City Life

The space age

The Speicherstadt area of Hamburg is a beautiful example of warehouse architecture. Here, form meets function, the past coexisting effortlessly with the present. We’re exploring it in the new V60, a car that seamlessly blends contemporary design, versatility and heritage.

WORDS: IAN DICKSON | PHOTOGRAPHY: SAM CHRISTMAS

With 300,000m2 of space, Hamburg’s Speicherstadt district is the world’s largest continuous collection of warehousing. Built between 1883 and 1927, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its neo-Gothic architecture, canals and red-brick buildings – and one or two surprising innovations.

We’re discovering this vibrant area in the new V60, an estate car that also has the power to surprise and delight. As we drive over the Brooksbrücke – a distinctive arched bridge that takes us into the heart of Speicherstadt – the imposing scale of the brick edifices around us is striking. Looking through the panoramic roof, you can appreciate how these majestic structures stretch seven storeys into the sky. You need to pause to take in all the intricate details.

Like the V60, the buildings of Speicherstadt balance form with function, beauty with innovation. Glance up at the roofs and you notice the hydraulic rope winches that sit in beautiful copper gables, used for hauling goods off the barges below. Speicherstadt was also the first area of Hamburg to be fully electrified – as early as the late 1880s, it was possible to flick a switch for light.

Rebecca Stehmann runs a start-up tour company called Waterkant Touren here, offering alternative city tours. She said: “These rope winches must have seemed very advanced to the people back then, leaving them almost as much in awe as they probably were about the electric lights. The warehouse district was the first place in Hamburg where you could literally flip the switch.”

Rear side aerial view of the Volvo V60 crossing one of the many bridges into Speicherstadt.

We continue to explore Speicherstadt in comfort. There’s generous space for all five of us in the V60, and room for all our bags and camera gear in the back. Uncluttered Scandinavian design and an abundance of natural light create an airy, contemporary feel in the cabin – a real contrast to the dark, industrial surroundings.

As we’re exploring the area, we meet Thomas Hampel, a photographer and proud resident. He owns and runs a creative agency called Elbe&Flut in Speicherstadt and grants us exclusive access to photograph the V60 from his office, where four streets and three canals converge.

“I’ve been here for more than 30 years. The place captured me as a photographer. The grey-red relics of the 19th Century and the stories they have to tell. I imagine what it was like here – the exotic smells of spices, coffee and tobacco.”

“We continue to explore Speicherstadt in comfort. There’s generous space for five of us in the V60, and room for all our bags and camera gear in the back”

Inside his building, the preservation of the original architecture is like opening a time capsule; the computers, mobile phones and hum of a nearby fridge are the only clues to the present day. During World War II, more than half the area was levelled, but it was painstakingly rebuilt brick by brick. The area was given protected listed status in the 1990s.

“It’s only fairly recently that people have been able to explore the Speicherstadt,” adds Thomas. “For 125 years, these huge warehouses were hidden behind a customs border because Speicherstadt was a free port. Since 2003, the customs border has been abolished and the area is accessible to everyone.”

After capturing our overhead shot of the V60, and being given an audio tour of the area by Thomas, we pack our photographer Sam’s equipment back into the huge boot of the V60. Putting the car’s gear lever into Drive, we effortlessly make our way back into central Hamburg, this charismatic city that successfully manages to mix the old with the new. It’s time for our next appointment…