Hamburg’s HafenCity is Europe’s Largest Urban Redevelopment Project

HafenCity Hamburg Germany
The new Greenpeace Germany HQ building opened in HafenCity this year.

The Brookings Institution launched a major research and educational campaign this year called The Rise of the Innovation Districts. According to Brookings, these are: “Geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Innovation districts are the manifestation of mega-trends altering the location preferences of people and firms and, in the process, re-conceiving the very link between economy shaping, place making and social networking.”

These districts are beginning to attract more meetings and events because they inspire creativity and innovative thinking, and they definitely engage next generation meeting attendees due to the diversity of unique, sustainable, adaptive re-use, and high-tech venues.

A great example of this, HafenCity (Harbor City) in Hamburg, Germany is presently the largest urban redevelopment project in Europe. In the late 1990s, Hamburg began construction on a new port on the opposite side of the Elbe River. The existing port, meanwhile, occupying 40 percent of the downtown urban core, is being redeveloped as a modern city of the future. Almost 400 acres of waterfront real estate was an empty slate for Europe’s top urban planners, designers and architects to conceptualize and build a highly livable, mixed-use urban utopia.

Work is mostly complete in the HafenCity West section, filled with unique indoor and outdoor venues such as the Hamburg Maritime Museum. The marquee project is the soaring Elbphilharmonie concert hall, scheduled for completion in 2017. The $785 million facility towering over the water’s edge is intended to accomplish for Hamburg what the Opera House did for Sydney, providing an immediately recognizable landmark known the world over.

The Greenpeace Germany HQ building opened as part of a waterfront complex with design-centric art galleries and restaurants. The inner atrium is open to the public to explore exhibits chronicling the Greenpeace’s exploits worldwide.

Nearby, HafenCity University welcomed its first class of 2,000 students studying architecture, urban planning, engineering and “metropolitan culture.” The new underground train station near the school has a neon-lit nightclub ambience that is bookable for large fine-dining dinners for corporate groups.

“We are the largest city in Europe that is not a capital, and we’re the second-largest city of Germany,” says Nele Aumann, marketing manager for Hamburg Convention Bureau. “We know that Hamburg is not very well known in the U.S., and that’s why we’ve increased our marketing activities. I always call Hamburg the hidden jewel of Germany, because within Germany it is a first-tier destination but it has second-tier pricing, which makes it very attractive to the U.S. market.”

The new HafenCity district next to the historic city center is a dramatic story for attendees interested in architecture, design, logistics, IT, sustainability and urban design, so architecture tours are popular with groups.

Aumann says groups also like to visit the historic warehouse district inside the old city, which still processes incoming shipments of coffee, tea and exotic spices to this day. Planners can organize coffee and chocolate tastings inside the warehouses, while facilitators discuss the history of Hamburg and its role in Germany’s maritime trade.