From harbour to harbour
The poet Dylan Thomas, Swansea’s most famous son, once described his small seaside birthplace on the scenic coast of South Wales as „an ugly lovely town“. Indeed, after having been almost completely destroyed by the blitzkrieg in the war, the town was rebuilt in the 70s with grey concrete facades and visually uninspiring architecture. Strolling out of the town centre towards the harbour today however, the resplendent Swansea Marina can not fail to capture the imagination of any visitor. Swansea Marina lies in the very heart of the city's redeveloped and award winning Maritime Quarter and is surrounded by a variety of restaurants, retailers and marine businesses, bordered by the city centre on one side and a stretch of sandy beach on the other.
Being born and having spent 20 years in Swansea, I set sail in 2007 for the shores of Hamburg and found myself once again drawn to the waterside, landing as I did in Hamburg’s picturesque Hafen City. What greeted me on my arrival gave me a distinctly nostalgic, home from home feeling. The sailing boats and yachts that had been the landmarks of the Swansea Marina skyline, were echoed in the Hafencity on a grander scale by the luxury cruise ships and tourist boats that waltz daily along the harbour, carrying throngs of holidaymakers, visitors and locals along the waterways.
The echoes of similarity do not end there. The majestic but controversial Elbe Philharmonic Hall, sitting atop an old warehouse in the Hafen City is due to represent a new cultural landmark for the city when it opens in 2013. Its modest, yet homely counterpart, The Dylan Thomas Theatre in Swansea Marina is the home of the Little Theatre Company, an amateur dramatics company that was once patronised by Dylan Thomas. Furthermore, the Maritime Quarter is home to the National Waterfront Museum, housing a replica of the world's first steam locomotive built by Richard Trevithick.
Since the Hafen City neighbourhood was assigned the official status of a quarter on 1st March 2008 (incidentally the same day as Saint David’s Day, the patron Saint of Wales) it has become a strong economic focal point of the city, with many international companies seizing the chance to unite their global outlook with the thriving and youthful vibe of the Hafen City. The area is currently home to the German headquarters of both Kühne & Nagel, an international shipping conglomerate, and Unilever. The Spiegel Group is building its new headquarters on the Ericusspitze and Greenpeace is expected to open its new headquarters in the Hafen City by 2011. In keeping with the international flavour of the area, the diversity of the area is ensured by people from all walks of life, be they professionals, retirees or young families moving into the many areas of pristine new flats which continue to spring up around this waterside oasis.
Just as the Hafen City is a project still blooming with fresh international ventures, so the growing Marina and quay area of Swansea is equally as alluring to new businesses. Building on the presence of local press agencies, 5 star hotels and high end restaurant chains, plans for £50 Million commercial and housing developments are already in the pipeline. In contrast to the Hafen City’s more up market housing however, the Marina is unusual in that planning approval was given on condition that a significant proportion of the development be sold to housing associations for social housing.
But one thing remains constant. Whether it is strolling along the waterfront in Swansea Marina or sashaying along the promenade in the Hafen City, there is a part of me that can call both these places home.
Training Coordinator, Institute4Languages