Sustainability in Hamburg

Over the weekend, my sustainability program along with our professors ventured to Hamburg in order to observe and learn from their practices in sustainability. Hamburg is a beautiful port city that has lots of industry and has faced major flooding in the past. So, a lot of their new development revolves around how to deal with these issues. For example, our first stop took us to the floating workspace of IBA_Hamburg, whose goal is to revitalize the Wilhelmsburg neighborhood of Hamburg in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. Wilhelmsburg is an island between Hamburg’s two largest rivers. A major flood in the 1960s completely wiped out the area, and after that people moved away in hordes. In the 1980’s, it was discovered that petrochemicals from the local industry had polluted the groundwater. Now that flood protection measures have been greatly improved and the groundwater is clean, IBA_Hamburg is trying to bring people back.

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The IBA dock is a study of how people could living in floating communities

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Our next stop in Wilhelmsburg was Energieberg, an old toxic waste dump that’s now been converted into a energy-harnessing hill. The trash dump had been severely polluted by industry and chemical companies, eventually polluting the groundwater. It had to be completely sealed by a giant “umbrella” so that rainwater will no longer pick up chemicals. The methane from the decomposing trash is harnessed for power, in addition to two wind turbines on top of the hill.

Next, we visited an experimental subsidized housing campus. All of the buildings here receive partial funding by the government and are exceptionally unique, environmentally friendly, and “smart”. Among them is the BIQ Algae House, which one of our professors worked helped design. The facade of the house consists of “bio-reactor” panels which contain algae that harness the energy of the sun to heat the building.

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The BIQ house
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The bio-reactor panels up close

For dinner on Friday, we went to a small local restaurant that historically fed the dock workers. The interesting thing about the restaurant is that the building is tilted at an angle because since the water level is so high, it’s sinking. Just sitting in it was a little dizzying. I was adventurous and tried the local specialty, raw herring.

The next day, we went to HafenCity, an urban development project that is turing an old dock area into a revitalized neighborhood with housing and commercial spaces. Since 2000, the area has seen constant construction, making it Europe’s largest inner-city development project. All of the buildings have to adhere to an extremely high standards for energy efficiency and environmental impact. The beautiful new apartments and waterfronts of HafenCity have made it an extremely desirable place to live.

I thought Hamburg was a beautiful city and can see why the questions of “which is better: Berlin or Hamburg?” is the great debate of northern Germany. (But it’s obviously Berlin)

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