The Speicherstadt is the world's largest warehouse complex located in the port of Hamburg, within the HafenCity quarter. A city in itself, the district extends over 26 hectares and comprises of 17 building complexes, each seven to eight stories high, with more than 300,000 square meters of storage area. For over a hundred years, these warehouses have held high-value goods such as coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, tobacco, and, in recent decades, oriental carpets. Small outbuildings, which are connected by roads, waterways and bridges, functioned as offices. The building’s Neo-Gothic red-brick outer facade features richly ornamented brickwork, alcoves, and glazed terra cotta ornaments that bear witness to the city’s economic prosperity. Since 1991, the unique district has been given historic monument protection. Just recently, it was awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since 1815, Hamburg was a member of the German Confederation—the association of Central European states created by the Congress of Vienna—but not member of the German Customs Union. This changed with the establishment of the German Empire in 1871 and Hamburg became a member of the Customs Union. In order to keep the Hamburg port free, it was decided to create a customs free zone separate from the city where traders could ship and store goods without going through customs, and Speicherstadt was created.
The district was built between 1883 and 1927 in phases. The buildings of the warehouse stand on oak piles supports, and the quarter is criss-crossed by canals known as fleets, which allow boats and ships through by flooding at certain tide levels. This allowed the warehouses to be accessed both from the land side and from the water side. Travelling the narrow canals in small boats is one of the best ways to appreciate the architectural details.
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