Neighbors at home on the waterfront

More than just a place to live: many people from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles have already moved into HafenCity

Photo shows boules players

Getting together on the boules court: for Ute and Gernot Plön, it’s not so much the game that counts as the many neighbors they have met through playing together (© Bina Engel) Start slideshow

The Plöns are still delighted at the diversity they find in their neighborhood community: "In one apartment close to us is a family with a baby a few weeks old and a few doors down an 80 year old man just moved in." Full of variety, lively and surprising - as well as HafenCity’s esthetic qualities, the couple loves the social and demographic mix. Gernot and Ute Plön moved to HafenCity in December 2007 from the Nordheide, a country area south of Hamburg. They are convinced that they have found the right surroundings to enjoy their retirement: "We love the fact that we get to meet interesting people of all ages where we live."

From the loggia of their three-room apartment on Kaiserkai, the Plöns enjoy views of the River Elbe, of passing cruise ships, tourists strolling along the promenade, or the arch of the Köhlbrand bridge in the distance. "Many of our neighbors here are very outgoing," they say. "It’s easy to get into conversation right away."  Since 2008 the Plöns have been playing boules on a regular basis on the Marco Polo Terraces boules court: "We’ve met so many new people there," they chorus, "and we also get together when we’re not playing boules."

Tanja Haase and her partner Michael Heine feel good about their new home: "We have never had so many contacts in our immediate neighborhood before," explain the couple, who moved in from the Hamburg suburb of Winterhude. The two have been living in a 164 sq. m duplex apartment with a view of the river and a share of garden since 2007. Part of the apartment is used as an office by IT consultant Heine.

"The day we moved in," they remember, "the ocean liner Queen Victoria sailed past our terrace in the evening and there was a huge fireworks display." After enjoying this climax, the couple continued to discover the attractive qualities of their district: "Its closeness to the city center, the neighbors. And - again and again - the huge ships. And sitting in the sun on the terrace, eating breakfast with a view of the Elbe - it’s like a vacation!"

But what the two most appreciate is "that there is already a really special community feeling amongst us residents." Haase, who is project manager for an international construction services company, has even organized walkabouts of the area for neighbors and other interested people.  "Such a lot of rubbish is talked about us HafenCity residents in the media," says Tanja Haase, explaining her involvement. "I just want to show that the people who live here are totally normal!"

HafenCity is not an elitist, expensive city district inhabited by self-involved people, agrees Tobias Gloger: “The generalized image that’s often publicized just isn’t true.” He has been living on Am Sandtorkai since 2006 - and he is really irritated by such prejudices. Instead, he says, he observes absolutely the opposite on a daily basis: “Many of the people living here are involved, interested and cosmopolitan.”

He is one of the people who stand out because of their engagement. He chairs Kunstkompanie e.V., a society founded in the new city district, through which he and some of his neighbors organize art and cultural projects that have so far included concerts in stairwells, an opera matinée and a floating sculpture.

"I think there’s lots of scope for developing a culture scene in HafenCity," says Gloger. "But I am less of a supporter than a doer - someone who takes the initiative. And it really gives me pleasure to see results, to spark changes or just to see that projects we launch sometimes make waves." For the future, Gloger hopes very much "that the new district will not just be seen as a leading-edge urban development project, but will be recognized for its cultural activities at the grassroots - far removed from such objects of prestige."