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Foundation of Bremerhaven (1827)

The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is traditionally a merchant and sea trade city, and so it suffered from silting of the River Weser which started in the 17th century. Especially the lower Weser section, a 60-Kilometre-stretch between Bremen and the North Sea was affected. A basin at Vegesack (situated downriver from Bremen) was constructed in 1619, but it did not solve the problem, and neither did some futile dredging efforts in the 18th century. Merchandise arriving from overseas destinations had to be transferred from ships into shallow-draught river barges at the port of Brake (about halfway between Bremen and the sea) and was transported in this way to the warehouses of Bremen.

But Bremen overseas trade flourished in spite of this after the late 18th century, mainly due to American independence (1776). This had at least questioned the mighty British monopoly in international sea trade, thus enabling outsiders such as the Germans to get a foothold in that most promising market.

But for this purpose, the necessary facilities had to be improved thoroughly. A new artificial harbour basis, preferably directly on the North Sea, would facilitate the mooring of overseas vessels. As far back as 1827 the Kingdom of Hanover had operated provisional port facilities on the River Geeste. However the statesmanship and historical merit of the Lord Mayor of Bremen Johann Smidt (1773-1857) consisted in the purchase of a strip of land on the right bank of the Weser River north of the mouth of the Geeste. That was accomplished after complicated negotiations with the surrounding Kingdom of Hanover. The contract was signed on January 11th 1827. In the same year, construction of an artificial basin was started. The later city name Bremerhaven means in German simply “The port of Bremen” and suitably demonstrates the foundation history of what has become today an urban region. Here a highly promising port community was growing – the deals were made by the merchants in upriver Bremen, the goods were shipped to and from the developing port downriver at the entrance to the sea. The distinctive Bremerhaven identity was born and developed. The city became politically independent in 1879 and this step laid the foundation stone for a somewhat self-governed urban community – albeit under permanent supervision by the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen.

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