The Speicherstadt warehouse district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hamburg, Germany

Inside Hamburg’s Fascinating Warehouse District

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On the surface, the idea of visiting an old warehouse district may not sound very interesting. But once we were standing in front of Hamburg’s historic Speicherstadt, it was easy to see why this unique area is so popular. From the beauty of the buildings themselves to the appeal of the current occupants (who doesn’t want to visit a chocolate museum?!), there are lots of reasons to put the Speicherstadt district on the top of your list in northern Germany.

A long line of red-brick warehouses, part of the Speicherstadt district in Hamburg, Germany
Buildings in the Speicherstadt are connected with bridges, canals, and narrow streets

One of the largest warehouse complexes in the world, the Speicherstadt was constructed on oak piles, making islands in the middle of the Elbe basin. From 1885 to 1927, the warehouses took shape, comprising a duty-free zone in the heart of one of Europe’s largest ports. For merchants peddling coffee, tea, chocolate, spices, and other goods, this was the place to be.

Because much of the complex survived World War II, the warehouses hold an important place in history.

Details on the buildings of the Speicherstadt, a warehouse district that's been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hamburg, Germany
Part of the Speicherstadt, a warehouse district in Hamburg

We started our exploration of the Speicherstadt (and, indeed the whole port of Hamburg) on a canal tour of the city. We saw the cranes, containers, and massive ships in the modern port all paused in the middle of moving goods from one place to the next.

In the older warehouse district, we learned the story of the place—its importance to the trade of Germany and Europe, the volume of goods stored here, and the money that moved through these waterways. As we watched the structures of the Speicherstadt soar overhead, it became clear that the real highlight of the district is the actual buildings themselves.

Hamburg's Speicherstadt warehouse district

Beyond their use as massive storage facilities, the warehouses were built with aesthetics in mind. The massive red-brick buildings are criss-crossed with unique designs in contrasting black or tan brick. They are topped with turrets, dotted with arched windows, and decorated with other ornamentation that’s not always apparent until you look closely. Linked by narrow streets and bridges over the canals, Hamburg’s Speicherstadt is like a city within a city.

The Rathaus (Town Hall) for the Speicherstadt--the warehouse district in Hamburg

The thousands of merchants in the Speicherstadt needed room beyond the storage space to run their businesses, too. Enter the Kontorhaus District.

Adjacent to the warehouses, the Kontorhaus District was home to the first buildings in Europe to be used just for administration. But, like the warehouses, that doesn’t mean they were boring.

The Kontorhaus District and its most famous building, the Chilehaus, were constructed with lots of style. With unusual brick work, spiral staircases, and continuously moving elevators called paternosters, the office buildings had flare. For their form, function, and historical value, the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2015.

The Chilehaus, the most important building in the Kontorhaus District -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hamburg, Germany
A spiral staircase is just one of the unique design elements in Hamburg's Kontorhaus District

What to do in the Speicherstadt

The buildings in the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District are historic and contemporary at the same time. Originally built to help facilitate trade in Germany, 21st-century development has breathed new life into the warehouses.

Some of the buildings house cafes, shops, residences, and even the biggest tourist attraction in Germany—Miniatur Wunderland. Others are still used for their original purposes of offices or storage, particularly for oriental rugs. Two of our favorites let us dig deeper into the products that were once stored in the Speicherstadt—coffee and chocolate.

Coffee grinders on display at the Kaffeemuseum in Hamburg, Germany
Drinks in the cafe of the Kaffeemuseum in Hamburg, Germany

In 1887, the Speicherstadt was home to the third most important coffee exchange in the world (in today’s Ameron Hotel). So it was fitting that one of our first stops in the warehouse district was the Museum of Coffee. The building is a combination café and museum paying homage to the history of coffee in Germany.

Opened in November 2015, the Museum of Coffee showcases everything from industrial roasting equipment to coffee grinders for the home. Just about every coffee-related item you could want is on display here.

When we finished in the museum, we headed upstairs for a latte and some pastries in the cozy café, which also features information about the history of coffee in the Speicherstadt. There’s also a great gift shop where you can find something to take home.

Chocolate fountain on display at Chocoversum in Hamburg, Germany

Nearer the Kontorhaus District, the Chocoversum is an interactive chocolate museum that shows every part of the process for making chocolate from growing cacao to wrapping the finished product. It shows how cocoa arrived in Europe and tackles topics like fair trade certification and child labor at a level appropriate for all ages.

One fun part of the Chocoversum tour is that visitors get to try the cacao at each stage in the production process. The raw product is a bit sour, but you watch it transform into silky, glorious goodness by the end of the visit (be careful not to get it all over yourself like we did).

Toppings to make your chocolate bar at Chocoversum in Hamburg, Germany's Speicherstadt

The highlight of visiting Chocoversum was getting to make our own chocolate bar. After choosing our preferred type of chocolate, it was time to dive into all the toppings. There were cranberries, chocolate chips, candies, and coconut, among many other choices. You can even add pepper and chili powder, if that’s your thing.

Like our visit to the Museum of Coffee, touring Chocoversum was a great way to bring to life the importance of the Speicherstadt and the products that were once kept there.

We visited the Speicherstadt and Hamburg thanks to the German National Tourist Board. All opinions of the fascinating and historic are our own.

7 thoughts on “Inside Hamburg’s Fascinating Warehouse District”

  1. Nice! We’re traveling to Germany next month and it will be our first visit to that country. We won’t be going to Hamburg but I’m still looking forward to seeing the atmosphere you described here.

  2. frankaboutcroatia

    We’ve passed by Hamburg many times, but never actually visit it. It looks like a super-interesting place to visit. The architecture of these warehouses is beautiful. And who can say no to a chocolate museum?! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Speicherstadt is a great section of Hamburg! I’ve been twice, but only in the winter, so I’m hoping to make it back there in the summer someday. I’d love to take one of those canal boat tours, but it didn’t seem worth it in December. Also, Miniatur Wunderland is **amazing** and so much more than model trains! I can’t recommend it enough, totally worth spending several hours wandering around and looking at all the amazing detail that went into that place.

    1. Thanks Ali. Rest assured, we have a whole article on Miniatur Wunderland coming soon! 🙂 We’ve got a lot to say on that topic.

  4. David Woutersen

    Such an awesome area of Hamburg!
    Miniatur Wunderland needs to be visited if your in the neighbourhood!

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