Culture & Leisure

People, ideas, projects: HafenCity as a cultural melting pot

Cultural life is already buzzing in HafenCity, with a wide spectrum of projects large and small, permanent and temporary artworks, one-off and regular event series

Photo shows outsize fountain of fire

Art projects have frequently used undeveloped sites as inspiration for their interpretations - and completed ones, too, like the Marco Polo Terraces photographed here (© ELBE&FLUT) Start slideshow

What really got the cultural occupation of the new district going with a flourish in 2005 – in addition to a few important initiatives, such as "Musical LandArt" – was the cooperation between the arts trust, Hamburg Kulturstiftung, the Körber foundation and HafenCity Hamburg GmbH.
The fruits of this cooperation include more than 18 one-off projects, as well as a major project competition. They included permanent art works, as well as literature, theater and performance projects such as "Art snack," "Farewell Fair" or a production of Shakespeare’s "Much ado about nothing." The city’s world-famous Thalia Theater had even had a circus big top made for its performances on Strandkai.

The Sunday series of events "Summer on the Magellan Terraces" has been drawing crowds of several thousand since 2005, with readings, for example, and performances of the tango – part of the World’s (intangible) Cultural Heritage. The new district is also a magnet for big names such as the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival which uses it regularly for performances. For the new Harbour Front literature festival, HafenCity became a backdrop for readings; during Hamburg’s Architecture Summer, after heading the bill as a topic during the event for years, it now also sets the stage for events taking place over several months.

Recurring cultural series like these will be complemented by one-off occasions such as in late summer 2009, when more than 30 artists’ initiatives from around the globe came together for the "subvision" art festival on Strandkai.  During the 11-day art festival, art activists presented so-called off-art, essentially ephemeral works, very far removed from establishment art. The festival is sponsored by “Kunst und Kultur in HafenCity”; the curators were Hamburg’s School of Visual Arts, the Deichtorhallen art galleries and the Hamburg Kunsthalle.

In addition to public sponsorship of the arts, an increasing number of private individuals, companies, foundations, clubs and initiatives are getting involved. Recognizing the potential of this new part of town, they are making their own contributions to its cultural development. Professor Peter Tamm, for instance, was persuaded to house his International Maritime Museum Hamburg in one of the traditional warehouses in HafenCity - an internationally unique collection that centers on seafaring history. Also under private sponsorship is the Prototyp automobile museum, which has taken over the listed former building of the Harburger Gummi-Kamm-Compagnie, that once manufactured rubber goods and combs. It mainly displays prototypes of historical racing and sports cars.

Local residents are also inspired to get involved culturally. Their Kunstkompagnie e.V. club has organized several highly professional projects without any public subsidies, including classical concerts in the spacious stairwell of a residential building on Sandtorkai, sculptures displayed in the harbor basin at Grasbrookhafen and outside St. Katharinen church, as well as an opera matinee in the Speicherstadt with top-class performers.

The Speicherstadt ensemble’s cultural significance in the district is certainly not limited to providing an atmospheric backdrop: it houses several museums that describe the past of this listed treasure, and is a sought-after workplace for increasing numbers of creative people, including artists and gallery owners. The annual "Hamburger Jedermann" (Everyman) summer theater performances played a pioneering, important role, under the leadership of author, director and light artist Michael Batz. This spectacular theater experience, with the illuminated Speicherstadt as a backdrop, has been a fixture in the Hamburg scene since the beginning of the 1990s, long before HafenCity became a place for the arts.