Old Elbe Tunnel was opened to the public back in 1911 and it was considered an engineering marvel of the world.
Back then, it was called the St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel due to the area where the tunnel is located, but, like the St. Pauli neighborhood, a lot has changed in the last years.
When the Elbe Tunnel opened to the public, it was the first river tunnel in Europe. This engineering marvel was built to connect the central part of Hamburg to the growing harbor area with its docks and shipyards on the south side of the Elbe river.
At the time, the tunnel was such a massive improvement for the workers that tens of thousands of them used the tube daily in one of the busiest harbors in the world.
On each side of the Elbe river, four huge lifts are used to carry pedestrians, cars, carriages, and other motor vehicles. Under the river are two tunnels: one for pedestrians and another for cars. They are still in operation more than a century after it was opened.
They’re not as busy as they used to be since other bridges and new tunnels were built in this part of Hamburg. But, back in 2008, around 300,000 cars, 63,000 bicycles, and 700,000 pedestrians used the tunnel to travel under the Elbe river.
And you can join the statistics by crossing the Elbe Tunnel, which is open 24 hours for bikes and pedestrians.
A little bit of history from the Elbe Tunnel
Under the supervision of Philipp Holzmann, construction of the Elbe Tunnel started in July 1907. Connecting the neighborhood of St. Pauli to Steinwerder below the water table of the Elbe river, the tunnel was a marvel of engineering.
The construction was done under pressure to keep water from flooding the excavations, but this was a risk for workers since some of them would suffer from decompression sickness. Three men died of more than 4 thousand workers, 74 suffered severe cases, and more than 500 came down with lighter symptoms.
Since 2003, the Elbe Tunnel has been a protected monument, and on its 100th anniversary, the tunnel received the title of Historic Landmark of Civil Engineering in Germany.
The decorated tunnel walls are one of the most extraordinary things inside the Elbe Tunnel. They are made of glazed terra cotta and display ornaments related to the Elbe river.
Most of them are fish and crabs, but there are rats and some litter as well, which I thought was amusing.
The Old Elbe Tunnel
The Elbe Tunnel aka St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel
Bei den St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken,
20359 – Hamburg
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