Building a good neighborhood

Even in the lively center of urban HafenCity there are plenty of places for neighbors to get together. Many residents are taking the initiative themselves, organizing residents’ parties, cultural events - or virtual meeting places on the Internet

The photo shows a stand at the HafenCity flea market

Bargain hunting and get-togethers: the flea market organized by locals also acts as an ice-breaker among residents (© HafenCity Hamburg GmbH) Start slideshow

“I’ve lived in lots of different areas in Hamburg but I’ve never experienced such an active bunch of neighbors.” The person speaking is one of HafenCity’s most active residents herself. Susanne Wegener moved into Kaiserkai in 2006; she initiated the residents’ flea market and is co-organizer of a regular neighborhood meeting group, which has turned into a vibrant contact network. “My impression of my neighborhood is that it’s really friendly, open and communicative - and I’m including local services and businesses when I say that,” says Wegener.

Perhaps it has something to do with the middle-class professionals who have moved into the district, who seem predestined to “get involved and make things happen.” Subjects brought up at neighborhood meetings are very diverse anyway, ranging from information about the latest developments in HafenCity to discussion events. Some locals have talked about what they do in life - whether it’s a career or voluntary work. Plans for the Traditional Ship Harbor have been outlined, the repercussions of climate change on marine ecology, or even archaeological digs in ancient Sparta explained.

The monthly meeting, which takes place in the recreation room of the Bergedorf-Bille Cooperative housing corporation building, is also a catalyst for new ideas: this is where ideas for social evenings with hot spiced wine, summer parties, the flea market and the first community sport club in HafenCity first came to light and where the HafenCity Network was founded. “We’re going to keep active in developing the district into a creative, alive and open-minded place,” says Wegener.

Michael Beyer’s project also relies on active support. Since the IT salesman and his project partner, Dirk Dieterich, began operating the Internet forum in June 2006, the website has become an indispensable virtual meeting place for many of HafenCity’s residents. Several hundred members have already registered. As well as the latest gossip, they exchange news about the progress of construction in their new neighborhood. Depending on what is happening, between 200 and 500 readers click onto the forum every day and call up 7,000 pages between them.

Beyer, who has been living in HafenCity since November 2005, had a reason for starting the website: the first residents of HafenCity needed an efficient forum so that they could discuss the changes taking place around them during construction of the district, the best routes for cycling paths, or concepts for planting or lighting schemes. Meanwhile the initiative has matured into a valuable fund of information about HafenCity and an instrument for gauging sentiment among residents that is also used by market researchers and university students alike.

“If you want to make contacts in the neighborhood quickly, or you want to know what’s going on in the area, you’ll often find what you are looking for here,” Michael Beyer advises HafenCity newcomers. “There’s hardly a question about basics that hasn’t already been asked - and answered here.”

The website isn’t regarded by its creator, Michael Klessmann, as competition - more as a complement to Meantime this website has also morphed into a monthly printed newspaper, HafenCity-Zeitung. The original idea from IT consultant and amateur photographer Klessmann was just to put a digital photo album on the net. But soon the amateur journalist was no longer satisfied with brief photo captions and was soon producing news, profiles and features - and so became a local paper.

“At the moment the paper and website are a full-time job,” says Klessmann, who’s been living on Kaiserkai since 2007. That’s why he is looking for supporters who will put the same enthusiasm into the job as he does. For Klessmann is not only virtually involved in HafenCity: “In real life of course I also try to be wherever something’s happening.” So he is also co-organizer of the district council, he organizes summer parties for the neighborhood, and takes part in a discussion group over the future of HafenCity. “But I need to watch out that I don’t get involved in everything going on,” he says, “I just don’t have the time.” The self-made publisher’s main advice for new residents in HafenCity is to “get on out there, and get involved!” If in doubt, organize something yourself, he says.