Port Museums of Hamburg

We just came back from a trip overseas, and we visited several museums along the way. Two of these sites included the Maritime Museum and the Harbor Museum in Hamburg. When I first learned about both, I was curious as to the similarities between the two, and there turned out to be many striking differences.

We visited the Maritime Museum first. It is surrounded by (and is housed in) large red brick warehouses recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, which complements the comprehensive information the museum presents about all things shipping. It opened in 2008, and the overall design and flow of the exhibits is reflected in its recent inception. Much of the original structure was maintained while renovating the space for the museum, and the rustic columns and beams work nicely with the sleek glass cases and minimalist design used for the collections. The design of the space works well to highlight the objects. There are ten stories to visit, though we didn’t make it to all, and it would be easy to spend an entire day admiring the many amazing ship models, uniforms, buoys, and machines. I learned a lot about the history of shipping through this museum, which was a nice foundation for our visit to the Harbor Museum.

 Historic warehouse district

Historic warehouse district

 General exhibition design in the historic spac

General exhibition design in the historic spac

 Contemporary models on display

Contemporary models on display

 Parts of ships, mechanical engineering behind the vessels

Parts of ships, mechanical engineering behind the vessels

 Historic models with supporting collections materials

Historic models with supporting collections materials

The Harbor Museum is located is the harbor proper - across the Elbe from the city center and nestled into working spaces of the busy port. We ventured over by means of bikes, which was a great way of seeing more of the impressive infrastructure surrounding this museum. This site is also located in a former warehouse, but the presentation is much different than that of the Maritime Museum. 

Wandering inside, there are large industrial shelves filled with collections materials, some with labels explaining the contents. Scattered throughout, there are basic boxes with lights and plexi covers which hold groups of objects and labels. It feels more like storage than a traditional museum space, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Though the lack of climate control and protection seemed to cause stress to some of the materials, the space seemed much more lively than the Maritime Museum. There were individuals displaying their own model ships, and children and adults were “racing” model ships outside the main entrance. 

Outside, we wandered through their oversized industrial collections - cranes, railroad cars, and ships floating in the port. I was struck by how much freedom we were given; in the United States, we’d have to sign waivers and be supervised. It wasn’t always clear what was part of the museum and what was actually still in use - there was a basic map but no signs to guide the way. We ended up getting stranded under the cover of one of the warehouses when a thunderstorm let loose. 

 Exterior space, model ship race

Exterior space, model ship race

 Interior with model ship event

Interior with model ship event

 Collections on display and in storage

Collections on display and in storage

 Display cases

Display cases

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 Outside collections

Outside collections

 Historic cranes

Historic cranes

 Part of the museum? 

Part of the museum? 

 Caught in a thunderstorm  

Caught in a thunderstorm  

I’m glad we experienced both museums - one traditional which taught us a great deal, one untraditional which felt more like an industrial playground. It was nice to learn both through exhibition labels and through actual hands-on exploration. I think this speaks to the amazing range one can find within the museum world.