ESPO Award 2021 shortlisted projects: Hamburg Port Authority

22 October 2021

The ESPO Award 2021 will go to the port managing body that succeeds best in playing a role in the recovery from the current crisis and in contributing to enhancing the prosperity of the city, local community and region. The winning port will demonstrate to what extent its focus and activities are essential for the recovery of the surrounding city and local community and which successful steps it is taking to assist in the social, cultural and economic recovery and prosperity of the city, local community and region.

The four projects that are shortlisted for this year’s Award are the projects of Port of Gdańsk Authority S.A. (Poland), Hamburg Port Authority (Germany), Port Authority of Valencia (Spain) and Port Authority of Vigo (Spain).

ESPO is proud to present the shortlisted projects before the winner is announced during the traditional ESPO Award Ceremony and Dinner taking place on 9 November in Brussels.

Hamburg Port Authority

Culture is Calling at the Port of Hamburg

ESPO: Congratulations! You have been shortlisted for the ESPO Award 2021! Could you briefly describe your project? 

For the “Culture is Calling at the Port of Hamburg” initiative we essentially made the port a stage. We opened large parts of the port for cultural events during the crisis while keeping the port running smoothly and reliably at the same time. To stand by our citizens and to revive Hamburg´s culture life in times of pandemic restrictions, we sourced deeply into opportunities for new concepts and events in the port which were in accordance with the measures to combat the pandemic. As a result, in 2020, there were 33.000 visitors at 81 events in our port, and we have expanded the programme further in 2021.

© Martin Foddanu / Cruise Gate Hamburg

ESPOHow has your project contributed to the recovery from the current crisis and to enhancing the prosperity of the city, local community and region? Could you tell us more? How does your project contribute to the societal integration of the port? 

Exceptional times demand exceptional solutions. We started the project in a time in 2020 when cultural events and live entertainment were almost unthinkable. The re-advent of cultural events brought joy, happiness and gave us all the chance to spend time “together”, again. The port and the community in Hamburg live in a symbiosis. For us, it felt extremely rewarding to be able to give something back to the community.

To make all this a reality, one decisive step was our total policy turn-around in opening industrial areas of the port to culture. Hamburg residents were able to experience their port in a whole new way. The port became a stage in the midst of cranes and ships. This also provides a new and positive image of the port. We are sure the “Culture is Calling at the Port of Hamburg” project will have a lasting effect in further strengthening the bonds with our neighbours in Hamburg and the region. Even though the port is situated in the heart of the city and is very much a part of its Hanseatic tradition, even though tourists discover the port on harbour cruises, new bicycle paths provide fresh perspectives, and our Cruise Days and the Port Anniversary draw thousands to the city, it was this “all the port is a stage” initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that added a whole new quality to the ties and bonds between the City of Hamburg, its citizens and the port. It substantially fortified our social licence to operate as a port. Opening parts of the port for cultural events was widely acknowledged as a major undertaking to benefit the city and its residents. We are pleased that it was received so well and that it could be continued this year.


ESPO: Could you describe the original and innovative character of your project?

To support Hamburg and its residents, we re-thought our role as infrastructure manager for logistics and industry and opened core areas of the port to culture, thereby expanding our vision of the port. For the first time, industrial zones were made available for events consistent with the coronavirus guidelines. Before, citizens could enjoy culture only at the margins of the port, in the music theatres, or during the Hamburg Port Anniversary. Opening the core areas of the port to the public for cultural events is something entirely new, because any port is first and foremost an industrial area, where industrial firms, turn-over companies and transport providers must be able to carry out their operations. Normally, the demands of these industries and the public are too different and this is also reflected in the governing laws and rules, and private contracts with port operators and industry. We overcame this “industry only” framing, pushing the limits of the possible further, thereby giving the public a new port experience, enjoying cultural events surrounded by ships and cranes.

We started the project during the first summer of the pandemic. The concerts were the first, with a big auditorium coming together again in the whole of Germany. To make this happen, we worked out special corona hygiene protocols at a time when vaccinations and a nation-wide adequate testing infrastructure were still far out of sight.

© Martin Foddanu / Cruise Gate Hamburg

ESPO: Why do you think your project deserves to win the ESPO Award 2021? 

Without live events, the cultural life of a society is particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and this is true for both sides, visitors and artists. Even though the supply by the port was running smoothly throughout the crisis, people in Hamburg and the metropolitan area were suffering mentally and socially from the “Corona Blues” and the lack of social events and live entertainment. In our eyes the “Culture is Calling at the Port of Hamburg” project is societal integration of the port taken literally, with the port feeding societal needs of citizens in times of hardship that go far beyond the physical supply of goods and commodities. We think that the “Culture is Calling at the Port of Hamburg” initiative also turned a potential soft spot – the closeness and hence emission proneness of a city port – into a virtue for Hamburg and its residents, for culture and artists at large. Access to the port was close and easy for everyone. So the events were quickly sold out. Also, looking at the sheer scale of events, the number of tickets sold, the continuity and popularity of the various events, this example of societal engagement of a port should be very hard to be equalled anywhere.

When we started to think about the “Culture is Calling at the Port of Hamburg” idea, we did not know whether this would work, if we could get all stakeholders in the port to agree, if staying in-line with the corona prevention rules would be possible for large-scale events, and so on; we were just driven by the vision and the wish to help, to do something in the port, to support our city.

So why do we think that our project deserves to win the ESPO Award 2021? Because it is innovative, because it brings together port and culture in a perfect way for the greater benefit of the people in Hamburg, and because it is an awesome, unforgettable experience to be at a concert or other cultural event against the breathtaking background of a large international seaport in operation.

“The port is not only a driving force in the city’s economy, but a strong partner in all areas. The strong ties between city and port have become even stronger in the crisis.”

Jens Meier, CEO of Hamburg Port Authority

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