildings strike out from the tightly controlled planning of much of the area, demanding you look at them. Erick Van Egeraat's blocks make a particular fuss of themselves, the only obvious continuation of expressionism (with one major, major exception which we will come to presently) in the area.
A tower for Unilever by Behnisch nods more towards Oscar Niemeyer, all feminine biomorphic curves which the great man would probably tell us are inspired by the beautiful buttocks of the Brazilian woman and the heroic struggle of the Cuban proletariat. It consists of offices and penthouses. It is advertised as 'Marco Polo Tower - design for Millionaires'.
Some press complaints blast it as an 'architectural zoo', which implies a little more spectacle than is actually offered, much of the time - most of it is straightforward if mostly very well made pseudomodernism, a matter of irregularity and slight geometric delinquency, mostly tightly controlled.
...except for this public watchtower, which is thoroughly temporary...
...its retro gestures are met more amply in the interior of one of the cafes, where there's almost an Ostalgie to the moulded plastic, flowery wallpaper and formica. Pseudomodernism has no particular quarrel with retro, provided it is a tasteful retro.
As in the Kontorhausviertel, the architectural effect of planning edicts is rather striking. Along here you find ten or more blocks, all roughly of the same width and height, terminating with Meier's tower. The individual blocks are detailed in a variety of styles, with vaguely Hanseatic/Expressionist clinker, Miesian steel, bright render and so forth, in order to give the effect of variety within carefully controlled perameters. It's all very Teutonic, but it's also a deliberate reaction against earlier versions of EUtopia.
On the way out, towards the city proper, you find this long block and a few others like it, in the style which was ushered in around the early 80s as the acceptable face of postmodernism, by occasionally Marxist architects like Aldo Rossi, Josef Kleihues and O.M Ungers, often via acquaintance with the cold, disenchanted Fordist city without qualities of the Italian Rationalists and/or Ludwig Hilberseimer. Here as elsewhere it provides a perfect image of the not-so-terrifying EU Superstate, and it is interesting that (arguably) the most massive building project in the EU is turning away from it towards something which presents itself as more free and informal. This is all as build-up to by far the most expensive and controversial project in HafenCity - Herzog & de Meuron's Elbphilharmonie.
It is the large swooping thing at the end of these rectilinear blocks, completely ignoring their context of neatness and self-effacement. It is, respectively, a hotel, car park, luxury penthouses and a concert hall (curiously the name only mentions the latter). It is a preposterous Caspar David Friedrich thing billowing and crashing atop a 1960s warehouse, which Lang Rabbie suggests might not have been demolished so as not to face calls for the rebuilding of the skyscraper-like Kaiserspeicher that was once on the site.
It was not initially part of the HafenCity plan at all - it was the private project of two local 'business leaders' who personally commissioned Herzog & de Meuron to draw up a 'landmark' scheme for the site, and claimed that they would pay for the execution, holding many fundraising dinners among Hamburg millionaires in order to pay for it. Needless to say, it soon proved to be much more expensive than expected, and the enormous cost was offloaded onto the city council. The cost has risen over fivefold, and is hence a matter of some controversy in the city.
As an architectural plan, though, there's something curiously familiar about it. Not only the townplanning context of rectitude topped by spectacular landmark which can be seen in numerous regeneraton schemes, but also the building-eating-another-building motif. It seems that this, also, is connected to the failure of the German revolution, as the first example of it I can find is the Mossehaus in Berlin - where a press building held by the Spartacists in the January 1919 rising, partly destroyed by bombardment, was given a streamlined concrete structure in the front and on the upper floors, not replacing but contrasting with the Wilhelmine building underneath. Meanwhile, the jagged Caspar David Friedrich form has more than a hint of Gropius' Monument to the March Dead, his memorial to those who died in the General Strike against a right-wing putsch a year later. I'm sure it's the Nietzschean rather than Bolshevik associations of the form that are being evoked here; and as these things go, it is less aggressive than Zaha Hadid's Port Authority plan in the competing port of Antwerp, where a neoclassical building is bully-rammed by a phallic glass insect. The disjunction here between the sober and unremarkable Kaispeicher and the glass mountains above is especially curious.
A short walk away, there is a mock-up of the interior, where you will note that the conductor is headless.
The HafenCity's unfinished nature leads to some interesting juxtapositions - flags sometimes denote nothing much besides wasteland.
There are, of course, property advertisements aplenty...
Some of which have a grim comedy to them, as with the lapse into punning Deutschlish below. 'Nice to Miet You!' do you see what they've done there? The exclusivity of the development is stressed far more by the adverts, which don't have to be subtle, than in the nicely designed and well-written brochures you can pick up at the visitor centre. So here, the poster tells us we are in the island of the happy ones.
The shoddy advert for 'loft offices' below is in an extraordinarily crap building which is rather at contrast with the rest of the development - the brickwork and windows are so poor it could almost be English.
The adverts which really catch the eye, however, are tied illegally to the fences around the Elbphilharmonie.
Rather than high-rent high-spec apartments for millionares and the happy ones, we have ads for bedsits, aimed at the building workers who are erecting this enormously complex edifice.
They are at least going a lot cheaper, although the rate 'per person/night' implies that they aren't supposed to stay there very long. The last of the posters we find there is, appropriately enough, in both German and Polish, so readable by the Gastarbeiter.
(Part two will entail some squats and some social democratic workers' estates of the '20s. For a very different and very very interesting Anglo take on the city, read Taylor Parkes' At the End of the Grosse Freiheit
in the Quietus)