Do people still walk under the underwater tunnel for daily commuting nowadays? Yes, they do, at least in Hamburg, through the Old Elbe Tunnel or St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel under the River Elbe. This tunnel was built due to the uniqueness of Greater Hamburg’s urban structure that has been growing around its major ports and old city area along the River Elbe, making the city being divided by the river almost equally into two regions.
Opened in 1911, the old tunnel now still functions as a pedestrian and vehicle tunnel. Designed based on the German technical consideration, Elbe Tunnel was built 24 m (80 ft) beneath the surface, 426 m (1,398 ft) long, as two tubes with 6 m (20 ft) wide in diameter, to connect the docks and shipyards on the south side of the river to the central Hamburg area (north side of the river). There are four huge lifts and additional staircases on both sides of the tunnel, carrying pedestrians, carriages and motor vehicles to and from the bottom.
The tunnel still operates daily, despite its limited capacity by today’s standards. The tunnel is opened 24 hours for pedestrians and bicycles. For motorized vehicles opening times are currently Monday to Friday from 5.20 AM to 8.00 PM, on Saturdays from 5.20 AM to 4.00 PM. The size of tunnel is still within a walking distance, therefore it is still frequently traveled by pedestrians, although they have other mobility options such by trains or ships to cross River Elbe, especially for those who live and work nearby in the area. As of 2008, approximately 300.000 cars, 63.000 bicycles and 700.000 pedestrians used the tunnel.
Elbe Tunnel is one of Hamburg’s city features that is still well preserved until now, and famously known as a tourism object as well. It is like a historic symbol that represents Hamburg as the oldest port city in Europe, and also German sophisticated underwater construction and engineering technology. The high daily numbers of bikers and pedestrians using the tunnel also signify that preserving this old and conventional tunnel is one of an important approach that orientates at people-oriented urban development.