Hamburg is an architect’s dream. The second-largest city in Germany has a plethora of fantastic buildings. We spent two weeks walking about its leafy streets and lovely canals. From Art Nouveau mansions and Bauhaus buildings to 17th century grocery houses and ultra-modern towers: the city has it all! Besides, Hamburg has some of the best brick expressionism architecture in the world. That’s why UNESCO included the Kontorhaus district in downtown Hamburg (together with Speicherstadt) in its World Heritage Site List. To top it all, we spent a couple of nights in a grand brick expressionist printing company converted into one of the best hotels in Hamburg. The following are our top 10 buildings! We hope you like them as much as we do!
- 1 German Expressionism in Architecture: Characteristics
- 2 Brick Expressionism in Hamburg
- 3 Staying in a Brick Expressionist Hotel in Hamburg
- 4 How to Visit Brick Expressionist Buildings in Hamburg
- 5 The Best Brick Expressionism in Hamburg
German Expressionism in Architecture: Characteristics
The Second Industrial Revolution changed the face of the earth forever. From the late 1900s to the early 20th century, technology advanced like never before. In Germany, the chemical and electrical industries boomed. By the 1920s, the nation was Europe’s industrial powerhouse. People flocked to the cities to work in factories, and life became hectic. Architecture changed too. With new materials and techniques, architects created never-before-seen shapes. It was all about emotions, symbols, and visions. Likewise, German expressionism in architecture includes national romantic elements, such as mountains, rocks, crystals, and caves.
Brick Expressionism in Hamburg
Brick Expressionism is a distinct sub-style that flourished in North and West Germany in the 1920s and onward. The style left a mark in Hamburg, Hanover, and the Ruhr Area. In the Netherlands, the style is called Amsterdam School. Fritz Höger and Fritz Schumacher, Hamburg’s best expressionists architects, achieved world fame. Their buildings incorporate typical bricks, clinker bricks, and tiles. The façades are lively and include geometrical decorations. Occasionally, they borrow elements from other styles. Take a look at the Art Deco decoration in the Chilehaus. There is nothing as original as brick expression architecture in Hamburg.
Staying in a Brick Expressionist Hotel in Hamburg
Our fascination with architecture goes beyond just admiring façades. As you know, we love staying in authentic historic hotels. Thus, in Hamburg, we had to stay in an iconic brick expressionist building. To our delight, the Renaissance Hotel Hamburg is in a fabulous former printing house designed by no other than Fritz Höger. Yes, the same architect that designed the Chilehouse. The hotel is the meticulously refurbished Broschek-Haus in downtown Hamburg. We got the whole Renaissance experience: unbeatable location, a super comfortable room, and class. We’ve stayed in several of their hotels around the world and loved them. We never feel in a chain! Each hotel is unique, and the service is local. Let’s not forget their delicious food and great cocktails!
How to Visit Brick Expressionist Buildings in Hamburg
Six expressionist buildings are in the Kontorhaus District (Kontorhausviertel in German) in downtown Hamburg, including three of our favorites: Chilehaus, Sprinkenhof, and Messberghof. Therefore, we recommend you begin your tour here. Once done, walk to see the Gotenhof, the Broschek-Haus, and the Finanzdeputation nearby. The other four on our list are far from the center and each other. Hamburg is a pretty big city but has an extensive transport network that takes you everywhere in no time. We recommend Hamburg’s official website to check the U Bahn and bus networks. Be sure to grab a window seat and enjoy the ride!
The Best Brick Expressionism in Hamburg
Address Fischertwiete 2A
Architect Fritz Höger 1924
The Chilehaus is the most outstanding example of Brick Expressionism and one of the most famous buildings in Hamburg. A shipping magnate who made his fortune selling sodium nitrate from Chile commissioned the building in 1921 (hence the name). He chose the established German architect Fritz Höger to design the building. Construction started in 1922 and finished in 1924. You will recognize Chilehaus by its curvy façade, retracted upper floors, and the sharp angle of its eastern corner. Besides expressionism, the building incorporates elements inspired by the Brick Gothic style. That is especially visible in the exterior decoration, work of the sculptor Richard Kuöhl. Today, it hosts a large number of offices, including the local branch of the Instituto Cervantes.
Address Burchardstraße 8
Architect Fritz Höger 1927 – 1943
The second most important example of Brick expressionism in Hamburg is the Sprinkenhof Building across the Chilehaus. Fritz Höger joined forces with architects Hans and Oskar Gerson to design a monumental reinforced concrete structure. Built between 1927 and 1943, it was Europe’s largest office building at the time. Look out for the orthogonal patterns and small ornaments that pay homage to the Doge’s Palace in Venice and the Casa de las Conchas de Salamanca, two historic buildings that the Gerson brothers admired. Likewise, notice the small ornaments like seagulls, ships, cogwheels, and coat of arms on the clinker brick facade. These are a testament to Hamburg’s Hanseatic past and the companies inside the building. Today, the building belongs to the municipal real estate company Sprinkenhof GmbH.
Address Meßberg 1
Architect Hans and Oskar Gerson 1924
The third most important building in the Kontorhaus District looks a bit less dramatic. The building’s original name was Ballinhaus after ship-owner Albert Ballin. However, it was renamed Messberghof (after an adjacent street) in 1938, following a directive that all buildings bearing Jewish names had to change names. The Gerson Brothers built the Messberghof at the same time as the Chilehaus, across the street. The building has straight vertical lines and limited decoration. The eight bronze sculptures on the façade are from 1997, but the grand staircase at the main entrance hall is the original. The Chocoversum, a unique chocolate museum, is in the building.
Address Steckelhörn 12
Architect Karl Stuhlmann 1926
Hidden in a narrow street, the Gotenhof is a jewel of a building in Hamburg not many people know of. Unfortunately, the gorgeous building has a dark past. During the late 30s and early 40s, it was the infamous Nazi Youth Welfare Office. They were the ones that decided which children to send to the concentration camps and which to sterilize. Several old half-timbered houses had to be demolished to make room for the building. Its architect, Karl Stuhlmann, projected a clinker brick building with sharp vertical lines and geometrical decorations. He achieved a sense of monumentality by retracting the upper floors on two sides and adding a triangle over the last floor windows.
Address Große Bleichen
Architect Fritz Höger 1926
In 1925, publishing and rotogravure company Broschek & Co hired Fritz Höger to design their office building. The building took a year to complete. The original project included a 65-meter high tower with a viewing platform that was never built. Broschek-Haus’ façade stands out for its golden elements. The repetitive vertical brickwork incorporates hundreds of golden triangles that shimmer on a sunny day. Similar pyramid sculptures are inside the building. The daily newspaper Die Welt took over the building after Second World War. Following extensive renovations, it opened as a hotel in 1981. Today, it is one of the best hotels in Hamburg: the Renaissance. The restaurant exhibits some of the original machines used by the print.
Address Gänsemarkt 36
Architect Fritz Schumacher 1914 – 1926
Fritz Schumacher’s first major brick expressionist work is Hamburg’s Department of Finance on Gänsemarkt square. Like the Chilehaus, the last few floors have cascading balconies, while the windows on the upper floors have arches above them. What’s different in the Finanzdeputation building is the accentuation of the corner of Gänsemarkt square and Valentinskamp street. Here, a rounded corner connects the lower floors with a tower over the top ones. A copper dome crowns the tower. Both entrances have three high arched doors with terracotta figurines above them. The halls inside the building are the superb original ones, including the Leo Lippmann Hall.
Address Heidenkampsweg 32
Architect Fritz Höger 1928
This one is the only expressionist building in Hamburg inspired by the Chicago School style. The main façade ends in a massive container block with the sole purpose of advertising the company. You can’t miss its giant name: Leder-Schüler (originally the word Werke was there too). Once again, Fritz Höger incorporates his sharp vertical lines, which go slightly above the highest floor in a Gothic-like ending. Additionally, the building showcases one of the main principles of the Amsterdam School: volumes on each street are different. The main façade is taller and more ornamental, while the façade on the side street is smaller and a bit modest.
Address Walddörferstraße 103
Architect Fritz Höger 1929
Note that the original building is not Brick Expressionist, but a design by Klophaus & Schoch architects completed between 1924 and 1925. However, Fritz Höger designed the south wing added in 1926 to 1927. Check the clinker bricks that decorate the reinforced concrete frame structure. Höger took expressionist effects to a higher level by twisting the bricks around the vertical poles. The original building was the Haus Neuerburg cigarette factory, bought by competitor Reemtsma in 1934. It remained an operating factory until 1982. Between 1983 and 1987, the Deutsche Bundespost refurbished it completely. Today, it is an administrative building of Deutsche Telekom AG.
Entrance Building of the Voss Margarinefabrik
Address Bramfelder Str. 138
Architect Henry Grell and Peter Pruter 1926
The original Voss Margainefabrik dates back to 1910. The building follows the principles of the Hannover School of Architecture. However, as the business grew, so did the factory. Thus, in 1926 a new entrance to the factory was built following the principles of brick expressionism. The industrial brick building has three different volumes: the ground floor is wider, the first floor narrower, and the top floor is a tall tower. Renowned sculptor Richard Kuöhl did the colorful decorations on the facade, including the large cow on the main tower beneath the clock. The two big sculptures on both sides of the entrance represent a worker and an employee.
Neues Krematorium Hamburg-Ohlsdorf
Address Fuhlsbüttler Str. 758
Architect Fritz Schumacher 1932
Another great work by Fritz Schumacher is the New Crematorium of Hamburg’s main cemetery, Ohlsdorf. In fact, it was his last project in Hamburg. Built between 1930 and 1932, it replaced the old crematorium. The building has two main facades. The Eastern one is a symmetrical large trapezoid. The celebration hall and smaller side rooms are here. A sculpture of a phoenix surrounded by clinker reliefs accentuates this facade. Once again, Richard Kuöhl did all the sculptural elements. The western façade facing the street is asymmetrical and was not finished according to the original design. Notice the tall clock tower that dominates the western façade.