The beginning of the 20th century marked a time at which large residential blocks were built for the workers who lived and worked on the Elbe island. A lot has since changed over the years, but the red brick residential structure covering several blocks designed by Schumacher has remained and is still an essential characteristic of the area. The following is an attempt to introduce the social fabric and urban structure of the Veddel in order to understand the context to which the workshop participants were exposed and that they conversely researched into during their time in Hamburg.
Where is Veddel?
‘Wir sind die Insel... in Hamburg... Wenn wir die Brücken weg denken, dann haben wir unser... unser Land!’ (‘We are the island… in Hamburg. If we ignore the bridges, we have our… own land!’, A Veddel resident, 2008) The Veddel lies in the northern part of the Elbe Island. The area is often and plausibly characterized as an island. Although it isn’t surrounded from all sides by water, it is nevertheless fully enclosed by highways and railways apart from water.
Veddel and its built environment
Before Schumacher started to build his housing development for workers, Veddel was already inhabited by workers who lived with their families in garden houses (in German known as Garten-Siedlungen). Later Schumacher also designed houses for workers alone (not including their families). Hence, these apartments were small and most of the time bathrooms were shared between apartments (Uetzman 2009).
In the 1990s the SAGA (the Siedlungs Aktiengesellschaft Hamburg, or Housing company Ltd Hamburg) who had acquired most of the buildings on the Veddel island over the years invested into the structure of the apartments, transforming them into more suitable sizes for small German families. Already back then, the Veddel was populated by a significant number of migrant families (Statistikamt Nord 2012).
Who then lives on the Veddel?
The Veddel is very diverse, given that people from 158 countries live there. At 70 % Veddel has the highest concentration of foreign inhabitants and immigrants in Hamburg (Statistikamt Nord 2012). The island therefore is home to many different languages and cultures. A closer look at the demographic structure of Veddel shows that in comparison to Hamburg, the concentration of children under 18 years of age is the highest on the Veddel (Statistikamt Nord 2012). The community fabric of the Veddel is notorious for poverty and diversity due to immigration. While this partly results in very strong bonds and connections between inhabitants and their island, this also reflects in missing weak ties that are sometimes important to build those bridging elements for individuals’ social capital.
Various pressures have resulted in the creation of ethnic enclaves and niches on the Veddel. It is an extremely diverse, heterogeneous, yet partly segregated and divided place.
Despite all its potential, the Veddel has been regarded to be on the verge of creating a ‘parallel “fundamentalist” society’ since 2003 (Uetzmann 2009). Such a belief has driven out a lot of residents who could afford to do so, resulting in a depreciation of the rents, conversely making them affordable for newly arriving migrants and poorer Hamburgers.
This status quo confronted us with such questions as, for instance, what kind of boundaries have been created between the Veddel and Hamburg, but also within the Veddel and what methods of adaptation have been used for building such barriers? How do the imperatives set by institutions affect the neighbourhood? And how can the potentials of the island be uncovered? Where are formal and informal neighbourly activities to be found? And most importantly: what can we learn from these?