Hamburg locks 2 – The Town Hall Lock

The Town Hall Lock

From the River Elbe you need to pass – after the Schaartor Lock – the Town Hall Lock in order to reach the Inner Alster Lake. This lock is located at the town hall square between the Small Alster and the Alsterfleet (Alster Canal) and therefore is the main outlet of the Outer and Inner Alster Lake. Since the Alster steamers need a depth of at least 1.4 metres, the water level above this weir is constantly kept at around three metres above normal. This area includes the Inner and Outer Alster Lakes, the canalised course of the river up to the Fuhlsbüttel Lock and its connected canals.

Through its construction in 1846, after the Great Fire, the then called Alster Lock made navigation between Alster and Elbe possible for all contemporary launches, barges and lighters – at the beginning with only one lock basin of around 24 metres. Since its extension in 1890, the Town Hall Lock has two cabins with a length of 35 metres and a width of 7.2 metres each, so that current Alster steamers and barges as well as sport boats can be sent through the lock. Also here, the outflow of Alster water is interrupted during operation of the lock and is only carried out at night, in order to keep the entrance area of the lock as clear of currents as possible for the ships. Over night it is being reduced what has been dammed during the day with around 1 cm per hour. The adjustment of the gauge is called “to pull water”.

Especially at the beginning of February it became important, what happened for the first time already in 1921: the sluice gates were equipped with an electric drive and the elements with heating systems to protect them from freezing (until then, the sluice gates had been operated manually). The new construction of the lock in 1973 added generators to cover its own energy demand with water power of the Alster. Since 2013, the lock-keeper is able to observe and operate the lock remotely, thanks to the converted electrical switchgear for a semi-automatic operation of the lock. Before that, a hand and an ice pick was needed to remove ice and snow. Since the renovation of the town hall square in 1982, the Schleusenbrücke (lock bridge) serves as pedestrian crossing.

Try a Waterway Trip of the Alster-Touristik. You will be sent through the town hall lock and also the Schaartor lock on your way between Alster and Elbe.


I would love so much to take you through the Hanseatic city as a certified tourist guide on a city tour, but unfortunately, we are currently not allowed to do so. New in my programme are therefore online tours, onto which I can take you comfortably from home! Feel free to contact me to arrange a “presential” guided tour later this year or an online tour. I’m looking forward to your ideas or you can just have a look at my Hamburg Tours to see, which of my city sightseeing guided tours suits best your taste.

Alsterfleet (Alster Canal)

Situated between Alster and Elbe, the Alster Canal has been the main outflow of the Alster into the Elbe since the end of the 19th century. It is the only continuously navigable connection between Alster and Elbe. The mouth of the Alster river into the Binnenhafen (Inside Port) of Hamburg can be found at Steinhöft (close to Baumwall metro station). From here upstream it is about 1,000 metres to the Small Alster (Kleine Alster) behind the Town Hall Lock.

Still today, Alster steamers (no steamers anymore in reality) and barges as well as private boats, like sailing boats, pass through the Alster Canal. Installed in August 2020, the Grüne Schute (Green Barge) is now moored in the Alster Canal. Belonging to the project Lebendige Alster (Living Alster, with supporters like NABU Hamburg, BUND Hamburg, Aktion Fischotterschutz), whose aim it is to further explore the habitat of the Canal, raise the public awareness for it and improve the living conditions of small and microorganisms, they also offer guided visits on board and along the Alster Canal.

Alsterschleusenwärter (Alster Lock Keepers)

The idea of the honorary Alster Lock Keepers as a symbolis causa award for people who open the gates for Hamburg in the world, was born here in 1981. Originally an idée fixe for Public Relations of a restaurateur from Hanover who had just arrived in Hamburg, the presentation of this award has evolved into an annual event widely spoken of. For historic reasons, the City of Hamburg does not present any awards and now a private initiative is filling this gap.

As Honorary Alster Lock Keepers, the honoured person receives not only a certificate but also a medal, which is a reproduction of the official ID badge of the Alster Lock Keepers. Until 1906, this former badge was part of the uniform’s hat. One specimen is today being kept in the Museum of Hamburg’s History.

The Alsterpavillion is called the residency of the Congregation. This is where the circle of friends of the Congregation, consisting of opinion disseminators from all areas of the Hanseatic City. Awarded as Honorary Alster Lock Keepers in the last years were Hamburg celebrities like Freddy Quinn, Heidi Kabel, John Neumeier, Jan Fedder and Michael Batz but also less known people like Jürgen Roland, Gern Prantner, Annemarie Dose or the Quartet of Salut Salon.