Whe port began to expand as an open tidal port during the 1860s. The then hydraulic engineering director Johannes Dalmann had prevailed with this concept, after a long and bitter dispute among the experts in the Hanseatic city and against the concept of London, at that time the largest seaport in the world. At that time, the port of the British capital had long been laid out as a docking port, with a complex system of locks to shield ships at the quays from the tides.
Hamburg, on the other hand, opted for an open system with appropriate adjustment to the tide. This brought the maritime economy in the Hanseatic city – with interruptions – an upswing of almost 150 years. But London almost completely lost its importance as a seaport with its inflexible docks due to the growing ship sizes. Since the beginning of container shipping, the city has no longer played a role in overseas traffic.
Hydrogen and digitization – the port of Hamburg’s opportunities
The Port of Hamburg urgently needs an innovator like Dalmann today like it hasn’t for decades. Because cargo handling has stagnated since the financial market crisis in 2009. New strategies and business models are needed. Entering a hydrogen economy could be a key to this.
The economic authority – led by Senator for Economic Affairs Michael Westhagemann (independent) – announced on Friday, together with the environmental authority and with companies, that they wanted to build a system for the electrolysis of hydrogen at the site of the decommissioned coal-fired power plant Moorburg. With an initial output of 100 megawatts, it would be one of the most powerful in the world. There, “green” hydrogen is to be produced on an industrial scale, with electricity from north German wind farms, as stored energy, as an ecological raw material for the chemical or steel industry.
Since taking office, Westhagemann has been campaigning for the development of a hydrogen economy in Hamburg and northern Germany. In November 2018, the former long-time Siemens manager became Senator for Economic Affairs. He sees “green” hydrogen as indispensable for the continuation of the energy transition in the north, and also for the ecological modernization of industry and logistics.
Hamburg, Germany’s largest seaport, could become a center for the generation and use, but also for the import and export of hydrogen, which is generated with the help of wind power, solar power or geothermal energy.
But that’s not the only reason why it was an important week for the future of the Port of Hamburg. On Tuesday, the Chamber of Commerce presented an extensive strategy paper on this subject. This analysis is relevant because it critically names the weaknesses of the maritime cargo handling in the Hanseatic city – but above all because the urban economy clearly advocates a comprehensive modernization of the port in the paper.
In the future, the most important success factor should no longer be the quantity of goods handled, but the added value for the Hamburg economy as a whole. The settlement, the innovations and the production of port-related companies should play a central role.
The advancing digitization of port handling, more automation, transparency and efficiency should also advance business, at the quayside, on the terminals and when the goods are transported on by road, rail and inland waterway. The international logistics industry will look at what Hamburg has to offer. If the containment of the pandemic allows, the Hanseatic city wants to host this year’s ITS world congress for intelligent transport systems in October.
The strategy paper of the Chamber of Commerce can only develop value for the port if the opportunities that it offers are actually realized. For centuries, the port and city have lived in a clever relationship of give and take. For the construction of the Speicherstadt, residential quarters on Grasbrook were demolished at the end of the 19th century and rebuilt elsewhere in the city.
After the turn of the millennium, the city took back most of the eastern port area that was no longer needed for cargo handling. Hafencity has been growing there ever since. The Elbphilharmonie stands on the foundation of a former harbor warehouse.
In order to continue this development, it would be logical to relocate the remaining port facilities from the eastern part of the port to the center and west. The “jump over the Elbe” to Wilhelmsburg and Harburg could then be completed on the freed up areas with a larger Hafencity. At the same time, the areas in the port and on the edge of the port – including the Moorburg expansion area – would have to be used to renew the port, industry and the energy sector in the city.
The most important prerequisite for this, however, are not concepts, but the will of urban society to shape it. The widespread negligence towards the port is in contrast to the importance it continues to have for the prosperity of Hamburg’s citizens. Environmental groups put down the Chamber of Commerce’s port concept in the press and on social media before the Chamber even published it.
The last decision-makers who set the course for the port historically were at the end of the 1960s, then Senator for Economic Affairs, Helmuth Kern (SPD) – he pushed ahead with the switch to container logistics in the port industry – and the First Mayor in the 1990s Henning Voscherau (SPD) as the “inventor” of Hafencity.
In recent times the debate about the port’s development has faltered, with mutual accusations between the Senate and the port industry, environmental associations and the port administration. Competitors such as Rotterdam or the turnaround in globalization are not the greatest risk for the Port of Hamburg. The lack of renewal and daring in the city is particularly dangerous for its future.
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