German Infrastructure

Hamburg, Biggest German Port, Gains Amid Middle-Class Flight to Vacation Cruises

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The harbor in Hambur is Germany’s largest, and one of the biggest employers in the city.

  • Facts


    • Cruise travel is rising rapidly in Europe as ocean voyages become more affordable to middle-income consumers.
    • The city of Hamburg is building a new cruise line port terminal that will handle 8,000 passengers a day.
    • Hamburg is Europe’s third-largest ocean port harbor, after Rotterdam and Antwerp.
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Hamburg harbor_dpa
The harbor in Hamburg, Germany, along the Elbe River. Source: DPA


All signs point into the same direction: cruise tourism is on the rise in Europe, and especially in Germany – with thousands of visitors pouring into the country’s largest port in Hamburg.

And of course, Hamburg wants to tap into the trend and has started to build a new port terminal.

“The new terminal is important to welcome larger cruises,” said Lutz Birke, who is in charge of strategic development at Hamburg Port Authority. “We will have more space to accommodate the boarding and disembarkation of several thousand passengers,” he added.


“We will have more space to accommodate the boarding and disembarkation of several thousand passengers.”

Lutz Birke, Head of Strategic Development, Hamburg Port Authority
Ballons during an open house at Hamburg harbor. Source: DPA


The new terminal, Steinwerder, is going to be Hamburg’s third, next to Altona and HafenCity. The latest addition is scheduled to open next summer.

Hamburg is located along the Elbe river, 110 kilometers (64 miles) from where the river runs into the North Sea, hosts Germany’s third-busiest port in Europe after the Netherland’s Rotterdam and Antwerp in Belgium. The new Hamburg terminal will only cater to cruises and tourists, and is designed to handle up to 8,000 passengers per day.

“To go on a cruise is now as normal as going on any other vacation,” said Helge Grammerstorf, a consultant for shipping companies and a former captain himself. Cruises will become a natural part on the all-inclusive tourism menu, he added.

And indeed, German travel agencies and even discounter supermarket chains, such as Aldi and Lidl, are trying to undercut each other with lower prices for cruise vacations. While in the old days, cruises were considered an exclusive travel option, including elegant dinner parties in black tie with live music, those trips are now open for low-budget tourists.


The chamber of trade and commerce in Hamburg said that the cruise industry already generated €270 million last year and employs a total of 1,400 people.

According to Cruise Lines International Association, European cruise traveling went up by 4 percent to 6.4 million visitors in 2013 – in Germany the numbers grew by 10 percent or 1.7 million passengers in total – which makes Germany the largest cruise market euro-wide this year.

The chamber of trade and commerce in Hamburg said that the cruising industry already generated 270 million euros last year and employs a total of 1,400 people.

Cruise mass tourism started off in the late 1990’s with the arrival of Aida, a British-American owned cruise line based in Rostock port, a city in north-eastern Germany. The company was one of the first to affordable vacations on a cruise liner.

In 2004, another important milestone in the development of low-budget cruises reached Hamburg with the arrival of Queen Mary, which was welcomed by over 400.000 people at the time. Queen Mary, whose construction started in 2002, was once the largest and most expensive ship worldwide with a capacity of hosting more than 3,000 passengers. The liner is 350 meters or 1150 feet long and 70 meters (230 feet) high, and weighs of 50,000 tons. It cost € 800 million to build and comes, among others, with five pools, 14 bars and restaurants, a library, a cinema and theater. Today’s ships are even larger and can host up to 5,400 passengers.

10 years later, a total of 200 cruise ships are bound for Hamburg harbor every year, most of them during the summer months.

Hamburg’s harbor organizes festival days to attract more attention to cruises, such as the port’s birthday party and Cruise Days festivities. to take a cruise liners has become as common as taking a plane or bus, with Hamburg’s port website is featuring an arrival and departure board of cruise ships, just like the ones that airports have in their arrival halls.

Hamburg is welcoming the increase in tourism, because they hang out by the harbor, spend money in hotels, restaurants and shops and at best, spend a few extra days before and after their cruise.

But critics question whether cruise tourism is sustainable and will be worth all the effort and investment. While the city outlined its willingness to stem most of the € 80 million cost that the new terminal will require, it also demands € 9.25 from each customer that will pass through here.

“This is impossible,” Michael Ungerer, chief executive of the Cruise Lines International Association, which is also in charge of managing Aida’s cruises. “No customer will be willing to pay that kind of money in addition to the price of their tickets.”

Another problems that critics foresee are the logistical challenges that come with the arrival and departure of huge amounts of passengers. The new port is supposed to channel up to 8000 passengers every day – including their luggage and new supplies and fresh water for the cruise liners.

To prepare for the new challenges, port authority members are seeking help from airports and other European ports that deal with passengers more than container ships – such as the one in Barcelona.

The new endeavor will soon be put to the test after its opening, when Aida is launching its latest cruise ship, AidaPrima, in 2016, which is bound to leave Hamburg’s new terminal once a week – even during winter months. This will be the first time that a cruise ship is going to operate from Hamburg throughout the whole year.

Only if Hamburg is going to succeed in luring in tourists all year around, the terminal will be ready to compete on an international level.

“Future development in Hamburg will depend on how successful those all-year-round cruises are going to be,” said Mr. Meier.



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