REACH­ING A CRESCENDO

Ha–burg's a–mbi­tious Hafencity de­velo™–pment

Business Traveller (India) - - CONTENTS -

D riv­ing past Gothic brick ware­houses and over iron truss bridges, our car weaves through traf­fic towards the site of Ham­burg’s new Elbphil­har­monie. It has been a few weeks since the soft launch of the €860 mil­lion con­cert hall and there’s a tan­gi­ble sense of ex­cite­ment from our guide when­ever its name crops up in con­ver­sa­tion. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” he says.

As we turn a cor­ner, the crys­talline fortress comes into view. Tow­er­ing over the city’s dock­lands, it is a vi­sion of un­du­lat­ing, re­flec­tive panes, the cur­va­ture of which mir­ror the move­ment of a ship’s sails, beat­ing above a wedge of red brick be­low. Sun­light glints off the façade’s con­cave pan­els – a glit­ter­ing bea­con on Ham­burg’s hori­zon.

Strik­ing though it is, the project has had its share of con­tro­ver­sies since it was first com­mis­sioned in the early 2000s. Tom Schulz, spokesman for the Elbphil­har­monie, says things started well when prop­erty de­vel­oper Alexan­der Gérard ap­proached old school friends Her­zog and De Meu­ron, ar­chi­tects of Bei­jing’s “Bird’s Nest” sta­dium and the new Tate Mod­ern, to de­sign a land­mark on the banks of the River Elbe.

An enor­mous re­gen­er­a­tion project is well un­der way in the old port har­bour in which the Elbphil­har­monie is sit­u­ated

“The wave-like sil­hou­ette was such a hit with the city au­thor­ity that it took over the project from Gérard, and the task of fund­ing it,” he says. At that point, the to­tal cost was es­ti­mated at €77 mil­lion.

A slew of chal­lenges soon fol­lowed. Con­struc­tion paused for over a year while the city launched a law­suit against its con­trac­tor for grossly un­der­es­ti­mat­ing costs. Un­sur­pris­ingly, rev­e­la­tions of a €300/`21,112 toi­let brush and €1,000/`70,383 pa­per towel dis­penser for the lava­to­ries weren’t well re­ceived.

Un­der new man­age­ment, the con­struc­tion com­pany thrashed out a new con­tract with the city. Seven years over­due and ten times over bud­get, the Elbphil­har­monie opened of­fi­cially in Jan­uary. The pub­lic mood is now soar­ing, and hopes are pinned on the per­for­mance space re­defin­ing the city as a cul­tural cen­tre.

Inside, the build­ing is split into three, with lux­ury apart­ments and the four-star Westin Ham­burg cush­ion­ing three con­cert venues at its cen­tre. The acous­tics of the largest of these, which seats 2,100 peo­ple, were de­vel­oped by Ya­suhisa Toy­ota, who worked on the ren­o­va­tion of the Syd­ney Opera House. Oc­cu­pied for re­hearsals when I vis­ited, the sound qual­ity is said to have moved mu­si­cians to tears.

In the pub­lic ar­eas, the in­te­rior de­sign is clean and eco­nom­i­cal, with de­tails redo­lent of the city’s mar­itime his­tory in­clud­ing fun­nel-shaped col­umns and strip lights that look like neon grab han­dles. In the build­ing’s brick base, Europe’s long­est curved es­ca­la­tor trans­ports vis­i­tors along an 82-me­tre stretch of white light and glis­ten­ing wall se­quins to a 360-de­gree view­ing plat­form and the halls’ en­trance.

Per­form­ers in the com­ing months in­clude Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can cel­list Yo-Yo Ma, pi­anist Mit­suko Uchida and the Chicago Sym­phony Orchestra. “The re­sponse has been ex­tra­or­di­nary,” Schulz says. “We’re to­tally sold out for the first sea­son, but we are still look­ing to cre­ate a few more dates be­cause the de­mand is there.”

PORT OF CALL

The launch of the Elbphil­har­monie her­alds a glitzy new chap­ter for the old port har­bour in which it is sit­u­ated, and where an enor­mous re­gen­er­a­tion project is well un­der way. In 2000, Ham­burg’s se­nate de­cided to re­name the district Hafencity, an­nounc­ing plans to re­vi­talise the 157-hectare stretch of land, which had fallen into dis­use when the tra­di­tional loading har­bour be­came too small for mod­ern con­tain­ers.

Not un­like the re­vival of Lon­don’s Dock­lands, a mixe­duse devel­op­ment was pro­posed, com­pris­ing of­fice and res­i­den­tial blocks, re­tail ar­eas, leisure fa­cil­i­ties and park­land. With just over half of the project now fin­ished, it is due to be com­pleted in 2025 and is cur­rently Europe’s largest in­ner-city devel­op­ment project, in­tended to ex­pand the cen­tre by 40 per cent and cre­ate more than 45,000 jobs. So far, more than 700 com­pa­nies have moved in, in­clud­ing Unilever, Han­jin Ship­ping, Green­peace and Twit­ter.

Su­sanne Buehler, Hafencity’s head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, says the area has at­tracted as much as €10 bil­lion worth of pri­vate in­vest­ment. “A cru­cial el­e­ment in Hafencity’s strong at­trac­tion – as well as its sit­u­a­tion at the heart of Ham­burg, be­side the River Elbe – is its vi­sion­ary and sus­tain­able ur­ban devel­op­ment strat­egy,” she says. Build­ings are heated through a com­bi­na­tion of fuel cells, so­lar pan­els and geo­ther­mal energy, while com­muters are trans­ported around the district by hy­dro­gen-fu­elled buses and a new metro line.

Boast­ing more park­land per capita than any­where else in the city, it is also blos­som­ing into an at­trac­tive tourist des­ti­na­tion. Bike-shar­ing sta­tions have made the area more nav­i­ga­ble, with cy­cling paths and walk­ing routes in­stalled along the river, while guided tours are avail­able on the district’s his­tory, plan­ning and green-friendly ini­tia­tives.

Hafencity is also home to the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum,

which has the world’s largest pri­vate col­lec­tion of model ships, and his­toric mon­u­ments such as Chile­haus – a UNESCO-pro­tected Ex­pres­sion­ist ware­house that smacks of New York’s Flat­iron Build­ing. The quirky 25 Hours Ham­burg Hafencity ho­tel is nearby, of­fer­ing 170 rooms that evoke the area’s ship­build­ing his­tory, along with a stylish bar and restau­rant; and meet­ing space for 200 peo­ple.

CREATIVE CLUS­TERS

As Hafencity con­tin­ues to take shape, it will only add to Ham­burg’s rep­u­ta­tion as a busi­ness des­ti­na­tion. Ger­many’s sec­ond-big­gest city, after Ber­lin, it is no­tably wealth­ier than the cap­i­tal, with one of the high­est num­bers of mil­lion­aires per capita than any­where else in Europe. Last year, it was voted Europe’s sec­ond-best city to in­vest in (again after Ber­lin) by PwC and the Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute, while rank­ing fifth for eco­nomic po­ten­tial and sev­enth for busi­ness friend­li­ness by the Fi­nan­cial Times’ Euro­pean Cities and Re­gions of the Fu­ture Rank­ings 2016/17.

In this his­toric port city, ship­ping is big busi­ness – it is Europe’s third-largest con­tainer port, after Rot­ter­dam and An­twerp. Mean­while, Air­bus’s Ham­burg plant is the world’s third-largest aero­space fa­cil­ity after Boe­ing’s fac­tory near Seat­tle and Air­bus’s Toulouse HQ. Face­book, Google, Airbnb and Yelp have all opened of­fices here in re­cent years.

Some of this eco­nomic strength can be cred­ited to the gov­ern­ment’s clus­ter pol­icy, which was launched in 2002 in sup­port of Ham­burg’s in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy-re­lated in­dus­tries. The aim is to fo­cus growth in the city’s eight strong­est sec­tors, or “clus­ters” (such as avi­a­tion, the mar­itime in­dus­try, re­new­able energy and lo­gis­tics) through fund­ing,

devel­op­ment pro­grammes and aca­demic part­ner­ships.

One clus­ter is the me­dia sec­tor, which pro­duces the lion’s share of Ger­many’s top-cir­cu­lat­ing pub­li­ca­tions. Der Spiegel, Bauer Me­dia and Gruner and Jahr – which prints Ger­man Vogue and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Trav­eller – are all based in Ham­burg. Con­tent start-ups are ben­e­fit­ing from this cosy net­work, too, with com­pa­nies look­ing to in­vest in new streams that will carry them through the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion.

Next Me­dia Ham­burg is a gov­ern­ment-funded clus­ter ini­tia­tive that gives a help­ing hand to the city’s dig­i­tal and me­dia-re­lated start-ups. “There have al­ways been sup­port ini­tia­tives for new me­dia com­pa­nies, but the city de­cided to cre­ate a cen­tral point of con­tact so en­trepreneurs could find ev­ery­thing that they need in one place,” says May Lena Bork the pro­gramme’s di­rec­tor. The project helps start-ups from the ear­li­est seed stages, of­fer­ing con­sult­ing ser­vices, ac­cess to po­ten­tial in­vestors and the chance to gain vis­i­bil­ity at over­seas con­fer­ences.

Last year, Next Me­dia launched an ac­cel­er­a­tor scheme to give start-ups the chance to win a place on a six-month men­tor­ing pro­gramme and up to €50,000-worth of fund­ing, in part­ner­ship with Google News Lab, Ama­zon Web Ser­vices and Speigel Group, among oth­ers.

Bork says the pro­gramme has opened up to more in­vestors. “It’s a good way for com­pa­nies to see what ideas could work for them, and it’s eas­ier for a start-up to trial new things than for large com­pa­nies to risk it.”

She adds that the start-up cul­ture is not only at­tract­ing lo­cal en­trepreneurs but for­eign firms, too, with many ap­proach­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor in the last few rounds. With global vis­i­tors also set to de­scend on the city’s daz­zling new cul­tural land­mark, Ham­burg’s foot­ing on the world stage can only be­come firmer.

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