As the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg is armed with the second biggest port in Europe, keeping no one wondering how the city is flushed with opportunity, money and visitors. A sovereign state before joining Germany in 1871, the region used its geography wisely, developing a tax-free haven providing long lasting advantages for shipping companies and the wealthy families that became attracted to the area.
Today, a very liveable city, Hamburg is both picturesque and risqué from its multimillion-euro harbour views to the deep and seedy nightlife of the Reperbahn. Not without turmoil, the city has been close to grounded twice with the Great Fire of 1842 destroying more than half of the city and through several Allied bombing firestorms during the Second World War. Fortunately, surrendering to the British early in 1945 saw the city develop quickly in the post war years reconfirming it’s status as a global hub of sea trade.
It is easy to spend a lot of time exploring the growing city with such a diverse range of activities and tasty stopovers available. Rich in history and style, the city is covered with unique architecture from the new harbour side project which is still heavily under production to the Chilehaus – a brick expressionist style building designed by Fritz Höger in 1922 to resemble an ocean liner. The cities affinity with architecture is hard to miss; travelling through the city scape it is easy to spot many Chilihaus inspired buildings – ships on land – dedicated to the industry that made the town and of course the new hafen which is lined with over 100 apartment buildings all designed by distinctly varied architects from around the world.
Hamburg is a proud city and has preserved many of the old city elements, many of which lie under sea. The Elbtunnel, at a stretch of just 1.5km, is an underwater motorway formally used for dockworkers to drive under the Elbe River for their shifts. Today, a new tunnel is in use at the other end of the harbour and whilst cars can still use the Old tunnel, on weekends it is closed, operating as a museum for foot and pedal traffic. The tunnel is under refurbishment in stages throughout 2015, but it is accessible to view the detailed tiling works, murals and to walk the length for spectacular views of the city from the other side.
The Hamburger Flacktürme or bunker in St Pauli is a wartime above ground bunker built using concrete resulting in four large and dominating cylindrical structures joined together by a square making it one of the largest bunkers ever built. Used for military advantage points during the Second World War the bunker was so indestructible it became safe havens from allied shelling for the public. Prevented from destruction by the city in the post war years, today the structure is used as music studio rooms and a music store visible as a structure of force in the shadows of the Rindermarkthall.
The hall is a large food marketplace offering Hamburg’s very best fresh produce from fish sandwiches, the famous Franzbröchen – the Hamburg take on the croissant – as well as fresh butchers and deli stores. On Saturday’s the grounds of the marketplace is doubled with the local Flomarkt spilling into the surrounding streets. With second hand, bric-a-brac, clothing and furniture stalls, pop up coffee, cake, jam, tea and food vans set up shop to aid the many sore heads after a Friday night on the town.
Hamburg’s nightlife at the Reperbahn is sure to give Amsterdam a run for its money with a large avenue of shops, clubs, bars and hotels dedicated to the sex industry. Drawing millions of visitors each year, the infamous strip doused in neon, flashing lights has something on offer for everyone every night, with a weekend long party starting Friday night through to Monday.
After the Reperbahn, you’re sure to need a pick-me-up and Gretchen’s Villa has the best breakfast in town. Serving home cooked eggs, traditional German breakfast plates and a range of muesli dishes with a fantastic selection of jams, breads and fruits, you’re sure to find what you need just a couple of kilometres from the Reper’ door. If meat and beer is what you need, visit Altes Madchen in what has become a great former warehouse complex. The brewery is also a well-loved restaurant serving up tradition pub style German food with a modern twist including pulled pork, ribs, hamburgers and steak with serving suggestion beers to choose from. The space is also home to Elbgold Kaffee a local roastery serving light sandwiches, bagels and cakes.
Hamburg is a wealthy city that is putting its position to good use. The cityscape wraps perfectly around the waters edge from the Elbe River on one side to the Außenalster Lake behind the city center offering a relaxing lifestyle in an otherwise bustling city with a vivid nightlife and a growing food scene. The history found in the architecture on the street and in the many museums, galleries and monuments demonstrates a strong sense of pride in the city that appears to only be getting stronger.
Special thanks to Benjamin Johnston for his fantastic photography throughout the city.