At the confluence of the Alster, the Bille and the Elbe. Water determines the life, economy and culture of the city as nowhere else in Germany. The harbour, from where millions of emigrants once sailed for the New World, made Hamburg a wealthy trading city centuries ago. Historic commercial buildings still tell of this mercantile tradition. Among the brick buildings of the warehouse quarter it seems as if the aroma of coffee, tea and spices is still in the air, and the atmosphere at the piers still conjures far-away lands. A dense network of canals crisscrosses the city, which has more bridges than any other. The Alster, a sizeable lake in the middle of Hamburg, helps to make it a desirable place to live: the sight of a yacht sailing across the Alster in sunshine under blue skies delights the heart of every true Hamburger.
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THE BKB TRAVEL GUIDE HAMBURG
You will find more detailed information in our travel guide “3 Days in Hamburg“: A schedule for three days, a city map, special tips and the BKB address service. We will show you the highlights, walk with you into nice quarters, have a break and tell nice stories … just as much as you need for three days! Order the travel book “3 Days in Hamburg” as paperback or e-book right here in the BKB Shop or in your bookstore!
Your day begins in the heart of the old free port, where tea, coffee, spices and carpets used to be stored. The route leads past the Speicherstadt’s old warehouses and picturesque canals to the futuristic HafenCity project, the new maritime district with the Elbphilharmonie, innovative architecture and beautiful terraces. There you will find tradition and future come together to form a harmonious unity. After that you walk through the multicultural Portuguese quarter to the “Michel”, the church every sailor knows .
A WALK RIGHT INTO THE HEART OF THE CITY
Your walk should begin from the heart of the old free port, where tea, coffee, spices and carpets were once stored. This tour goes past old warehouses and picturesque waterways to the futuristic HafenCity project, a new maritime quarter of the city with innovative architecture and beautiful terraces.
TO SMELL THE CITY
The world’s largest “warehouse city”, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. With its picturesque buildings, little bridges and narrow waterways, it is one of the most attractive parts of a visit to the port. In the characteristic architecture of north German Hanseatic towns, known as brick Gothic, stepped gables, turrets, projections for hoists and pointed arches enliven the façades, which are decorated with bands of tiles, ceramic ornamentation and glazed bricks. The warehouses are no longer places for storing just tea, coffee, cocoa, spices and carpets. Media companies, museums and restaurants have now moved into many of the lovely old buildings.
THE HARBOUR OF TOMORROW
Brooktorkai is the start of a new district – Europe’s largest inner-city development project with eleven quarters on an area of 157 hectares. Because the expansion of the container port increasingly shifted the business of the harbor to the modern facilities south of the Elbe, in 2008 the decision was taken to use the docks and quays close to the centre of Hamburg as part of the city once again. By 2025 this area will have been turned into district with an urban mix of dwellings, services, leisure, tourism and commerce.
A HOUSE TO ADORE THE MUSIC
The new landmark of Hamburg is the Elbphilharmonie at the tip of the Kaiserkai. This spectacular glass building with its curving roofs cape, designed by the Swiss star architects Herzog & de Meuron, towers on top of a harbour warehouse to a height of 110 metres and, in addition to the concert halls, contains studios,places to eat and drink, a hotel and a public plaza that provides a unique panoramic view of the whole city. The heart of the Elbphilharmonie is the main concert hall with 2,100 seats around a stage at the centre. The acoustics were designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, a world-famous acoustic engineer.
THE SAILOR’S CHURCH
With its height of 132 metres and unmistakable copper cupola, the tower of this church is visible from afar to approaching ships. Perhaps this is why the Hamburgers are so deeply attached to their “Michel”, as the emblem of the city is known; or perhaps because the church has been destroyed by fire three times, or because it is one of the finest Baroque churches in northern Germany. Before entering through the main door, direct your gaze upwards to the archangel Michael, who looks Lucifer straight in the eye while triumphing over him.Inside, the dazzling white nave of the church is gilded and decorated with marble. The crypt is the last resting place of Carl Philipp Emmanuel, son of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the popular actor Hans Albers.
SOCIAL HOUSING OF THE GOOD OLD TIMES
Walk through the gate opposite the Michel church to be transported into a completely different world. The little lane with its tiny timber-framed houses seems like a doll’s house scene. The 17th-century buildings once housed the widows of Krämer (traders in overseas goods), who could spend their declining years here at a low rent. The Krameramt, a guild of small traders formed in 1375, built the homes: an early example of social housing. The symbol of the guild, scales and a cubit measure, can still be seen on a plaque in the courtyard.
HAMBURG AT NIGHT
Night owls love Hamburg. Whether you go out on the town on the “street of sin”, spend the evening in a play or a musical, or sip cocktails on the waterfront– the range of choice is large. Although the world’s oldest profession is still practiced here for some years now most of Hamburg’s nightlife has been happening in St. Pauli, where a wide range of entertainment, as well as many restaurants, pubs, theatres, rock clubs and musical venues are to be found. If you are planning a cultural program for the evening, the choice is huge. Hamburg has more than 60 theaters, including two distinguished venues for drama, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus and the Thalia Theater, plays in Low German dialect in the Ohnsorg-Theater and performances at many privately run theatres. With opera at the Staatsoper and Kammeroper, renowned orchestras such as the Philharmoniker Hamburg, the NDR Sinfonieorchester and the Hamburger Symphoniker, lots of musicals such as the long-running Lion King in the Stage Theater in the harbour area and Hinterm Horizont in the Stage Operettenhaus, as well as many small clubs, the city has music to suit every taste. And the Hamburg Ballet, directed by John Neumeier, is world-famous.
In the morning, the walk leads through Hamburg’s city center and you will get an impression how the beauty of architecture and a sense for commerce can merge: You enter large office buildings, main churches, the magnificent town hall and stroll along the river Alster. In the afternoon you can fulfill all your shopping wishes by strolling from Mönckebergstraße though outstanding shopping Mall’s to finish at the famous Jungfernstieg.
STROLLING THROUGH THE CENTER OF THE CITY
The route leads on to one of the most impressive architectural ensembles of the 1920s. Using steel frame construction,then a new method, a complex of office building was erected with brick façades that are distinguished by their Expressionist forms. The name for them is Kontorhaus, as the word Kontor is used to describe the offices of a Hanseatic merchant or shipping company. It is planned that, along with the Speicherstadt, this will be the first solely office district on the European continentwhich became a Unesco World Heritage site.
The best-known building in the ensemble is the ten-storer Chilehaus at Messberg no. 1, which narrows to a point like the bows of a ship. This effect is enhanced by the figurehead, an Andean condor, which figures in the coat of arms of Chile. The owner, the Hamburg merchant and shipping magnate Henry Brarens Sloman, was an importer of saltpetre, a trade that gave the building its name.The different colours of the brickwork, which produce a variety of glittering reflections depending on the light conditions, are a remarkable feature of this building. Don’t fail to go inside to see the ceramic reliefs by the sculptor Richard Kuöhl in the foyer and the staircases.
THE DOWNTOWN CHURCHES – ST JAKOBI & ST PETRI
Close to the Kontorhaus complex a copper-clad church tower reaches to the heavens. The church of St. Jacobi, which originated as a little chapel for pilgrims undertaking the long journey to the grave of St James in Santiago de Compostela and for travelling merchants, is one of the five main Lutheran churches of the city. Many historic treasures can be admired inside, including three medieval altars and the famous Arp-Schnitger organ of 1693 on the west gallery. With its 60 stops and 4000 pipes, it is the largest surviving Baroque organ in northern Europe. From here it is only a short distance to the highest point of the old quarter, where Hamburg’s oldest parish church St. Petri stands. The present church in the neo-Gothic style was built after the Great Fire of 1842.
THE TOWN HALL OF THE HANSEATIC MERCHANTS
If you come to the broad square at the end of Mönckebergstrasse on a sunny day and look over at the Alster arcades and the steps down to the water, you might feel that the scene is reminiscent of St Mark’s Square in Venice. The best view of the magnificent neo-Renaissance city hall is from Rathausmarkt. No other building represents the wealth and power of the free Hanseatic city as this seat of the senate and the citizens’ council, which according to the constitution of Hamburg rule inseparabili nexu coniunctim, as an indissoluble community. The sculptural decoration expresses the freedom of the city vis-à-vis imperial power: above the figures of 20 Holy Roman emperors in niches on the main floor are representations of the civic virtues on the central tower: wisdom, concord, courage and piety. When entering the lobby, look up to the starry vault, which is supported by sandstone columns with medallion-shaped reliefs of distinguished citizens of Hamburg. The lobby is often the venue for interesting exhibitions on city themes, and the starting point for the half-hourly tours of the senate and the council wing. As part of the tour you can admire Hugo Vogel’s wall-paintings depicting the history of Hamburg.
A PLACE TO RELAX – RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY
When the sun comes out, it seems as if everyone in the city comes down to the Alster. There is no better place to go jogging, to sit on a jetty and let your feet dangle in the water or to meet friends in one of the many cafes on the banks. In fact the Alster is a river, which meanders 53 kilometres from its source in the state of Schleswig-Holstein through the north German countryside and the city of Hamburg before it flows into the river Elbe. A miscalculation in the 13th century is the reason why it became the Alster lake. The intention was to dam the river to power a mill, but the result was to flood the Alster meadows. The division of the lake into the Inner (Binnen) and Outer (Aussen) Alster came about in the 17th century through the construction of the city walls, the course of which is marked by the Lombardsbrücke.
WHERE EVERYBODY MEETS…
Jungfernstieg is the city’s favourite place for promenading. You can meet there with friends and while waiting you see fine houses from the period around 1900 and have a wonderful view over the Binnenalster. Jungfernstieg, meaning “maiden’s walk”, takes its name from the tradition of promenading here, as families used to take their unmarried daughters for a walk here on Sundays. Today it is a popular place to meet and the starting point for a shopping tour.
…TO GO SHOPPING
Trendy or exclusive, haute couture, books or boots: no wish goes unfulfilled in the shopping district between Mönckebergstrasse and Jungfernstieg. Hamburg’s largest inner-city retail palace lies on Mönckebergstrasse: the Europa Passage, where you can browse and buy in 120 stores on an area of 30,000 square meters. Things get more luxurious on Hamburg’s showcase street, one of the most prestigious addresses in the city and the place to take a stroll. Jungfernstieg is about seeing and being seen. Its town houses and commercial buildings are now used to display the wares of exclusive boutiques, shoe shops and jewelers. Numerous shopping arcades between the city hall and Gänsemarkt are among the attractions of the city centre. There is a wide range of goods here, and it is an area where strolling and looking around is enjoyable, even if you are not a keen shopper.
Your third day starts with waves in the harbor, the smell of salt, brackish water, cranes, container ships, small barges and if you are lucky with ocean liners. Sailor’s yarn and brisk slogans are part of the program of the harbor cruise. You see the different sides of the city on the tour to Finkenwerder, before it goes to Hamburg’s “sinful Mile” “St. Pauli. Later on you visit Hamburg’s art mile where you have the choice which period of the fine arts you prefer.
WHERE NOT ONLY THE BIG SHIPS MAKE A STOP
The starting point for a trip round the harbour is one of the piers, which are scenes of bustling activity at all times. They were once the gateway to the world for many people who left the port, bound for destinations across the sea. As early as 1839 moorings for steamers were built here, and were replaced in the early 20th century by a pier consisting of floating pontoons that were connected to dry land by moveable gangways. Take a look at the departure terminal with its attractive cupolas and towers, and at the little tower that displays not just the time of day but also the level of the tide.
UNDER THE HARBOUR INTO THE WORKING AREA
The Old Elbe Tunnel, which was a technical marvel of the age when it was opened in 1911, passes under the North Elbe. 24 metres below the water to connect the piers with Steinwerder. At that time the tunnel solved the problem of enabling 40,000 dock and shipyard workers to cross to the south bank of the river Elbe without interrupting the shipping. If you have time, take the lift down to the Old Elbe Tunnel and walk through it: its walls are adorned with tiles and fine majolica reliefs. From the other side, the Steinwerder bank, there is a fantastic view of the city.
A BOAT’S TRIP TO FINKENWERDER
The almost one hour boat tour passes the harbor piers and Dockland building. The first stop is the futuristic Dockland building designed by Hadi Teheran, further to the museum harbour at Övelgönne and the Elbchaussee, Hamburg’s rich residential quarter. The Elbchaussee, which runs from Altona to Blankenese, was built in 1831. For eight kilometers it is lined on both sides by magnificent country houses and villas surrounded by extensive gardens. As early as the 18th century, wealthy families came to live here, and many people today regard the Elbchaussee as the world’s most beautiful street. The best view of the enormous properties on the river banks is from the boat. Here, in the most expensive residential district of Hamburg, it is said that some home-owners have a guarantee in the land register that their view of the Elbe will not be blocked. The boat turns round at Finkenwerder.
SAILOR’S TOWN – ST. PAULI
From the fish market continue to what is probably Hamburg’s best-known district, notorious as one of the world’s most sinful places. But it would be wrong to think that St. Pauli only consists of brothels, sex shops, tattoo parlours and dubious pubs. The quarter has not completely shaken off its shady image, but is now seen as an in-quarter. Away from the Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit, St. Pauli is almost a perfectly normal district of houses, offices, churches and schools. Take a stroll through the side streets to discover some strange and lively corners of the city, local characters, unusual museums, beautifully restored old buildings and interesting little shops.
A MILE TO MEET THE FINE ARTS
On Hamburg’s Mile of Art you have to set priorities, as it presents the whole range of contemporary and historic arts. The Kunsthalle in Hamburg is one of those raremuseums that takes you on a journey through seven centuries of art, to discover connections and gain new insights. There is something new to explore on every visit, as artistic trends from the Middle Ages to the present day are shown in changing presentations of the permanent collection.
The lawyer and art critic Justus Brinkmann wanted to “educate popular taste” and raise the artistic level of crafts. In 1877 he founded the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Arts and Crafts) on the ground floor of a school by the Steintor. Today it is one of Europe’s leading centers for art, crafts and design. The Kunstverein Hamburg ist one of the oldest in Germany. The work of Caspar David Friedrich, Arnold Böcklin and Francis Bacon was shown here in solo exhibitions before these artists became famous. It is definitely worth paying a visit to the Deichtorhallen on the site of what was the Berliner Bahnhof, Hamburg’s train station that was the counterpart to the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.
Picture credits: all photos BKB Verlag GmbH except: loading cargo: fotolia.de/Maria, Foto-ID #95648980; Schienennetz am Hamburger Hauptbahnhof: fotolia.de/ bjarnevoss, #105552109; Kinan Azmeh / Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra © Claudia Höhne; Elbphilharmonie/Speicherstadt: fotolia.de/pure-life-pictures, Foto-ID: #133772690; Alter Elbtunnel: fotolia.de/dietwalther, Datei: #128142987; Hamburg am Abend: Hamburgische Staatsoper GmbH ; Aufmacher 3. Tag: Bucerius Kunstforum