Saturday, June 20, 2009


Hamburg’s DAG-Haus is the edifice of The German Workers Union (“Deutsche Angestellten Gewerkschaft”).

DAG-Haus is considered to be one of the great buildings of the world. It is one of the few buildings in Germany to use “Chicago School” architecture.

A powerful, dark, 13-story building with a brick façade, DAG-Haus was constructed between 1921 and 1930 (construction was halted in 1923 because of Germany’s post-war financial crisis and did not resume until 1929). The main portion of the building was completed in 1922, while the tower-like structure alongside the main building was not completed until 1930.

The most interesting detail of the building is the row of bronze athlete figures arising on the tower facade.

No doubt inspired by ancient Greece’s use of caryatids in architecture, the athlete figures attached to DAG-Haus bear a distinct resemblance to sculptures from ancient Greece. However, the figures on DAG-Haus serve a purely decorative function, while Greek caryatids served both structural and decorative functions (and were, of course, female, not male).

At the back of DAG-Haus is the so-called “elephant rider”, a statue of a youth riding an elephant.

Given that DAG-Haus is headquarters for The German Workers Union, such decorative features as statues of athletes and elephant riders make no sense—until one learns that DAG-Haus was originally constructed to serve as headquarters for a long-disbanded German conservationist society.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Hamburg’s largest Counting House (”Kontorhaus”) situated outside the Counting House District (“Kontorhausviertel”) is Levantehaus.

More than two blocks long, the magnificent Levantehaus fronts Hamburg’s primary shopping street, Monckebergstrasse, the long promenade that connects Hamburg’s Rathaus with the city’s Central Train Station.

Built in 1912 and 1913, Levantehaus in its original form was a very ornate building, intended to evoke the aura of the city’s ancient Hanseatic tradition.

Levantehaus was seriously damaged during World War II. Its post-war reconstruction was in a substantially modified—and greatly simplified—form.

Yet another round of major modifications occurred in the late 1990’s, when Levanthaus was gutted and completely rehabbed. It is in its late-1990’s reincarnation that Levantehaus may be seen today.

The interior of Levantehaus now serves as both a luxury shopping mall and a luxury hotel.

The main entrance is marked by blazing flames erupting from brass bowls, highlighting a giant bronze centaur over the entrance doors.

Inside, the first two floors are occupied by luxury shops in an elegant shopping arcade, complete with grand stairwells, skylights and a cupola. Life-size sculptures are everywhere.

The upper floors house a 5-star hotel, one of the finest in the city.

We stayed at Levantehaus while we were in Hamburg. It was the finest hotel I have ever visited.

The level of comfort and service was extraordinary. The rooms were spacious, beautifully-designed and richly-appointed. Each floor had its own concierge. The main hotel restaurant, serving particularly fine continental and American cuisine, was exceptional. The hotel had a large swimming pool under a beautiful Romanesque roof, and we used the pool daily. Everything about the hotel was absolutely first-class in every possible way.

I would like to stay there again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In addition to Chilehaus, architect Fritz Hoger created for Hamburg a second great example of 1920’s Architectural Expressionism, Broschek-Haus.

Named for the publishing firm that commissioned the building, Broschek-Haus was completed in 1927.

Broschek-Haus is a pure contemporary of Chilehaus. Like its counterpart, Broschek-Haus is marked by intricate brickwork. Indeed, the brickwork of Broschek-Haus is far more detailed and complex than the brickwork of Chilehaus. The patterned brickwork is the building’s chief exterior adornment.

Into the intricate brickwork are embedded hundreds of triangles made from gold. The triangles are supposed to shimmer in sunlight, creating the illusion of a ship bobbing in water.

Broschek-Haus was never fully completed as the architect intended. Among missing decorative elements is a steeple for the layered roof.

The Broschek publishing firm was long ago acquired by Schott. The building now serves as a hotel.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


At the edge of Hamburg’s Counting House District (“Kontorhausviertel”) is Zippelhaus, one of the last of the old-style Counting Houses (“Kontorhauser”) of Hamburg. Zippelhaus, seen on the right in the photograph above (with Saint-Katharinen-Kirche in the background), was built in 1890 and 1891.

Before the 20th Century, Hamburg’s Counting Houses were little more than modern variants of the old Merchant House, in widespread use since the 13th Century: a multi-story townhouse with shop/office space on the first floor or two, above which were several levels of living quarters.

Zippelhaus was one of the last of Hamburg’s old-style Counting Houses, modeled on the Merchant House and built to serve both commercial and residential purposes.

A few years after Zippelhaus was completed, the form and function of Counting Houses changed—they were to become the modern-day office building, pure and simple. After 1900, Counting Houses were built to serve purely commercial purposes, and were placed in purely commercial zones.

Zippelhaus is an unusual architectural mixture, borrowing features from the Renaissance and Baroque periods and refracting those features through the prism of the Hanseatic style.

As such, Zippelhaus reflects both architectural changes and social changes within The City Of Hamburg. Zippelhaus was one of the last buildings built in the Kontorhausviertel to use overt Renaissance and Baroque architectural elements, and one of the last buildings in the Kontorhausviertel to include residential living space. Only a few years after the completion of Zippelhaus, new zoning regulations prohibited construction of similar buildings in the Counting House District.

Zippelhaus survived World War II intact. Adjacent buildings were destroyed by bombs or fire—even nearby Saint-Katharinen-Kirche was leveled—but Zippelhaus suffered nothing more than smoke damage.

Zippelhaus now houses a first-class restaurant, also named Zippelhaus. It is one of the three or four finest restaurants in all of Germany. Its reputation is known all over Europe.

We did not eat at Zippelhaus.

We examined a menu posted near the front entrance of Zippelhaus, and we thought that the restaurant’s prices were too high.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There But For The Grace Of God . . .

Some persons were placed on earth in order to encourage everyone else to feel superior.

One such example—and a very prime one it is, indeed—is America’s most unappealing gay couple, Caleb Cross and James Van Dellen, hailing from Denver, Colorado.

Genuinely, one could not envision two more unattractive, unappealing creatures.

I’ve never seen such clear cases of “chromosomes gone awry” or “genetics gone haywire” in my life.

Are these the two most conspicuous examples of “white trash in its purest form” of all time?

These two goons look like they need to be walked through a car wash, although I am confident they would emerge from the carwash still unclean.

The gross, bulbous nose of the one on the right would, I believe, be most at home in a carnival sideshow. Indeed, it very well might be able to take on a life of its own unattached from the human body.

Whatever motivated these morons to post and circulate such embarrassing pictures of themselves? It is frightening to contemplate whatever must have been going through their witless minds.

One would think that their parents would be mortified over what they have wrought.

However, something tells me that the parents probably have tattoos, too.

The admonition of Justice Holmes lives on.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


One of the most interesting buildings in Hamburg’s Kontorhausviertel is Afrika-Haus.

Afrika-Haus was built in 1899 to a design by Martin Haller, architect of Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle and HAPAG-Lloyd headquarters. The building was commissioned by the Woermann Trading Company, a firm that made a fortune in African trade during Germany’s brief colonial period. Afrika-Haus is still used by the Woermann firm as its headquarters.

The street façade shows a marked Jugendstil influence, which I believe is rare in Haller’s work. At the very least, I do not recall any Jugendstil influences upon other Haller buildings in Hamburg.

The Woermann flag is depicted on the ceramic tiles on the building’s street façade.

The street entrance features a statue of an African warrior.

Through the street entrance, the visitor enters a large courtyard, at the other end of which lies the main entrance to the building proper. Two giant bronze elephants greet visitors at the entrance.

We went into Afrika-Haus and walked around, primarily because we had been told that interesting company mementos lined the stairwells.

We found this to be true.

Of most interest to us were historic photographs of the many company ships that Woermann used on its Hamburg-Africa route. Photographs of the ships lined the stairwells of Afrika-Haus from the first to the top floor.

We spent an hour examining the old photographs, and no one at Woermann seemed to mind our presence in the least.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


The enormous Chilehaus, massive as it is, is not even the largest Counting House (“Kontorhaus”) within Hamburg’s Counting House Quarter (“Kontorhausviertel”).

That distinction belongs to Sprinkenhof, a truly monstrous building built in three stages between 1927 and 1943. Sprinkenhof, like Chilehaus, is the work of architect Fritz Hoger.

In the photograph below, Sprinkenhof is in the lower right-hand corner. It almost dwarfs nearby Chilehaus—indeed, it almost dwarfs the entire Counting House Quarter—and it is hard to walk around the Counting House Quarter without bumping into Sprinkenhof again and again.

I did not appreciate Sprinkenhof—it stuck me as a large, unattractive office building, nothing more—and no one else liked it, either. Andrew and his mother thought it was an eyesore.

We were surprised, therefore, when we learned that Sprinkenhof appears on UNESCO’s list of protected World Heritage Sites.

In fact, Hamburg’s entire Counting House Quarter has been deemed a World Heritage Site owing to its status as “the first dedicated office district on the continent of Europe”. Of the Quarter, UNESCO has this to say:

The special identity of this Kontorhaus District, which is among Germany's most impressive cityscapes of the 1920s, is due in part to the fact that the ground plans of the buildings coincide with the outlines of the blocks, to make full use of the available land - an approach chosen deliberately in view of the purely commercial purpose of the buildings. The proportions of the buildings are designed to make use of the maximum height, adding further height by means of stepped-back upper storeys. The formal language of the major buildings is a variant of the "New Construction" style of the 1920s, characterised by their proportions and the use of decorative sculptural elements, with a more restrained version of this style used in the 1930s. The combination of the building material used, that is dark-coloured, hard-fired brick (clinker), and use of the Kontorhaus construction style, results in an overall complex that is characteristic of Hamburg, and is not found anywhere else even in related form. The Kontorhaus District includes heritage buildings of the highest calibre within a small area.

Those are strong claims, and surely not everyone accepts them. I submit that most persons, including most architects, that walk around Hamburg’s Counting House Quarter would be quite surprised—perhaps even stunned—to learn that they were traversing an area now under historic preservation protection.

In the U.S., such buildings would have been replaced no later than the 1980’s, and no one would have given a second thought to their passing.

I wonder whether Eero Saarinen would agree that the Kontorhausviertel deserves protected status.

Chilehaus II

Chilehaus escaped major destruction during World War II, which is miraculous given how large a structure architect Fritz Hoger had created.

Chilehaus is almost three city blocks long. It is such a massive building that a city street actually passes through the building.

The photograph below is from 1943. It was taken after the mid-summer air raids had destroyed much of Hamburg, causing the city’s population to be evacuated for the final two years of the war.

From the photo, it is clear that buildings surrounding Chilehaus had suffered direct hits from enemy bombs. It is also clear that fires had swept through the neighboring structures.

No enemy bombs struck Chilehaus, and Hamburg fire squadrons were successful in preventing fires from spreading to Chilehaus.

Chilehaus was very lucky.


In the photograph above, it may be seen that Hamburg streets had already been cleared of rubble.

Clearing streets of rubble was always the first order of business, in Hamburg and elsewhere in Germany, after bombing raids.

Streets were cleared immediately in order to allow medical personnel and fire squadrons to travel freely around cities, rushing to districts where their services were most needed.

One of the reasons that a firestorm developed in Hamburg in 1943 was because the Allied bombings had been continuous, and did not allow Hamburg authorities the necessary few hours’ respite to clear Hamburg streets. As the Allied bombings went on and on, without pause, Hamburg streets became more and more filled with rubble, preventing fire squadrons from traveling to scenes of fires. Several of those fires conjoined and created the devastating firestorm.

Hamburg had been bombed, continuously, for 48 hours before the firestorm began. Had Hamburg’s fire squadrons been mobile, no firestorm would have occurred.


Because I had read extensively about the Hamburg firestorm before visiting Hamburg, it was fascinating for me to walk around the city and connect buildings and sites with their roles and fates during the firestorm in particular and during the war in general.

One of the most bizarre stories connected with the 1943 bombing of Hamburg is the fate of Hamburg’s Staatsoper, known as the Stadttheater until 1937.

The area around the Staatsoper had not been hit during the concentrated air raids over Hamburg. As a result, the city of Hamburg decided to use the enormous stage of the Staatsoper as staging ground for its campaign to feed the city (hundreds of thousands of Hamburg citizens had become homeless after the concentrated bombings).

Tens of thousands of loaves of bread had been shipped into the city from surrounding areas, and those loaves of bread were stacked onto the stage of the Staatsoper, ready for distribution to the public.

Just as distribution began, the Staatsoper suffered several direct hits by Allied bombers engaging in a delayed mission over Hamburg.

The auditorium was completely destroyed, but lowering of the iron fire curtain saved the stage and backstage areas of the opera house (and saved the bread as well). The stage and backstage of the Hamburg Staatsoper had been saved by the fire curtain—but otherwise there was nothing but total destruction for blocks and blocks in all directions.

When, after the war, it came time for Hamburg to rebuild its opera house, the new Staatsoper was built on the same location as the old.

However, the new Staatsoper is only partly new, something most persons do not realize.

Only the auditorium and public promenades are new. The portion housing the stage and backstage areas remains in its pre-war form and remains in use today (although the stage machinery has been modernized).

The result: the one-third of the building the public sees is from 1955, but the two-thirds of the building the public seldom sees is from 1827 and 1926 (the original 1827 backstage facilities had been extensively renovated and expanded in 1926).

Most patrons of the opera in Hamburg do not even realize that the Staatsoper’s box office is located in the pre-war portion of the building.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Hamburg is a city of magnificent architecture.

Hamburg has splendid examples of architecture from all periods, but Hamburg is unique among European cities in that it has great 20th-Century architecture. In that sense, Hamburg is the Chicago of Europe.

Good 20th-Century architecture is rare in Europe, and almost unknown in major capitals such as London, where 20th-Century buildings are horrifically bad, and uniformly so.

Great 20th-Century architecture is even more rare in Europe than good 20th-Century architecture. Indeed, some experts claim that it does not exist.

In Europe, Hamburg stands out for the quality of its 20th-Century architecture. Since the late 19th Century, commercial enterprises headquartered in Hamburg have insisted upon quality buildings. The evidence of this may be seen on every street in the center of the city.

I suspect that there are three reasons why Hamburg is such a 20th-Century architectural treasure: (1) the city has long enjoyed the presence of an enlightened business community; (2) many excellent Central European architects lived and worked in Hamburg for decades on end, headquartering their architectural practices in the city; and (3) the rich tradition of Hanseatic architecture cannot help but serve as an inspiration to architects living and working among such fine and noble buildings on a daily basis.

One of the tenets of Hanseatic architecture is the use of fine materials. Only the finest brick, marble and stone are used to erect Hanseatic edifices, an ancient tradition carried over and maintained to the present day. Hamburg buildings, unlike London buildings, do not look cheap and thrown-together. They are exquisitely-wrought and exquisitely-crafted. In fact, I was surprised when I learned the dates of several notable buildings in Hamburg—the buildings were in such excellent condition that I had assumed they were much newer than they were.

Another tenet of Hanseatic architecture is the use of stone moldings. Moldings around roofs, windows and entranceways are one of the most prominent and pleasing features of Hanseatic architecture.

Yet another tenet of Hanseatic architecture is the heavy reliance upon architectural features from the Baroque Era, especially with regard to roofs. Baroque roofs are endemic in Hamburg, even on modern buildings. These roofs often are very sly in their acknowledgement of Baroque models, either minimizing or elongating Baroque features or setting them at odd angles.

A final tenet of Hanseatic architecture is the use of ceramics to decorate building exteriors. Sometimes these ceramics are set into exterior walls in the manner of reliefs. More common, however, is the use of small ceramics to highlight architectural features in the fabric of a building.

The result is that Hamburg is one of the most handsome cities in the world, a great city for walking and gawking. Ancient Hanseatic edifices blend with modern structures inspired by Hanseatic principles. The city has a unique beauty no less remarkable than the beauty of Paris or Venice.

One of the most famous 20th-Century buildings in Hamburg is Chilehaus.

Designed by architect Fritz Hoger and built from 1922 to 1924, the massive Chilehaus is perhaps the finest of Hamburg’s modern office buildings known as Kontorhauser (“Counting Houses”). This famed structure served as a sign of Hamburg’s growth after World War I and, miraculously, survived World War II to serve as a sign of Hamburg’s survival and renewal.

Chilehaus is a perfect example of Expressionist architecture: an elongated building made of clinker brick (a dark, dense brick of the very highest quality, unique to Northern Germany) with a sharp point at one end, designed to evoke a ship’s helm. The elegant façade, the Gothic-style arcades and the intricate ceramic décor on the exterior all combine to make this one of Hamburg’s most impressive buildings. Over 4.8 million bricks went into its construction.

In 1922, a Hamburg businessman who had made a fortune with potassium nitrate (saltpeter) in Chile bought a 5,000-square-meter building site in the center of Hamburg’s business district. There he planned to erect a very special kind of office building, Chilehaus, designed in the shape of a passenger ship. The saltpeter magnate arranged for an architectural design contest, which was won by Hamburg architect Hoger, already renowned for his office-building designs. Chilehaus quickly became Hamburg’s second most distinctive city landmark after Saint-Michaelis-Kirche.

Chilehaus has drawn worldwide attention since the day it was completed. The building has retained its reputation as an architectural work of the utmost importance to the present day.

Its brick façade glitters in a different light at each shift of the weather, and each change of an observer’s viewpoint alters the impression of its stone workings and ceramic ornaments.

The ten-story structure is seen most impressively from the end at which one may observe its acute-angled façade resembling a ship’s bow.

The ceramic-brick decorative designs on the building’s façade are notable.

At night, the building is illuminated.

It shines with a special majestic beauty.