by Petra Sophia Zimmermann
The Hafenamt defines Cologne’s harbour area to this day. Situated at the top end of the harbour basin, the solitary building is widely visible from all directions and represents a major landmark, with its tall, pointed clock tower dominating the skyline like a church spire.
Designed by Adam Sesterhenn in a neo-Romanesque style, the imposing, three-and-a-half-storey red-brick building was opened in May 1898 . Two mock-medieval façades with stepped gables flank the round turret on the corner facing Rheinuferstrasse . Romanesque revival style is also evident in details such as the window arches in pale sandstone and mullioned windows on the first floor.
To the south of the Hafenamt building is the former engine shed, another historic building from the working days of the harbour. To the east, on the Rhine-facing side of the Hafenamt, is the “Krafthaus”, the hydraulic engine house, which used to supply power to the cranes operating throughout the harbour. All this shows clearly how the Hafenamt and its surrounding buildings was once the hub and control centre of the entire harbour.
The development of the Rheinauhafen commenced with the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone on 16th July 1892. The new harbour made use of a natural feature, a long peninsula in the river Rhine known as “Werthchen”. Its town-facing side was partly removed and the river-facing side extended and structurally secured through a new harbour wall. The river arm to the south of the island was filled in and this is where the Hafenamt now stands. The harbour was opened in May 1898.
The overall urban planning was in the hands of town architect Joseph Stübben and architect Hugo Clef. A competition was held for the design of key buildings within the harbour. The brief specified a “medieval form” for the façade design. The Rheinauhafen was to add a new highlight to the famous Rhine panorama and the buildings’ historicist architecture was to serve as a reminder of the city’s long and glorious history.
Other historic buildings that remain are the Zollamt (the former customs office) – now part of the Imhoff chocolate museum – featuring Late Gothic and Renaissance elements, and the three Zollhallen (customs halls), whose neo-Gothic corner turrets and battlements were inspired by Cologne’s Gürzenich hall. The refurbished buildings have been largely converted into apartments and offices while one now houses the German Sports & Olympic Museum.
The Hafenamt remained as the only historic building still used for its original purpose as harbour office. In 2000, two years before the Rheinauhafen area was officially designated as a redevelopment site, the Hafenamt was remodelled by Cologne architects Gatermann & Schossig, integrating the engine shed via an extension building. Until 2014, the buildings were used by the Hafen- & Güterverkehr Köln AG (HGK), owners of the Rheinauhafen site since 1992. In 2014, the original parts of the landmark ensemble were sensitively refurbished by Michael Zimmermann architects and the newly-built section extensively remodelled and revitalised. Since the beginning of 2015, the Hafenamt has been operating as a unique office building and event space.
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