Yes, as the title suggests, this is a whole blog post about a tunnel. Stay with me, this is more interesting than it sounds, I promise. Not just a means from A to B, this is a civil engineering wonder of its time, a true piece of Hamburg heritage and an attraction in its own right. Allow me to introduce, the Old Elbe Tunnel.
At 24m deep and 426m long, the Elbe Tunnel was a technical marvel when it was opened in 1911. Due to its nature, it was protected from the bombing raids of WW2 and is today a lovingly cared for piece of Hamburg heritage. Having been a protected monument since 2003, on its 100th anniversary, the tunnel was granted the status of “Historic Landmark of Civil Engineering in Germany”. No ordinary tunnel, this.
The entrance can be found just steps away from the St Pauli piers. The domes that house the stairwells and lifts look like they should have been built for something grander than tunnel access. The beautiful blue and gold tiling of the entrance way wouldn’t look out-of-place in a swish hotel or department store. Assuming the tiling dates back to the birth of the tunnel in 1911, it seems Hamburg has always been a city with an eye for a thing of style and beauty.
The domes that mark the tunnels location house the stairways and lifts. You’d need to visit early or late if you want to get pictures, as the constant flow of people and bikes make it difficult to get a good shot. The old lifts look a bit fragile given that they were designed to get cars up and down, but were interesting to watch making their way slowly up and down. FYI, I’d take the stairs down and the lift up. Either the stairs are steeper than they look, or I’m not as fit as I’d like to think. Lets say the stairs are steeper than they look, hey?
The entrance domes also feature some beautiful tiling as you enter and around the dome as you descend, so take your time and take it in. It’s probably a sign that I’m getting old but I am coming to appreciate a good tile if I spot one on my travels. And also a good graveyard, but that’s another post. Rest assured there is nothing death or graveyard related to be found in the tunnel. But I digress…
Walking through the tunnel its easy to see why this space has been used for events and filming, it’s very atmospheric. It’s incredible to think about how many people have passed through this space and still continue to do so, from the dock workers for whom it made life easier when it was opened right up to the modern visitor like myself. So many people, and each one with their own story.
Although the tunnel is mainly tiled out in white, at intervals there are majolica tiles depicting sea creatures and maritime related images. Theres me appreciating a tile again. I’m not a fan of anything fishy, to be honest, I have fish issues ( f-issues?) but I did like the depiction of rats gnawing on a boot. It has something a little dark and pirate-ish about it.
Emerging on the opposite side to the St Pauli piers, you’ll find some great viewing points from where you’ll get different glimpse of Hamburg. The piers terminal building with its green domes is impressive viewed in full and from afar, looking across you’ll also see the Elbphilharmonie building. It’s a building that divides opinion but there’s no denying it has become a true Hamburg landmark… a bit like the Old Elbe Tunnel itself, really.
We spent a little while pottering around on the other side, trying to get the kids to soak up the views but they were more interested in a family of ducks we found. I don’t know…you can lead a horse to water. After a while we made our way back through the tunnel and spent a bit of time pottering around the St Pauli piers or Landungsbrücken as they are known locally. This area is a transport hub and home to some historic buildings so it has a lot of hustle and bustle. Perfect for people watching. We stopped off for a while at the Harbour Bakery for a coffee and donut pit stop. I felt like I’d earned it. I did take those stairs, after all.
The tunnel is free to visit for pedestrians and cyclists and always open, with the exception of New Years Eve.