A few years back I had the privilege of heading over to Hamburg, this time instead of going for purely sight seeing and tourism reasons I would be going abroad for the first time alone for work experience. Luckily I wasn’t all on my own as I stayed with my cousin and his wife in their apartment in the city and worked with him during the day (although I had only met him once before going over!) It was a totally different travel experience and pretty amazing to explore somewhere on my own and feel like a local. I absolutely fell in love with Hamburg and look forward to returning next year and showing Shorty (Paul) around this wonderful, crazy city!
Often when people head over to Germany it is Berlin or Munich that they flock to, and to be honest I am not sure I would have known all that much about Hamburg if it wasn’t for my family there. But, as we know coming from Manchester, alternative second cities are usually much cooler and also much more laid back, Hamburg is no exception. From the docks to the industrial heritage of the city, the alternative culture, live music and punk culture to ornate buildings, luxury shopping district and a leafy green city centre. Hamburg has it all, with non of the big city attitude or crowds but ten times the passion and atmosphere!
Hamburg is served by the U-Bahn. Despite opening for service back in 1912 the train system is super modern and efficient. The lines spread out all over the city and cover almost everywhere you might care to visit, it’s also great value for money too. German engineering at it’s finest!
You can get a weekly pass for zone 1 for €12.90
There are also many discounts available and cards covering train too.
Things to do:
Reeperbahn/ St Pauli
Hamburgs most famous and infamous street, the Reeperbahn in St Pauli. The heart of entertainment, live music and the city’s red light district. A night out on this legendary street is one you will never forget, Hamburgers start the night late and end it in the early hours, and it’s this amazing night life that brought the Beatles to this very street at the start of their careers. St Pauli also has it’s own football team which is synonymous with left wing politics and punk culture.
Hamburg was built around it’s harbour, much like Boston and Liverpool it is a harbour city and always will be. In fact it is the third largest in the world behind London and New York and is over 800 years old. Hamburg was a leading member of the Hanseatic league and as such it’s full name of “The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg” reflects the rich history of this port city. In the modern era the harbour is still a working port but offers boat tours, beaches in the summer, seafood restaurant and amazing views.
The real centre piece of the city is the beautiful town hall or Rathaus. Set near the lake Binnenalster and built between 1886 and 1897 the town hall is a wonderful example of neo-renaissance style architecture. It was built at a time when the independent state of Hamburg wanted to show off it’s wealth and republican traditions.
To this day the Rathaus still houses Hamburg’s parliament, senate and mayors office. The town hall is also pretty huge, it’s tower is 367ft high and with 647 rooms it has 6 more than Buckingham Palace!
Probably my favourite area of the city, the alternative quarter of Hamburg that is jam packed full of counter culture, art and music. The former working class area has been evolved into the bohemian capital of the city, at it’s centre the “Rota Flora”, a semi-derelict building that has at one time been a theatre, informal music venue and squat.
Covered in graffiti it even has it’s own DIY skate park out at the back! The Schanzenviertel has a real laid back vibe with independent bars, cheap places to eat, boutique shops and tiny galleries. There is even an old war bunker right in the middle of the district which is covered in graffiti and has a climbing all up the side! Does it get any better!!
Church of St. Michaelis
A landmark of Hamburg the huge clock tower of “Michel” can be see all over the city and offers stunning views. Built between 1648 and 1661 it is one of the oldest and most well known churches in Northern Germany as well as being one of only a few purpose built protestant churches in Hamburg. The baroque church is considered one of the finest of the Hanseatic region and it’s interior is one of splendid gold and white.
The Alster is one of Hamburgs two main rivers, the other being the all important Elbe which serves the harbour. The Alster on the other hand is much more serine and offers wonderful walks in which you almost forget you are in a city. Not only that but within the centre the river creates two beautiful swan filled lakes in which the city is built around. The Alster offers untouched idlic scenes and adds to the unique atmosphere of Hamburg with it’s many green spaces. There are also boat tours, rentable canoes and many other ways to enjoy the water.
Wandering the green streets
As I mentioned above what makes Hamburg both unique and also quite lovely is the abundance of green spaces within what is the second largest city in Germany. Hamburg is pretty varied, there are huge war bunkers and a teeming city centre but yet it’s all surrounded by lush green streets and quiet water ways. Take a short walk from Market Platz and the Rathaus and you feel like you are in the countryside!
Canals /Historic Warehouse District
Much like our hometown of Manchester, Hamburg was built on industry and as a result has a myriad of canals and wonderfully repurposed warehouses and factories. Close to the harbour is the world largest warehouse complex which once stored silk, carpets, cocoa and a whole host of other goods. Often called the Venice of the north, but in fact Hamburg has more canals than Amsterdam and Hamburg combined! There are tours down the waterways, live bands playing on barges and great bars and restaurants to also explore!
Hamburg is also famous for it’s shopping, whether that be the independent outlets of the alternative districts or the exclusive boutiques of the elegant Alster Arkaden. The picturesque spot is lined with venetian architecture, historic arcades, detailed wrought iron lamps and is filled with the buzz of cafes and shops. Even if shopping isn’t for you, just a stroll and relaxing bite to eat around here is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Final word on Hamburg:
Visiting Hamburg for me was the beginning of a love affair with all this Germanic and also the start of me really starting to research my ancestry and really take pride in my German roots! I started to learn the language after the visit (although that hasn’t progressed quite as far as I’d like but it’s a dream one day!) and always longer for a return.
It was 2009 when I made this trip and although I have been back into Germany this year very briefly whilst in Basel, and visited 4 German speaking countries this year alone (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein) I have yet to revisit properly. Next year as we make our way through Europe we plan on seeing much more of this wonderful country…as well as called in to Hamburg again of course.
One of the things I loved about Hamburg, and Germanic countries in general, is how it just works. An example of this would be the main road into the city centre; before 12pm it runs one day into the city for the morning rush hour, then after lunch it switches so the traffic goes out of the city. This would cause so much confusion in the UK, but in Germany it means no congestion!! Genius!