Alter Elbtunnel

Old Elbe Tunnel - St. Pauli Elbtunnel


Useful Information

The port of Hamburg at the Elbe, the Elbtunnel crosses this port undergound.
photography
entrance building.
Location: Hamburg St. Pauli, Landungsbrücken.
Public transport: U3, S1, S3, Station Landungsbrücken
(53.545903, 9.966823)
Open: For pedestrians: 24/7.
For cars: currently closed.
Large Freight Elevators: Mon-Fri 5:30-20, Sat, Sun 10-18.
[2000]
Fee: For pedestrians: free.
For cars: currently closed.
[2000]
Classification: SubterraneaTunnel
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=448,50 m, D=23,50 m
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography:  
Address: Alter Elbtunnel, Bei den St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken, 20359 Hamnburg-St. Pauli, Tel: +49-40-42847-4812.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

22-JUL-1907 construction started.
07-SEP-1911 inuguration
1995 start of the renovation works.
2003 declared a Cultural Monument.
2019 Because of renovation work in the west tube closed to motor vehicles until further notice.
2026 Reopening planned

Description

Inside the Elbtunel.
photography
in the tunnel.

The Alter Elbtunnel (Old Elbe Tunnel) is a monument to the history of technology and was declared a Cultural Monument in 2003. It connects St. Pauli Landungsbrücken with the harbour island of Steinwerder. It was built to enable the workers employed on the island to reach their workplaces regularly, on time and regardless of the weather. And to this day it is also used for precisely this purpose. Previously, St. Pauli and Steinwerder were connected by ferries, which could not operate in bad weather, for example fog or ice, and also greatly increased the volume of traffic on the Elbe.

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Entrance of the elevator.
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The elevator going down.

Square stone buildings with domed roofs serve as entrances on both sides. Four imposing stone portals with pillars and a gable above allow cars to enter and leave the building. Below the building is a circular access shaft in which four big lifts for cars and two glass passenger lifts are installed. The hydraulically operated lifts climb 24 m to the level of the tunnel tubes. However, the car lifts can also be used by pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, there is the possibility to reach the bottom of the shaft on a staircase with 132 steps. The tunnel itself consists of two parallel, white-tiled, 426.5 m long tubes, each with a lane for cars and a footpath on both sides. Vehicles use the right-hand tube, pedestrians the left.

Originally, a power station was built in Steinwerder to operate the lifts. In 1911, electrification had not yet progressed far enough. Three diesel generators provided the necessary power for lifts and lighting.

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Alter Elbtunnel, Hamburg, Germany.
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Alter Elbtunnel, Hamburg, Germany.

After its opening, the Elbe Tunnel was a fast transport route and of integral importance for crossing the Elbe within the city. However, two events in the 1970s changed that, the crisis of the shipyards, which greatly reduced the number of pedestrians, and the construction of the new Elbe Tunnel, which greatly reduced car traffic. The tunnel went from being an integral transport infrastructure to a tourist magnet. And that is not insignificant; after all, it was used by almost two million people in 2019. However, the operation is uneconomical due to the old technology, which is very labour-intensive. Therefore, it was rightly decided not to charge an entrance fee for its use. No matter what price was charged, it would never cover costs.

And on top of the ongoing operation, there are the considerable costs for the urgently needed renovation of the tunnel after 100 years. Since 1995, the Old Elbe Tunnel has been undergoing extensive restoration. The shaft buildings on both sides have already been completely restored inside and out. On the St. Paul side, the dome was given a new copper skin and the windows were faithfully restored. The renovation of the east tube was completed in spring 2019, with enormous technical problems, took longer and was more expensive than originally planned. In the meantime, the renovation of the west tube is underway and the reopening is planned for 2026.

The tunnel was built by master builder Otto Stockhausen. The entrance buildings were designed by architect Otto Wöhlecke, who also designed the adjacent landing bridges. In keeping with the taste of the time, the imposing tuff entrances were in the style of representative historicism. This includes a domed roof, large windows, sculptures on the walls and an open steel construction with the cages. Reliefs depicting fish and other aquatic animals are also repeatedly interspersed in the tiles of the tubes. Technical construction and beauty were to be united in one building. The shaft building in Steinwerder originally looked exactly like the one in St. Pauli, but there was an intentional difference. St. Pauli was built of tuff and the sculptures on the walls showed engineers, Steinwerder was built of red brick and the sculptures showed workers. Steinwerder, however, was destroyed in the Second World War and rebuilt in 1952 as a purely functional building.

The working conditions were less beautiful; after all, this was the first "underwater tunnel" on the European continent and a technical sensation. Using the shield driving method, which was still new at the time, the tubes were driven through the wet subsoil of the river. But the dangerous work was not the main problem. To prevent water from penetrating, the work was carried out under positive pressure. At that time, medical science had not yet gained much experience with the diver's disease, and so, despite the efforts of the Bornstein medical couple, 700 workers had symptoms of the diver's disease, and three died of it.