Development of Wilhelmsburg

The Wilhelmsburg quarter of Hamburg is being developed alleviate density in the city.

In the morning we met up with Rolf and made our way to the train station. Along the way we stopped by some former meatpacking warehouses that have been repurposed into art galleries, a kindergarten, a brewery, restaurants, and other cultural attractions. While these businesses are revitalizing the area, the meatpacking district is becoming less and less affordable for people with low incomes. Rolf also mentioned that some people want to clean out the Rote Flora, the center for political extremism and one of the hubs for protest during the G20 summit, and convert it into a nonpolitical public space. However, this would remove some of the diversity and history from the St. Pauli quarter of Hamburg. After perusing some of the other redevelopments in the area, we proceeded to the platform and caught an S-bahn to Wilhelmsburg, the island in the middle of the Elbe River.

Our guide, Rolf, points at the old autobahn running through Wilhelmsburg on a model of the island. The autobahn is slated for closure in order to reduce noise pollution and make life on the island more pleasant.

Our first stop in Wilhelmsburg was the city planning office of Hamburg. In the center of the lobby was a detailed model of the entire city. We took a seat on the steps and Rolf launched into a lecture on the development of Wilhelmsburg. He explained that during the Third Reich an autobahn was built through Wilhemsburg. Hamburg fell under western control after the second world war, and companies in the packaging and shipping industry took root in Wilhelmsburg to take advantage of the port and the newly built autobahn. After reunification these companies expanded to the market in east Germany with ease, which actually hindered economic innovation and causes problems with job creation today. These companies developed the western edge of the island, leaving most of Wilhelmsburg untouched. As urbanization and globalization caused Hamburg to become more densely populated, the city had to come up with innovative solutions to housing people. One such solution was building up Wilhelmsburg and making it an appealing place to live.

However, there were many challenges to making the island livable and attractive. Wetlands, pollution, and flooding are all barriers to development on* the island. Nevertheless, the city of Hamburg, which owns the land, began by building a kindergarten, a medical center, a retirement home, and a hotel on the island. People began to move to the area. The south side of the island became a center for education, and north became filled with sporting facilities. The southeastern edge is a pristine, untouched forest, and the center is a large public park called Inselpark. This abundance of green areas makes the city feel spacious and less dense than it is in reality. Another autobahn was built through the island, and public transit makes traveling between the island and the city center easy and convenient. Rolf explained that in the future the city will close the old autobahn, reducing noise on the island and making a more attractive place to live. After gaining an understanding of the development of the island, we left the city planning office to see what the island had to offer. We strolled through the Inselpark, which the locals have turned into a recreational area. There were basketball courts, skateboarding ramps, a public pool, and even a towering rock climbing facility. People seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the park, and part of me was dying to put on a climbing harness and join in the fun. We continued our tour through a residential area. The flats in this area were created as part of an experiment that the government was conducting; one building had tanks of water on the outside walls and was growing algae to sell to fish farms, one was affordably built out of slabs of concrete and was subsidized by the government to provide affordable housing to low-income families, and another had solar panels to generate energy and walls made of foliage to keep the building cool during the summer and warm during the winter. The area had a friendly and inviting feel, and seemed to be gaining popularity.

A group of children gather on a soccer field in the Inselpark. The park was part of a citizen effort to make their neighborhood in Wilhelmsburg more lively and enjoyable.
The climbing gym at the Inselpark has been a huge success with young people. All skill levels can enjoy the gym, and if climbing doesn’t interest you then the bar or office spaces in the building may.
The algae house is a good example of the housing experiments that are happening in Wilhelmsburg. The outer walls of the house are filled with tanks of water and algae. The water is in motion constantly to prevent the algae from settling. This causes maximum algae production. The algae is dried and sold to fish farmers.

-Ayla Gizlice