Container terminals | The stacking stars

Hightech made in Hamburg

They are the pulsing heart of the Port of Hamburg, the terminals and the quayside operating companies, the interface between land and sea. Almost 9,000 ships are loaded and discharged every year, round the clock, seven days a week. The cutting-edge terminals are without question the economic drivers for the handling facilities. They ensure the paramount importance of the Port of Hamburg as a global hub.


Technical innovation and automatic work processes facilitate high productivity and short lay times. Before World War II the cargo volume handled for one freighter in a Hamburg breakbulk shed was 900 tons in 24 hours; today in a container terminal around 32,000 tons. No wonder that today 98 per cent of breakbulk, from jeans and preserves all the way to computer tablets, reaches and leaves Hamburg in containers.

Hamburg is mega-ship ready

Today Hamburg has four modern container terminals. In addition, there are universal terminals, which handle containers and conventional breakbulk and vehicles. The first handling facility to be extended to become a container terminal was Burchardkai in 1967. The first gantry cranes could handle 12 – 18 containers per hour, today they can handle up to twice as many. With one lift they can take two 40ft containers or four 20ft containers, a weight of 110 tons, that can be compared to 70 medium-sized cars. At HHLA Container Terminal Burchardkai alone, there are 30 of these giants, half of them are ultra-large vessel cranes. These can be used to load and discharge the largest container ships in the world. They have 74-metre booms that stretch over the containership, a width of almost 60 metres with 24 rows of containers side by side.

New gantry cranes for Burchardkai, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

Driverless vehicles have long been reality here

The secret star of the Hamburg container terminals is in Altenwerder, between the South Elbe and the A7 highway. Here, at the turn of the century an automated container terminal was built, which then as now, with groundbreaking, innovative technology is unique in the world. Waterside loading and discharging of the steel boxes is carried out by semi-automatic gantry cranes. On land transportation is on driverless vehicles, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV), as if by magic the containers move from the cranes to the storage area. Driverless vehicles are not a vision but a reality and have been for many years. Highly developed software using 19,000 transponders in the terminal asphalt search for the shortest and most efficient route. The battery-driven AGVs drive themselves back to the charging station to re-charge their batteries.

AGVs operating at CTA, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

Half-automatic gantry cranes, Photo: HHM / Dietmar Hasenpusch

The Hamburg container terminals

HHLA Container Terminal Tollerort


Vessel capacity: 20,000 TEU+ / 400 m length+

Rows of containers per ship: 24

Draught: 15.20 m

Quay length: 1,205 m

(incl. 1 megaship berth)

more information

HHLA Container Terminal Burchardkai


Vessel capacity: 20,000 TEU+ / 400 m length+

Rows of containers per ship: 24

Draught: 15.30 m

Quay length: 2,850 m

(incl. 2 megaship berths)

more information

EUROGATE Container Terminal


Vessel capacity: 19,000 TEU+ / 400 m length+

Rows of containers per ship: 23

Draught: 15.30 m

Quay length: 2,080 m

more information

HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder


Vessel capacity: 14,000 TEU+ / 370 m length+

Rows of containers per ship: 23

Draught: 15.20 m

Quay length: 1,400 m

more information

Why is access to the terminals denied?

The container terminals in the Port of Hamburg are a high security area. First of all the goods stored are of immense value that have to be protected. Secondly entering the area is dangerous, equipment is at work, gantry and portal cranes, van carriers, driverless vehicles and thousands of containers form a very strange world. If you do not know your way around you can very quickly get into trouble. This is why it is not even allowed for the employees to walk across the terminal grounds. Transport is always with a vehicle or on marked paths.

But, for those interested who would like to visit this unique high tech terminal in the Port of Hamburg there is a way to see how it all works.

Port tour


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