Hamburg notes, Hafen-City

Compared to my previous visit twenty-five years ago, the run-down parts of the city are much worse; it is hard to believe you are in northern Europe.  The nice parts of the city are more splendid.  They are building a new city section altogether — Hafen-City – at a hard-to-discern rate of occupancy, can you say Austro-Hamburg business cycle theory?  It's all mixed with in 18th century warehouses.  Here are some apartments for sale.  Here is one good introduction to the project.

In Hamburg they serve smoked eel with moist scrambled eggs, on delicious black bread.

A good chunk of the people in Hamburg could pass for Scandinavian; that's not the case in Berlin.

For contemporary work, Hamburg's Hafen-City is the architectural marvel of the Western world.  It is Europe's single largest development project, not counting whole countries of course.  Who said we no longer build coherent, splendid-looking neighborhoods?  It is sadly under-discussed (addendum: but not here).  For my unusual taste, the views from Hafen-City, through the harbor, all the way down to Hamburg-Altona, are among the very best in Europe.  The bridges, the elevations and overpasses, the rows of brick, steel, and glass, the transport links, the integration with the water, and the "imaginary harbor," cosmopolitan in nature of course, remind me of what I would expect to find in the lost notebooks of a brilliant "Outsider" artist, except it's all for real. 

One lengthy description, in German (but good visuals), is here.



Looks like a cover design that Kafka would ask Gehry to think up for his next book set in Alcatraz, 2099.

Thanks for commenting on it! I was very surprised that your opinion turned out that overwhelming; the Hafencity architecture is critisized a lot here in Hamburg. It's very encouraging to know it's something truly special even to people who have already seen a lot.

The hafencity looks great. Great to visit. But why would anybody want to life there? Another problem is that the Hafencity would look just as great without Elbphilharmonie subsidy hole.

'A neighborhood occupied by people who destroy said neighborhood will never look nice.'

Boy, is that the truth, and there is an interesting anecdote I heard during the world cup match against Argentina which concerns just this point.

In southern Germany, in this particular case around Stuttgart, there is a tradition of sweeping the streets in front of your house/apartment, as well as making sure that the apartment building is kept clean. It is one of those unspoken traditions which everybody is expected to follow. Not to mention most likely written in the rental contract.

According to the person who told this story, who works for Mercedes, the more recent arrivals who have taken jobs and live in these buildings (I honestly don't remember right now whether those people were Poles - which somehow seems unlikely - or Romanians) simply have not been meeting the standards of the workers who have lived there over decades, people who have kept those southern German traditions alive since moving into those buildings, and who quite honestly expect the newer arrivals to keep up the same standards they do.

Apparently, Mercedes management has been surprised at just how strong this reaction has been, as the Turks who have been there for at least a generation don't want to live with lazy slobs.

Somehow, I don't think it takes 2,000 years to get as civilized, at least by your measure of caring for how a neighborhood looks, as 'Europeans' - those Turks certainly expect the newcomers to treat where they live as well as they do.

But in at least one point, it is true that it isn't the government forcing people to keep where they live clean, it is the people living there - the joke of the Mercedes manager was that the Turks have become good Schwaben, and complain about those 'lazy slobs' just like the Schwaben do.

Hmmm. Now I'm struggling to envision where you mean. I can't think of any deserted places in Hamburg. That would lead me to expect that they are awaiting redevelopment, as all land near central Hamburg has value, so it should not worry you.

BTW, I don't know whether not_scottbot was mocking what he saw as an anti-Turkish post by me or whether he saw my actual meaning. The non Northern Europeans I was referring to as not taking care of their property are not, primarily, Turks.

Oh, and none of what I was arguing was about genetics. It was about culture or, at least, I assume it's about culture. (Why would there be a maintaining public property and rented property gene?) It is very unusual among world civilizations (or at least those that I've ever seen) to develop a culture of maintaining property you don't own and it's one of the most charming parts of Northern Europe. (Another really, really unusual cultural trait is not abusing a generous welfare state anywhere near as much as you could. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it's the one trait that's absolutely necessary to make a generous welfare state possible.)

I rather wonder if anyone has devised a model for why any culture developed such respectful norms, because it really doesn't seem like it's in the interest of any individual actor to protect common property.

Isn't the real question about your beautiful neighborhood whether the beauty will attract high-earning-enough cosmopolitan individuals to pay enough in taxes (either real-estate if they move there, or sales if they only come as tourists) to more than cover the public costs, and/or create a density of human capital (footloose young college grads) high enough to produce network-effect innovation? My bet is that neither will happen. Cosmopolitans like Tyler may flit through but Hamburg is competing with many other more awesome cities for the cosmos. And the hipster college grads are not into cosmopolitanism unless it is leavened by some do-it-yourselfness and/or edginess (and in any case, are unlikely to be able to afford it). If the new section were contiguous instead of cut off by water, maybe it would work, but as is, it seems a monument to misguided versions of the Florida thesis.

'It was about culture'
Exactly - I live in an area of Germany called Baden, and the 'Badener' tend to have very poor opinion of the dour and boring 'Swaben' - plus they don't like their accent. The fact that the Turkish Mercedes workers have so thoroughly assimilated in a certain set of very traditional, very schwäbisch norms, was amusing on multiple levels to the person telling the story - that he shared this just last Saturday added to the timeliness.

It also points out the idea that behavior isn't exactly fixed, but is part of a larger picture - the U.S. could have an excellent passenger rail system (after all, it had the world's best for decades in the 20th century), but many Americans today simply reject the idea out of hand, reinforcing the idea that Americans are simply not capable of building, maintaining, and using such a system.

Much like many people would maintain that legal immigrant workers aren't able to meet the standards of their neighbors, this viewpoint simply reaffirms what the speaker already believes. The question of culture is important, but difficult - in the paraphrased words of a certain old man in a desert, it 'surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the world together.' But individuals often adapt to or adopt the culture around them, as will groups of people from other cultures. Some better than others, of course - Turkish Schwaben would have been an absurd idea a generation ago, until it happened (in a certain specific sense, obviously). On the other hand, a generation ago, most Schwaben hadn't been introduced to Dönerkebab.

You write a post about Germany, and it doesn't take more than a comment or two before some MR readers are talking about the superiority of specific races and cultures.


After looking at some pictures, it does seem like a place I'd rather visit than live in.

Regardless, Hafen-City looks very cool.

I tend to think that some Berliners look like self-conscious, anti-authoritarian but faddish hipsters/aging hipsters wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, Converse shoes, Levis jeans, and Che shirts with some pushing around baby strollers and worried about other bourgeoisie sensibilities - and this you can find in any major city.

I'm not going to dismiss out of hand the idea that cultural norms might impact maintenance habits, but how would one reconcile the idea that Sweden is exceptional because it is "full of Swedes" with the reality that Sweden has one of the highest rates of immigration in the world? If I remember correctly, immigrants account for well over 15% of Sweden's population. Granted, a significant portion of that probably comes from neighboring countries with notable similarities, such as Denmark, Norway, and even Finland, but that can't possibly account for all of the immigration to Sweden. It's hardly a homogenous country.

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