More than a huge and fascinating museum, the Internationales Maritimes Museum (IMMH) has an amazing History, which starts with a personal collection and the passion of a boy for navigation. The International Maritime Museum (which I will call by its abbreviation IMMH), with its over 10,000 square meters, is one of the most interesting attractions of Hamburg.
We can start with the location: it’s located in one of the warehouses of historical Speicherstadt. The collection is so impressive that even those who are not very familiar with the subject get charmed by so many details and discoveries that this place has to offer.
The first of thousands
The History of this museum starts in the 1930’s, when the little Hamburg boy Peter Tamm, only six years old, gets a miniature motor boat made in lead from his mother and is enchanted by the toy. Born into a traditional family of businessmen in the navigation branch in Hamburg, the boy, used to the universe of ships, starts to dedicate himself even more to the collection and takes the hobby to his adulthood. But not only of miniatures the collection was made. Any artefact related to the maritime History was welcome: stamps, photos, maps, paintings, navigation instruments, etc.
As the collection grew, family and friends admired it, to the point where Mr. Tamm, already married with children, made the pieces available for an exposition in his own house. In the 80’s, there was no more space in the Tamm family mansion that wouldn’t place a piece of the collection, as family friends reported*.
Friends, companies and foundations then started to contribute to the collection, donating pieces with artistic or historical value. However, even though the collection was impressive and diverse, it was catalogued appropriately and it needed even more space. Not only for exhibition, but also for the maintenance of the artifacts.
The Kaispeicher B warehouse
Then, the idea of finding a venue to be a museum to the collection is born. Mid-2000’s, Hamburg offers Mr. Tamm the Kaispeicher B, an old warehouse silo at Hamburg harbor.
Before the construction of the Speicherstadt, Hamburg already had two big warehouses: Kaispeicher A and B. Nowadays, in the same place the first Kaispeicher A – destroyed in World War II – used to be, is the Elbphilharmonie. On the other hand, Kaispeicher B, even getting partly destroyed during the war, is still standing.
After some structural renovations, in 2008, the 19th Century building located in Speicherstadt officially became the headquarters of Internationales Maritimes Museum.
On the ground floor, next to the box office, there’s a specialized book shop, a restaurant called ‘Catch of the Day’, the souvenir shop and the lockers, which avoid the hassle of carrying coats and accessories during the visit. Beside the lockers, is the corridor to the internal patio, where a rescue boat, two mini submarines and Dutch cannons are exposed. From the patio there’s also a beautiful view from Hafen City and part of Speicherstadt.
The museum has 10 floors, and the last one is reserved for events. Since each floor is dedicated to a different theme, you can start from the one you think is the most interesting, but the recommendation is that you start from the top, which means, the ninth floor. And it’s in this order that I’m going to show the museum here.
On the ninth floor, we can find the miniature models of several Navy squads around the world. For you to have an idea, there are 40,000 ship models, most of them in a scale of 1:1250. A curiosity about this scale is that it represents the size of the ships as they are seen from approximately 2,000 meters high, which means, from an airplane pilot’s vision. That’s why such models, besides being easy to collect, were used to elaborate military strategies.
On this floor, it’s also exposed the miniature that started the whole collection.
On the eighth floor, my personal favorite, is the Marine art gallery, with paintings from German, Dutch, British and Russian artists, among others. Besides that, in the mezzanine we can find the “treasure chamber”: among the highlights, there are the rare ship replicas made of bones, by prisoners of the Napoleon Wars, silver and gold miniatures and even amber.
The seventh floor is focused in oceanography and marine research. The sixth floor is about life on board, whether in Merchant Navy or in cruises. Here you’ll find out how the cruise ships came from the mind of Albert Balin, a Hamburg businessman from the beginning of the 20th Century. A replica of the famous Titanic also couldn’t be left out of the collection.
The fourth and the fifth floors are all about War Navy and Navy weapons and uniforms. On the fifth floor, there’s a wing dedicated to submarines, with a window filled with models and, on the background, the sonar noises.
The third and second floors are about Navy construction and sailing. I really liked seeing some replicas of triremes, galleys, artifacts found on ships, and from the space dedicated to Lord Nelson.
The first floor is dedicated to the discovery era. There, we can find the head status of great discoverers, the navigation instruments and the cartography room (with the eighth floor, it’s also my favorite part). This wing is a little darker, so that the light won’t damage the original maps.
Other curiosities from the first floor are: the replica of Queen Mary 2 made in Lego by two Dutch artists that is 7 meters tall and has over 700,000 pieces; the museum workshop, open to the pubic; the navigation simulator, where you can lead a ship through the Hamburg, Rotterdam of Singapore harbors. The simulator can be used by visitors under supervision and it’s better recommended to adults.
In December, 2016, Mr. Tamm passed away. He was 88 years old. His dedication was such that, even taking care of the family business, Mr. Tamm never left his collection aside and, until days before his death, he visited his office at the Museum almost daily.
The International Maritime Museum is, for us, one of the best tips of what to do in Hamburg. There are tons of information about the Discovery era, Navy History and engineering, and about navigation in general. The collection is pretty wide and it has items from all the continents. Besides being very organized, the museum is also very beautiful and keeps elements from the original building, with its columns and wooden floor. Even those who don’t know much about the theme will be able to learn a lot during a visit.
Due to the size of the collection, I recommend you take at least three hours to visit the museum calmly. The Internationales Maritimes Museum is at Speicherstadt and, whether it’s before or after your visit to the museum, the region – which is Heritage by UNESCO – is worth a walk.
Koreastraße 1, 20457 Hamburg
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
On the Instagram account @maritimesmuseum there are tons of interesting information in English about the museum items.
- Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg Guide – Ed. Koehler
- Peter Tamm’s interview to the website www.worldwidewave.de