The origins of the Gängeviertel were small one-story houses called “Buden” which were put up in the courtyards of the Altstadt from the 16 th century onwards. These homes for the poor were accessible through a passage in the front building. In the 17 th century their construction spread to Hamburg’s south and a small Gängeviertel emerged on the Kehrwieder-Wandrahm island. The newly constructed city walls now encircled the Neustadt, where former gardens were rapidly used for the construction of new buildings and existing garden houses were usually incorporated. This marked the beginning of the Neustadt Gängeviertel.
When land to build upon ran out, the existing one-story Buden were topped up, and in the process the houses grew more and more into the streets. While the name Buden for ground floor apartments stuck, the newly topped up floors were called “Sähle”, which were accessible through a separate door and a narrow stairway. In this manner, many half-timbered houses were topped up to four of five floors. In 1866, the city counted 4462 Buden, 8043 Sähle and 3597 basement flats. The Gängeviertel of the Altstadt alone housed 25,000 – 26,000 inhabitants.
Today, the classical architecture of the Gängeviertel can still be visited in the neighboring Bäckerbreitergang, which consists of a front house and half timbered-topped up Buden. However, in the area today known as Gängeviertel the resemblance to its historical precursor is limited, despite the 17 th century half-timbered house called the Loge. Instead, the neighborhood consists of various architectural styles from four centuries: from workers homes in the Schierspassage to more bourgeois “Gründerzeit” houses on the Caffamacherreihe.
Even though the contemporary Gängeviertel doesn’t consist of half-timbered houses, it still has one thing in common with its historical precursor: the houses are very close to each other and connected by a network of courtyards and pathways that still inspire the feeling of the former Gängeviertel labyrinth.