“Welcome to Hell.” This is what we read on signs and graffiti as we exited the Hamburg train station. As we made our way to the hotel, we saw similar signs that all expressed an anti G20 sentiment. In the days leading up to our arrival, thousands were protesting capitalism, climate polices and globalization, among other issues, but some of the protests became violent. Rioters took to the streets smashing windows, looting stores, and starting fires, all of which left the streets littered with a tremendous amount of glass. The initial shock of the past events were eased as we saw citizen after citizen walking along the streets with their children and friends to clean up the glass off of the streets. It was a beautiful to me to see such citizen involvement and participation from the people of Hamburg in order to heal the wounds that were inflicted upon their city.
Our tour guide, Ralph, explaining to our group how the public are involved in the design of developments in Hamburg.
Later in the day, we went with our guide, Ralph, on a tour of Hamburg’s harbor. Walking to the harbor, we saw multipurpose water barriers. When these water barriers are not in use, they are simply steps and a place for people to walk or watch the water. However, these devices can elongate on rails adjacent to them in order to prevent water from going into the streets. The Port of Hamburg is located on the river Elbe, and it is Germany’s largest port. This busy harbor is home for an array of ships including container carriers, tankers, cruise ships, and many others. The depth of the harbor is an issue that it is currently dealing with. The present depth of the harbor is not deep enough for larger world ships to come through the port, and there is discussion about whether or not it should be dredged in order to accommodate them. Many environmentalists are concerned with the ecological implications of dredging. Also, the city has been struggling with the EU Commission as well as the people living in the surrounding area over these issues.
After the harbor tour, we walked through some of the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. In this area, there is a lot of public participation in influencing governmental decisions. For instance, there have been areas where companies have tried to kick out tenants, but locals have occupied the buildings to ensure that there is housing for those of low income. Because of these public actions, the government created a new participation process to increase public engagement and input from the citizens for the architects and planners to use. This plan led to pictures being put up to illustrate what a space could look like, and the public would then, in turn comment, on the proposal. This idea allows designs to put people first while showing that the city belongs to all.
Another strong example of public engagement was seen through the Garten Deck in St. Pauli. The Garten Deck incorporates flowers, beehives, compost, and seating for the public to enjoy. This urban garden was formed as a self-organized space that demonstrated to politicians the desire and need for public space within the city.
G20 protest remnants and the various neighborhoods and sites of Hamburg
Upon meeting up with our tour guide, Rolph, we learned a bit about the G20 protests that had taken place over the past couple days. One of the first things he told us was that while the city might appear to be a normal city, Hamburg is in a state of tension beneath the surface. The people of Hamburg are still trying to process what had happened at the G20 protests on Friday and Saturday. During the protests, roads were barricaded for 8 hours to prevent police and firefighters from entering. Numerous stores had broken windows. Several cars were set on fire. Distrust between the government and the people penetrated throughout the city. When we first arrived in Hamburg on Sunday, evidence of the protests could be seen everywhere: graffiti statements, stickers, posters, signs in store windows, and even sidewalk chalk exclaimed resistance against the G20 event. However, among all of the protest efforts was evidence of the care people had for the city. Hundreds of volunteers were working to clean glass from the streets and graffiti from building walls. A street performer played the drums on one of the most popular streets of the region, bringing the citizens together to enjoy music.
The G20 “Welcome to Hell” movement was one of the most violent protests during the conference. Here, a sign shows the logo of the protest and explains the demonstration details.
One the first places we stopped at on our Monday tour was a meeting point for many of the protests. Outside the building hung the sign “Capitalism will end anyway. You decide when!” This was one of 3-5 buildings throughout Hamburg where people can meet to discuss alternatives to capitalism. The plaza surrounding the building was a place where people were looking to change the world. It is also a common gathering place for students.
We then walked through a region of town known as the Slaughterhouse region. True to its name, meat packaging had once taken place here. In the 80s and 90s the city had bought this region before it was supposed to be torn down. The city leaders hoped to improve the area, but they also wanted to keep a balance of housing prices. Gentrification, or the movement of a middle class into a newly developed region, was a concern for the leaders. Rolph explained that the city tried to keep affordable flats open to people and that problems arose when this housing was no longer considered affordable. As we walked, we saw a leftist neighborhood: a sign stating “FCK G20. Make capitalism history – another world is possible!” hung outside the neighborhood gates. Nearby, sidewalk chalk exclaimed “No cops, no border, no action”. Continuing through the city, more protest signs, political graffiti, and broken store signs showed evidence of the protests that had taken place.
Before leaving the Hamburg region immediate to our hotel, we discussed a World War 2 bunker that could be seen nearby. During the war, cannons lined the top of the bunker. After the war, people wanted the bunker destroyed; however, it would have been too expensive for the city to destroy. Currently, an investor is buying the bunker and is hoping to build a rooftop garden. This is a common theme for the bunkers in Hamburg: the city or private investors are looking into making bunkers into a more useful structure for the city.
We then hopped on a tram to the harbor region of Hamburg. Here we discussed how the city had raised the harbor sides by 1.5m to protect against global climate change. Nearby, a prototype for a house floated on the water. The home was a two story house, and it was said that it was too dangerous for the canals of the city. This specific home was around 300-500 thousand euros. These floating houses are being explored for an option to cope with global climate change and rising sea levels. While the prototype that we saw would not work for canals, there are many floating homes that are on the canals of the city. There are only 1000 spaces left for canal floating homes, and it is predicted that these will fill up within the next decade.
We then visited the Elbphilharmonie building. This building- with its one of a kind wavy roof that appeared to match the waves of the harbor- was a popular attraction in the city. A symphony hall was perched on top of the building, and an incredible view of the harbor and the city accompanied a walkway around the building. The Elbphilharmonie is considered a signature building of the city. It is a place where the imagability of the city comes into play: the building provides a site that is memorable to Hamburg. While the Elbphilharmonie was originally estimated to cost 70 million euro and take 5 years to construct, it ended up costing the city 700 million euro and took 12 years to build. This brings in the question of what a signature building in the city is worth.
We then trekked through the rain to our next location: the Unilever building. This glass building with unique ceiling designs and plenty of open space is a public space that strives to bring people together on the outskirts of the city center. From the bottom floor, several stores could be seen, such as a market, a Dove store, and a cooking site. People meandered and chatted freely with one another.
Our final stop before lunch was a site from which companies, community housing, and a school could be viewed. The city had originally not planned for having a playground with the school. In order to conserve space and provide a play area for the children, a garden was constructed on the roof of the school. This is an excellent example of how cities can maximize their space. The garden could also provide an opportunity to help reduce the overall heating of the city that occurs because of the common black rooftops. The community housing nearby provides families with easy access to the school and to the nearby businesses. Overall, the combination of the companies, the school, and community housing exemplifies how cities can be planned out to provide people with easy access to everyday events.