Written by Isolde van Meerwijk
May 17, 2015
Nothing sums up the city of Hamburg better than the 41,8 meter high energy bunker close to the up-and-coming underprivileged neighbourhood Wilhelmsburg. And this is why: Hamburg city centre harbours a thriving shopping area, historic buildings as well as (super) modern high-rise buildings, a tremendously photogenic sea port (including a state-of-the-art ferris wheel), dozens of museums, a vibrant nightlife and spanking-new HafenCity, a sustainably developed district including apartments, shops and companies. However, Hamburg does not, at first sight, have a specific individuality. It does not have the clear-cut fancy tourist-feel that Paris has, or the alternative creativity of Berlin.
Hamburg is home to great ideas, though. For example, it wants to be a greener city and reduce the amount of CO2 emission. 48% of all journeys in Hamburg are made by private motorcycle. The municipality has succeeded in reducing the number of car rides by constructing the U-Bahnlinie U4, which links two districts and handles more than one third of the traffic volume. CO2-emission is also reduced by the implementation of city-owned bicycles that are easy to rent and intended to lure commuters away from their cars. The space that is won by getting rid of parking spaces is used to make bike paths. Bikers can feel genuinely safe in Hamburg: from Wilhemsburg to the tunnel underpaying the Elbe, room has been made everywhere, and drivers generally circumvent bikers with care.
To the south, Wilhemsburg is now transforming into a young and safe neighbourhood. A flower hall was built for the International Garden Show Hamburg in 2013 and has been turned into a sports centre afterwards. Across from the sports hall, a number of futuristic houses have risen up. One house is decked with glass panels meant to cultivate algae. Another row of houses, the so-called Soft Houses, are the first ones covered with rotating solar panels, and next door, a five stories high building, the Woodcube is made entirely out of several layers of wood.
More inspiring initiatives are spread all over Hamburg. HafenCity itself is a fine piece of urban planning: the old harbour has given way to a Valhalla of luxurious apartments, inviting cafés and restaurants, and has become a popular wedding location. Its selling points, among other things: Excellent connection to public transport and sustainable development that has been implemented everywhere. Greenpeace Hamburg is also located in HafenCity, and offers its visitors an insight in the clothing industry. An exhibition, about fast versus slow fashion, that links up perfectly with the Greenpeace initiative is displayed at the Hamburg Museum for Kunst und Gewerbe.
Yet, despite all these initiatives, Hamburg cannot be understood without a visit to the Energy Bunker: situated in the middle of a residential area, it towers over its surroundings. The bunker was built as an anti-aircraft tower in 1934 and has also been used to protect thousands of people from Allied air raids during the Second World War. Inside, energy is stored to warm over 3,000 households. The energy is transported to the bunker from the nearby “Nordischen Oelwerke” factory. An elevator ride to the top of the bunker provides visitors with an astonishing view of Hamburg: the many bridges leading over the Elbe to the Hamburg train station and inner city, the industry embedded in residential neighbourhoods, and in the distance the newly developed municipality building. It is perhaps the place where the soul of Hamburg can be experienced best: standing on a symbol of war and warmth, looking out at a city where urban planning has become self-evidently sustainable.