Altona-Ottensen - urban and economic transformation happening before our very eyes

22 March, 2023

The urban development and associated economic transformation of Altona-Ottensen was and still is as vividly obvious as if a spotlight were trained on the district. It is probably clearer and more immediate here than in many other places. Up until the end of the 1980s this area close to the banks of the river Elbe was actually a bustling fishing port. For a rigging manufacturer like Mewes and von Eitzen their location right beside the port secured their bread and butter for decades. The route known locally as the "shellfish tunnel" dug through the geest hillside facilitated the transport of fish to the centre of Altona-Ottensen up to the 1990s. But by that time the fishing port was in fact already stone dead. By then even the national trawlers had permanently migrated to Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven, and later to the Netherlands and Denmark.  

Up on the geest ridge in Ottensen the landscape for the local smaller and medium-sized enterprises was changing ever more rapidly. The establishment of new uses and construction designs was quite impressive. One well-known fish processing business, the firm Friedrichs, was vacated its long established location in the Borselstraße around the turn of the millennium. Today, a mixed use district has been established there with classy architecture reminiscent of the English style. Meanwhile, after an arduous and drawn-out journey and establishment of alternative locations, fish processor Friedrichs closed down completely at the end of 2022. A heavyweight like machine engineering firm Fette, previously located at Spritzenplatz, departed relatively early for the town of Schwarzenbek. Later, in 1979, ship propeller manufacturer, Zeise, located in the Bahrenfelder Straße, also closed down. After standing empty for a while, a cultural centre established itself on that site. For a time, a major toy seller was renting the premises of Fette. In the early 2000s, after tussles with historic monuments and building authorities, this prime and densely concentrated area was brought back to life by a project developer.

Construction of the new flourishing shopping centre Mercado, which opened on Ottenser Hauptstraße in 1995, was a political hot potato at the time. The Hertie department store on the premises previously, which had been approved for the demolition, had in turn been built on the site of a Jewish cemetery. It was only after the intervention of a senior rabbi that an acceptable compromise was reached: the earth remained largely undisturbed and planned underground car park was replaced by a parking deck.

But it was by no means just the actions of the major players that transformed Altona-Ottensen. The smaller-scale paint factories once essentials to the shipping industry also closed their doors. Although companies like Maleco were able to continue operations from another commercial area relatively close-by in the Schützenstraße thanks to valuable business development support, in the narrow confines of the traditional at the junction of Fischers Allee/ Holstentwiete production was becoming progressively more difficult - also due to the constraints imposed by authorities. Another conflict was the close proximity of production and living space. Designation as a mixed-use area facilitated the transformation of this production location into a residential district and the project was definitively realised by a long-established local hero of the Hanseatic property market.

For the automotive industry Toyota Autopartner, situated on nearby Am Born, life already became uncomfortable around the turn of the millennium. Here it was not unhelpful for redevelopment of the site that the commercial properties immediately adjacent on the Erdmannstraße were constructed of obsolete materials. And so the building society Altonaer Spar- und Bauverein eG was given the green light for its residential building project in the sought-after centre of the district - a project that also made more financial sense.

And here the author wants to make a cut.

The story of Altona-Ottensen`s transformation is still ongoing. It`s more of a never-ending story. On the the other side of the railway station site that still dominates the area, a part of the new town centre "Neue Mitte Altona" has now been created. A very densely-developed district with a large proportion of sealed surfaces. More green areas would probably have been desirable. The neighbouring premises of the Holsten brewery has turned into a problem case, but the current focus of activity is relocation of Altona`s railway station to Diebsteich.

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