Finally it’s “”LIGHTS ON!” for the evening LICHTKUNST in the HAMBURGER SPEICHERSTADT on 2 October!

The evening artistic lighting will be put back into operation on 2 October 2023 on the fringe of the Civic Festival at the start of dusk.

You are cordially invited to join us! From 6 p.m. there will be a welcome for all interested parties at the Altes Zollamt (Alter Wandrahm 19 – 20) in the Speicherstadt. We would be delighted to have you with us when, after such a long break, we put Hamburg’s UNESCO World Heritage Speicherstadt back in the right light!

Since 1999, when the Speicherstadt illumination was first launched, the association’s board of directors has been looking into the question of how we, the Licht-Kunst-Speicherstadt e.V., can contribute to saving energy.

Although the light art in the Speicherstadt has been using mainly economical LED luminaires for years and is powered exclusively by electricity from regenerative energy sources, we did not let the compulsory pause for the light art imposed last autumn by the Federal Energy Saving Ordinance pass idly by, but instead took the opportunity to continue the conversion of the still existing older illuminants to energy-efficient LED luminaires, to further expand the still missing lighting and thus to be able to stage the light art Speicherstadt even more sustainably and broadly in the future.

You, too, can support us in this! Even with a small donation you make a valuable contribution to the renewal and early completion of the light art in the Speicherstadt!


The Speicherstadt is the traditional symbol of Hanseatic merchant power. After the abolition of the customs border in 2003, the Speicherstadt became the maritime centre of Hamburg and today functions as the historic edge of HafenCity and a hinge between old and new.

The successful idea of an artistic staging of the warehouses on the canals was born in 1993 and 1994. With the organisation of the International Light Forum by Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (then Hamburger Hafen und Lagerhaus AG) and subsequently with the theatre project “Der Hamburger Jedermann” by Michael Batz, the Speicherstadt was used as a stage for the first time and partially staged artistically.

In 2015, the world’s largest contiguous warehouse ensemble, the “Speicherstadt” and the neighbouring “Kontorhausviertel” together with the “Chilehaus” were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The illumination of the Speicherstadt every evening is the result of a coherent overall artistic concept and a permanent design process full of technical and organisational challenges, experiences and optimisations. The illumination gives the neighbourhood a unique sight in a sustainable, sensitive and yet highly appropriate way.

Wasserschloss © ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel
Wasserschloss © ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel


Michael Batz’s production of “Mozart Amerika” (1999) at the Speicherstadt theatre marked the breakthrough for the idea of a permanently illuminated Speicherstadt. For the story about the Mozart librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s stay in Hamburg (1801), the Speicherstadt was transformed into a grandiose open-air opera house. Theatre-goers rode on launches through the illuminated canals and listened to arias from “Don Giovanni”. This was the start of a first temporary lighting design of the unique facades, bridges, roofs, winch bonnets and gables.

It was possible to experience directly how the unique architecture can be staged through the medium of light. Michael Batz’s detailed lighting concept thus became the basis for the realisation of the lighting, which harmoniously combines the three factors of aesthetics, economy and environmental compatibility.

© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel
© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel


At that time, there was no reference whatsoever for the lighting concept of the Speicherstadt. A comparable lighting project of similar size and architectural sophistication, with the added challenges of historic preservation, had never been realised before.

In April 2001, the city of Hamburg experienced the implementation of this unprecedented project: an entire district was illuminated in the evening hours for the first time. Over a distance of 1.5 kilometres, the historic warehouse complex was transformed into a fascinating nocturnal panorama. Over 60 harbour launches celebrated this moment with a ship siren concert. Since then, the image of the illuminated Speicherstadt with its beauty, elegance and lightness has been carried from the city of Hamburg to all corners of the world.

No floodlight, no distance light, no light canonade: with the gentle illumination, the light mass becomes, as it were, an integral part of the neo-Gothic architecture. The Speicherstadt rises from the darkness. The richness of the area is carefully staged and bathed in a narrative light. The artistic illumination of the Speicherstadt uses the metaphor of theatre: the city as a stage, the viewer as a player.

Light and darkness accentuate perspectives, highlight target points, envelop the distinctive and typical elements of the architecture in a brightness appropriate to them.

The visitor can choose between different perspectives: The view from the Barkas-se, the view from street level and the view from the buildings themselves. All these lines of sight are incorporated into the lighting design, which directly reflects the character of the huge ensemble. The viewer is invited to constantly change his or her perspectives. The interplay between light and dark is a constant invitation to stroll and discover the wealth of detail in Speicherstadt’s architecture: filigree surface structures, figurative elements and a distinct colourfulness of the brick landscape await discovery. In many cases, the light also corresponds with the constant change of tide in the numerous canals of the Speicherstadt. Thus the lighting is reflected on the water surface, then the static, vertical light paths contrast their two-dimensional and moving counterpart.

© ELBE&FLUT / Heinz-Joachim Hettchen
© ELBE&FLUT / Heinz-Joachim Hettchen


The subject of the artistic light description is an urban ensemble designed by ten architects at the end of the 19th century. They all had a training of the so-called Hanoverian school of church building, which has become known in northern Germany under the name “Neo-Gothic” or also “Brick Gothic”. A conspicuous number of cathedral quotations have thus entered into the formal language of the warehouse landscape. Richness of detail, asymmetries, variations in the serial elements (oriels, gables, turrets, pointed roofs, winch bonnets) mark the characteristics and unique atmosphere of this “city of goods”. The colour of the building material used ranges from light yellow to blue-red, enriched by green or black glazed gemstones. Since the 1950s, war damage has been replaced by modern buildings, impregnation of facades has sometimes caused striking colour variations, renovated bridges stand with light corrosion coatings next to rusty dark ones.

As a horizontal urban massif, the Speicherstadt, vertically clocked by the rows of hatchways, criss-crossed by canals and accentuated by bridges, lay for a century as a scarcely entered foreign country and “dark beast” between the harbour and the city centre. A very sensual place, once fragrant with coffee and spices, today integrated into the process of careful and monument-preserving transformation according to the usage needs of our time. A place that today is used as a backdrop for numerous film and television productions due to its unique atmosphere and that hardly any visitor leaves emotionally untouched.

© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel
© ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel


Glare is avoided by mounting in luminaires that are suitable for listed buildings and are inconspicuous. The lighting is from the bottom to the top. Horizontal lighting points create the impression of great spatial depth. For this purpose, elaborate plans of the façades for the light distribution were drawn up on the basis of pictures.

The technical realisation is a triumph of low light. The average wattage for the entire Speicherstadt is 24, ranging from 13 watts in the area of the towers to 18 watts for the bridges and 35 watts for the facades. Only in isolated cases have 70 watts been used, for example to set buildings apart from one another. In general, not the two-dimensional but the structuring and sculptural elements have been emphasised. Structure, contour and cubature are the orientation features of the light description. The result is an extremely attractive design of light and dark, i.e. a modelling and picturesque treatment of the building ensemble, whose street names still recall the former neighbourhood of Dutch religious refugees. Thus, from an artistic as well as an art-historical perspective, a homage to the technique of chiaroscuro and its perfection in Dutch painting is quite intentional.

The original use of the buildings as warehouses became the co-author of the lighting design. The inner water axis of the canals, which is no longer used for the delivery of goods, made it possible to restrict the light to a single luminaire in each case, which transported the light along the individual floors up to the winch cover. The projecting parts of the façade with the light-coloured sandstone ends, the worn, rounded edges of the floors and the final round arches of the hatches thus stand out impressively, and the doors that are set back somewhat appear like portals of an entrance. The pictorial and the imaginative are gaining in importance. The memories retain something mysterious that they do not immediately reveal. The Speicherstadt is thus not a landscape of the first, fleeting glance. As a place of stored time, it preserves the richness of its impressions for the viewer who is rewarded for taking time for them.

The model for delivery from the street side, which is still partly active today, is called pairing. On either side of the winch lift, which is still in operation, two outriggers were placed above the public clearance. The overall greater brightness is also due to the location, facing the old town to the north. This is the representative side of the Speicherstadt, situated directly on the Zollkanal, it is developing into a promenade with restaurants, cafés and museums. At the same time, the Speicherstadt is increasingly developing and emphasising its portal function, towards the growing HafenCity, which – separated only by Sandtorkai, world-famous in the coffee trade – lies directly opposite to the south.

Omission became an important compositional element of the lighting design, both for the water and the city side: from the outset, the focus was not on complete illumination in order to preserve the darkness as much as possible and to avoid stereotypes. It was not a matter of lining up raised zebra stripes made of light next to each other, but of taking up and reproducing the living rhythm of the architecture in the light. This approach proved to be correct not only for the short, but above all for the long glances in the respective perspective gathers. From the different angles, the Speicherstadt never appears quite the same.

Another aspect of restraint concerns the development of ambient light and the renewal of street lighting. The more offices that are built, the brighter the place will become in the future. There should therefore be no competition between the interior light of the offices and the exterior light of the illumination, but rather a meaningful dialogue. The whip lanterns of the public street lighting prove to be extremely disturbing and should be replaced by contemporary fixtures. In the area of the façades, for example in “Block E” (the Speicherstadt is divided according to alphabetically designated blocks), historical light points were used, only the direction was changed in order to emphasise the textures of the brickwork. Proximity to the object and façade had definite priority. As a matter of principle, distance and surface light, ledge refractions and extraneous colours were avoided. Down-lights could not be used because of the glare, but also to exclude dramatic effects such as artificial “moonlight situations”. A silent spectacle that gives the place a quiet, nocturnal existence without dramatising or romanticising it.

All bridges are illuminated from the substructure of their construction. Installation is done from pontoons, which is not always easy given the tidal and current conditions. Illuminated by fluorescent lamps of 18 watts each, the bridges appear like magical sculptures, artistic objects full of lightness. Here in particular, the contrast between the luminous metal construction and the liquid reflection in the waterways is very attractive.

More than 1,100 luminaires are currently installed. The trend towards miniaturisation and energy efficiency of modern luminaires is absolutely positive, as the experience in the Speicherstadt clearly proves. Recently, a wide range of products have been retrofitted or installed with state-of-the-art LED technology. In this way, the project remains ecologically and economically sustainable and yet technically “state of the art”.


How is light art compatible with UNESCO World Heritage status and monument protection?

The concept and implementation of the lighting design were closely coordinated with the Hamburg Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments from the very beginning. All sections have been sampled and inspected in the presence of the acting Chief Building Director and a representative of the Monuments Office before the permanent installation.

Since 5 July 2015, the Speicherstadt and the neighbouring Kontorhaus district with the Chilehaus have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The illumination of the Speicherstadt has existed since 27 April 2001. It is not only compatible with World Heritage status, but has contributed to the success of the application as such.

How long do the LED luminaires last?

According to the manufacturers, the service life of LED lamps is a maximum of up to 100,000 hours (nominal value). Depending on individual usage time and external influences (including weather, vibrations, etc.), the actual service life may be noticeably shorter.

How many hours are the luminaires switched on per year?

In terms of daily operation, the illumination of the Speicherstadt is linked to the operating hours of the public lighting. In general, it is about 2600 hours per year.

Do the lights harm the animals in the Speicherstadt? Bats? Insects? Spiders?

During the 20 years of operation so far, no dramatic decrease in nocturnal fauna has been observed. Insects and spiders are still present in a noticeable way. No information is available on bats.

Does the stray light have negative effects?

Care has been taken to ensure that directional light is used, i.e. that scattered light effects are minimised as far as possible. There have been no complaints in the past years.

What happens during storm surge?

Depending on the water level, the Speicherstadt bridges or the applications installed there may be affected. Although special damp-proof luminaires are in use, complete failures can occur in the event of corresponding flooding.

Luminaires installed on the façades have not been damaged by wind so far because of the stable cantilevers.

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