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Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus

By Josh Band

What is Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus?

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus is split into two locations.

The first, Speicherstadt, is the area near the port of Hamburg, filled with old warehouses from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It includes 15 large blocks of former warehouses and the streets, canals and bridges that connect them. The beautiful brick-red warehouses are now used for events or attractions. For example, the popular Miniatur Wunderland is within one of these old warehouses.

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Second is the Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus: also a warehouse district, but this one dating to the 1920s-40s. It is made up of eight large offic complexes. Chilehaus is a huge building on the edge of the Kontorhaus District, nearer the heart of Hamburg, a 10-15-minute walk away from Speicherstadt. The building is a solid reflection of the architecture, the brickwork style, in particular, from 1920s Germany. In the modern world, it is an office block, but the 10-story building is extraordinarily impressive. 

Text: Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus Districk with Chilehaus: Hamburg, Germany. Images: above, the inner courtyard of Chilehaus; below, looking down a canal lined with warehouses on both sides.

Why are Speicherstadt, the Kontorhaus District and Chilehaus a UNESCO World Heritage site?

The warehouses in the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus are an “exceptional ensemble of maritime warehouses and Modernist office buildings” because of their “high-quality designs and functional construction, in the guise of historicism and Modernism, respectively,” according to UNESCO. They “epitomize the consequences of the rapid growth in international trade in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” The condition of the warehouses are also exceptional.

Chilehaus is a perfect example of 1920s brickwork in Germany. Preserving these examples is important to remember the different periods of work and life in Hamburg and the rest of Germany. 

A large building of about 10 stories, it comes to a point at an intersection.

What can you expect on a visit to Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus?

You can expect to be blown away by the sheer size of the warehouses and Chilehaus. Simply looking at photos makes it impossible to judge the size of the warehouses, and how many there are too. Walking through the streets between the warehouses, you feel completely immersed and surrounded by these huge, tall, yet beautiful, buildings.

Equally, Chilehaus gives the same feeling. Standing high above the surrounding buildings, Chilehaus will see you coming. The dramatic and sharp edge of the thin side of the building is so impressive, as is the whole building’s architecture. The shape of the Chilehaus is so unique. You can also go inside the courtyard of the Chilehaus and be completely surrounded by four towering brown-bricked walls. Again, it’s an immersive experience. 

Visiting Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus creates endless opportunities for excellent pictures, and the UNESCO World Heritage site photographs really well. You can expect to leave the site with some stock image-esque photos. 

Hamburg is a beautiful city in itself, but the Speicherstadt region in particular is out of this world. 

View across a canal or river to a row of very large brick buildings along the bank.

Are Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus Districts worth visiting?

Yes, they’re worth visiting if you’re in Hamburg. It would be impossible to visit Hamburg without seeing the UNESCO site. Walking through the warehouses of Speicherstadt especially is one of the best things to do in Hamburg. That being said, it doesn’t really have the appeal to rush to Hamburg solely for the site. It’s not like the Acropolis for example, where people visit Athens just to see the Acropolis. If you are in Hamburg, sure, definitely check out the site. But if you are on the other side of the world, don’t fly to Hamburg just to see Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus. It is really cool to see, but it’s not the best World Heritage site in the whole world; it only offers so much. 

A large rectangular courtyard, with many stories of rather plain windows set close together and brick walls between. At the opposite end of the courtyard is a wide archway.

What sort of travellers would like Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus?

Travellers interested in architecture will definitely love this UNESCO site, as the whole reason the buildings are UNESCO World Heritage-worthy is because they are perfect examples of architectural trends from the last century. Naturally, anyone interested in history will also find the site appealing. But any travellers who love exploring or walking through cool buildings will also enjoy a trip to the area. 

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Looking down a canal with large red-brick warehouses lining both sides.

Tips for visiting Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus Districts

If you are visiting the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus you undoubtedly need to make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking in Hamburg; the city’s landmarks are close enough together that you can walk, but it’s a 10 or so minute walk between each. You don’t want sore feet while exploring!

Alternatively, you can rent a city bike – called StadtRad – in Hamburg. What’s cool and unique about Hamburg’s city bikes is that the first 30 minutes are completely free of charge. You can enjoy a cycle through the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus site, making for a unique experience and an alternative perspective on the area. It’s worth looking into for sure.

For Speicherstadt, try and see it during both the daytime and at night. The warehouses completely change in the dark, with lights creating a wonderful glowing effect on the brickwork, making the area somehow even more attractive.

You may also want to see the warehouses from the water. Hamburg is a port city and there are lots of Hamburg boat tours which take you through the Speicherstadt area’s canals, day and night, offering another different angle on the warehouses, and educating you about their history along the way.

Lastly, there are lots of attractions to check out in the warehouses. Miniatur Wunderland is the most popular: it’s one of Germany’s biggest (ironic, right?) attractions, where you can see miniature versions of the world’s most famous sights. The International Maritime Museum, Hamburg Dungeon, and the Dialog in the Dark Museum also make for popular visits in the warehouses. And also in the area is the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg’s most famous landmark, which is along the port front too. 

Click on the image below for a host of available tours:

Where are these two districts?

Hamburg is well-connected by train or highway to everywhere else in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District are found in and around the port of Hamburg. Speicherstadt is right on the port, as the warehouses were used for port trade originally. The Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus is closer to the centre of Hamburg, about a 10-minute walk from the port. 

Depending on where you are staying in Hamburg, you should be able to walk the city; as said previously, everything is close together. If not, there are lots of public transportation options and you can get the U-Bahn (underground) to reach the port. 

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For more information about Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus, its opening hours and admission fees, see Hamburg Tourism’s website

Text and photos provided by Josh of A Backpacker’s World. Josh loves to write about backpacking all around the world. From Southeast Asia to Europe, and everything in between, Josh loves to explore and spend as little as possible while doing so. Who doesn’t love budget travelling, right?!

Have you been to Hamburg? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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