Even in the ascendant German Empire at the end of the 19th century,
delighting in innovation, it
was a minor sensation: Hamburg’s Speicherstadt, a gigantic complex of warehouses erected
directly adjacent to the modern quayside facilities of Sandtorhafen that had been opened in 1866.
The newly created Freeport incorporated extended storage areas, equipped as standard with
such novelties as electric lighting and hydraulically powered winches. A central power station
supplied water under pressure as well as electric power, while the warehouses with their thick
external walls ensured a stable interior climate for storage of sensitive goods without either
heating or cooling. To set up Speicherstadt, the Hamburg Senate, merchants and Norddeutsche
Bank founded Hamburger Freihafen-Lagerhaus-Gesellschaft (HFLG) on 7 March 1885.
This was HHLA’s direct predecessor.
Financed with private capital, HFLG had the task of providing storage
areas in the new Freeport,
which was a condition for Customs accession to the German Empire. The first stage of
construction completed went into service in 1888, punctually in time for Customs Union, and an
important module for the ambitious world port. By 1927 a tremendous ensemble of buildings in
Neo-Gothic style had been created in stages, built from millions of red bricks, with thousands of
piles as its foundations, and a working area of altogether 310,000 square metres.