A lot of harbor towns have seen better days. As developed economies change and resources realign, industries and the cities or even regions they support quickly rise and fall like the very tide that sweeps in and out of the bay. Fishing isn’t what it once was. In the information age, seafaring, like many methods of transport, has become less important. And the seaports and harbor towns that went along with these industries are in dire conditions in several countries around the world.
Dusseldorf was one such town. Once a mighty shipping port and a key cog in European trade power from the late Roman Empire all the way through the second World War, Dusseldorf was named capital city of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia at the end of the latter. The second half of the 20th Century was not as kind to the city, however.
Like so many industrial cities, the seaports of Dusseldorf were those faced with the steepest decline as the Western economies shifted from manufacturing and transport to information and finance. When one of the city’s largest companies, Mannesmann, closed their operations, many lost their jobs and the harbor itself became dilapidated.
In a bid to bring the surroundings back to life, the East harbor has started the long, deliberate march toward redevelopment, which has already met grand success.
It’s a familiar story: As shipping companies and their associated docks, boats and equipment fall by the wayside, literally into the water they were built on, modern buildings are rising to take their place. Corporations and development firms looking for cheap land with a nice view create feeding frenzies as one after another snap up the abandoned waterfront.
Now, Dusseldorf Harbor is home to some spectacular postmodern architecture, including buildings by the architect most closely associated with contemporary status symbols signifying corporate success: Frank Gehry.
Easily the most famous buildings in the new-look Dusseldorf Harbor are three twisted constructions by Gehry, spiraling and stretching into the sky in his iconic style, their mirrored walls and matte white finishes symbolizing the modernist aspirations of the harbor. They may not be as obviously utilitarian as the shipyards of old, but the gleaming facades do illustrate the newly stated purpose of the local harborside industry.
Dusseldorf never lost its status as a hub of art, finance and business on the Rhine, and the declining harbor was out of step with the rest of the city for quite a while. But now, due to the redevelopment spearheaded by the Gehry buildings, a higher tide seems to be rolling back into Dusseldorf Harbor.
Know Before You Go
East Harbor, Dusseldorf Media buildings