Afrikahaus: a little bit of Africa in Hamburg
Afrikahaus was built between 1899 and 1901 as the company headquarters of C.Woermann, Woermann-Line and German East-Africa-Line, based on the original blueprints of Martin Haller. The new building replaced the residential and office buildings previously located on the site belonging to Joachim Forsmann, architect of the Hamburg new stock-exchange, along with the neighbouring Hamburg townhouse at Große Reichenstraße 31/35.
Martin Haller (1835–1925) ranks as one of the defining turn-of-the-century architects in Hamburg, who helped to shape its cityscape through his work on several office buildings and villas such as the Laeiszhalle (1908) the third Alster Pavilion (1874–1900), the Hapag Building on the Inner Alster (1903) Dovenhof (1886–1961) not to mention the Hamburg townhall (1897).
Haller made use of Afrikahaus's proximity to the harbour on the canal at Gröningerstraße as well as its proximity to the newly built Warehouse Quarter (start of construction in 1883) and the artistic design of the facades, in order to emphasise on C.Woermann's overseas trade-links. The result was a unique example of Hamburg architecture against an international backdrop.
Passing through the gateway in the facade of the building painted in the colours of the shipping company flag, and carrying on past the bronze statue of an African Wahehe warrior sculpted by Walter Sintenis, the entrance opens out into the courtyard of Afrikahaus.
The total rental space extends across 7,500 square meters, separated into one front building, two narrow buildings flanking the courtyard and the Elefantenhaus guarded by two cast-iron elephants (sculpted by Carl Börner).
After the second world war
The East and West wings of the building, as well as the wall mosaic in the inner courtyard were partly destroyed in 1943, whereas the canal on Gröningerstraße was filled in after World War II in order to create space for the then Ost-West-Straße, the modern day Willy-Brandt-Straße.
The building has been listed since 1972 and is the only original building in the Große Reichenstraße to have survived from this period.
Extensive reconstruction work was carried out by the architecture firm Frank M. Eßwein and completed in February 1999, serving to underscore and carry forward Martin Haller's original ideas into the modern era. The East Wing, which was destroyed in the war, as well as the Elefantenhaus were thus given a modern makeover and extended by several storeys.
Besides the main priority being to furnish the building according to the original period design, the refurbishment was carried out in close cooperation with the historic preservation society of the city of Hamburg. Thus, it was made possible to display characteristic features such as cast-iron pillars, vaulted ceilings and period-style doors, as well as the wall mosaic replete with African motifs, and the elephants at the main entrance in a functional yet evocative setting.
More information can be found on the Afrikahaus web site.