Already in the 16th century, Hamburg’s 40,000 inhabitants made it one of Europe’s biggest cities. The strong new city walls, constructed between 1616 and 1628, encircled the area of the contemporary Alt- and Neustadt and can be traced following street names such as Holstenwall, Gorch-Fock-Wall, Millerntor, and Dammtor (“–tor” designating the gates in the wall).
Its relative safety made Hamburg the destination of choice for many who fled the turmoil of war and revolution in the following centuries. During the course of the Thirty Years’ War, the city population grew to 70,000 inhabitants, and by the time of the French Revolution it had reached 100,000. Former gardens and courtyards were filled with houses to accommodate the new inhabitants.
The occupation by Napoleon’s troops in 1811 had damaging effects on Hamburg’s economic and population growth. Nevertheless, Hamburg grew to 200,000 inhabitants by the middle of the 20th century. Many of the new citizens were housed in the narrow, maze-like neighborhoods of the Alt- and Neustadt. One-story houses, which had been built quite chaotically into former courtyards, were now topped up to house a steadily increasing number of people. In this way the “Gänge” (passages) were created, which gave these neighborhoods their name. Gängeviertel were not only found in Hamburg but also, for example, in Lübeck or Kiel.
An important factor for the growth and extend of Hamburg’s Gängeviertel was the Torsperre (gate lock), which meant the charging of a fee for the opening of city gates by night. It had gradually replaced the complete lock down of the city by night since the early 19 th century and was in place until 1860. While the Torsperre was an important source of revenue for the city, it also resulted in more and more people settling inside of the city-walls and therefore in the already crowded Gängeviertel. The abolition of the Torsperre and the guild system in 1864 paved the way for Hamburg’s development to a modern metropolis. During the time of their biggest extension in the 19 th century, there were three Gängeviertel in Hamburg: one in the Altstadt, where today the main shopping streets Mönckeberg- and Spitalerstraße are located, one in the southern Neustadt, where the Speicherstadt has been built and one in the northern Neustadt, which stretched from the Valentinskamp to St. Michael’s Church Kirche.