Inside the Box | The whole world in a box

Life packed into 20 feet

Do you know where the clothes that you are wearing came from, or the mobile phone in your pocket, the fruit in your dessert? Many things we use every day have a long journey behind them, or to be precise, a long journey on a ship, since ocean transport is responsible for carrying most world trade. Almost seven billion tons of cargo is shipped around the world every year, accounting for more than 95 percent of total world trade. A huge amount, hard to even imagine. But what does that mean for us as consumers? Let’s take a look in our kitchens, for example. Our menus would look pretty boring if we left out all the imported foods. It seems natural to buy bananas, avocados, American steaks, Asian noodles, and wine from Chile in a German supermarket. And it’s the same for consumers around the world who buy German beer, Swiss cheese, or Mozart chocolates from Salzburg, Austria.

But it’s only possible because of containers, since no other form of transport is as efficient, reliable, and above all inexpensive. While on the average the cost of maritime transport made up ten percent of the total price in 1970, now its share is down to just three percent, in many cases even much less. For instance, shipping a bottle of wine from Chile to Germany costs about 16 cents, hardly more than transporting wine from France.

Containers carry a lot more than just consumer goods. German industry gets essential raw materials and component parts from all over the world, as well. Chemical products, metals, paper and forest products… – nowadays almost everything that is not too big or too heavy is packed into containers. There is no end in sight. The world’s population continues to grow, urbanization is increasing, prosperity growing, technology progressing. Thus, world trade and the global division of labour will keep increasing, as well. Shipping hubs like the Port of Hamburg are an essential part of this.

Container packer, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

How much can you fit into a container?

229,000 newspapers

A 20-foot container can hold 27 tons of paper, enough to print about 229,000 copies of a popular Hamburg newspaper “Bild” (in fact, that newspaper only prints close to 214,000 copies each day).

8,000 sneakers

Around 8,000 pairs of sneakers fit into a 40-foot container. Even if you wear a new pair every day, it would take you 22 years to get through them all.

10 million cigarettes

About ten million cigarettes fit in a 40-foot container. That would be worth two million euros in tobacco taxes for the government.


2.7 million almond cookies

A 20-foot container can hold about 22 tons of almonds, enough to use in baking 2.7 million cookies.

28,000 litres of beer

Almost 28,000 litres of beer can be shipped in a 40-foot container. Every year, people drink about 7.5 million litres at the Munich Oktoberfest. So it would take 268 40-foot containers to supply all the beer drunk at the world famous festival.

6.3 million cups of coffee

21 tons of green coffee beans are shipped in a 20-foot container. After roasting, they weigh about 18 to 19 tons and can be used to brew about 2.5 million cups of coffee. But since the Germans drink about 6.3 million cups per hour, a container full of coffee beans is only enough to last 23 minutes.

The secret of perfect bananas

Germany is literally a banana republic. No other European country loves this fruit as much. On the average, every German eats around 17 kilograms of bananas per year, making bananas Germany’s second favourite fruit, just behind the local apples. About 1.4 million tons are imported every year. The Port of Hamburg is the most important seaport for this trade. It takes an impressive amount of logistics to ensure that there are sweet, ripe bananas in the supermarkets every day. Bananas used to arrive in the port as breakbulk cargo in reefer ships. With containerization, they are now more often shipped in refrigerated containers that keep a constant temperature throughout transport. Their first stop in Germany is the special Edeka Fruchtkontor Nord facility right in the middle of the Port of Hamburg. This is the largest and most modern warehouse for controlled ripening of bananas, which is necessary since the bananas are as green as grass and inedible when they reach the port. They ripen gradually in the port and in four to six days they are ready to be delivered to the stores. The Edeka fruit facility handles around 75,000 boxes of bananas per week, about 75 truckloads.

Gentle ripened bananas, Photo: HHM / Stefan Breitenbach

Hamburg, the coffee capital

What better way is there to start the day than with a cup of hot coffee? Almost 60 per cent of Germans drink this aromatic brew many times a day. That makes about 162 litres per head per year. Here coffee is more popular than the essentially German beer (104 litres), and even mineral water (148 litres). Germany is the third largest coffee consumer in the world and Hamburg the most important port for green coffee imports in Europe. Every year some 700,000 tons of the green, unroasted beans are imported through Hamburg in containers. At the same time about 400,000 tons of raw products leave the port to supply neighbouring countries in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Hamburg’s importance as a coffee port stretches back a long way. The first coffee house was opened in 1687. The trade boomed and with the building of the Speicherstadt, warehouse district at the end of the 19th century sales soared. The warehouse district was not only home to the coffee stores, with their own block for coffee traders, but also to the first coffee exchange in the world. Whoever drinks a cup of coffee enjoys a taste of Hamburg.

Control of green coffee, Photo: HHM

Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. (HHM)

Pickhuben 6

20457 Hamburg



In co-operation of

Hafen Hamburg Marketing e.V. (HHM),

Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG and

Hamburg Port Authority AöR