Hamburg: Boomtown on the Elbe
Stars and Stripes January 28, 2010
Hamburg, Germany, is sometimes considered a “second city.” It is Germany’s second-biggest city after Berlin. It has Europe’s second-biggest port after Rotterdam. And it is home to the world’s second-biggest cemetery after the one in Chicago, the U.S.’s “second city.”
But doing so sells the place short. It is a vibrant, thriving, exciting city with, as the saying goes, something for everyone — which makes it second to none.
Much of Hamburg’s history has been centered on its port and trade. The city was once a member of the Hanseatic League, a powerful medieval trading alliance. Although today’s modern container port is farther down the Elbe River, ships still ply the waters to the edge of the old city. Many of these vessels are tour boats, and a cruise of the modern harbor — along with one on the Alster, Hamburg’s inner-city lake — should be on any visitor’s itinerary.
The shipping industry’s move to the new port freed up a lot of space in the old one, and a new district of offices and housing, the HafenCity, or Port City, is growing on the site. The fantastic Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall being erected on the roof of a storehouse, is the district’s centerpiece.
Nearby are the distinctive red brick buildings of the Speicherstadt, or storehouse city. Built on the water in the late 19th-century and once the center of the city’s seagoing trade, the area still stores such things as coffee, tea and carpets. The warehouses are also home to sightseeing favorites such as the Hamburg Dungeon; the Spice Museum; Miniature Wonderland, which boasts the world’s biggest model railway exhibition; and a museum on the Speicherstadt itself.
Among the many museums worth visiting are the Museum of Applied Arts, the Art Hall and the Hamburgmuseum.
Hamburg is famous for its shopping, but not for is its weather. With its proximity to both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, it gets its share of cool, windy, rainy days. So the shopping won’t be spoiled, downtown Hamburg is full of store-lined arcades keeping shoppers protected from the elements.
No trip to Hamburg would be complete without a visit to the city’s famous — or infamous — St. Pauli district. Here, where the Beatles got one of their first breaks, strip shows, discos, restaurants, bars and sex shops stand side-by-side along the Reeperbahn, the district’s main thoroughfare. On weekends the partying never stops here, but by early Sunday morning, the denizens of the night, along with tourists and locals, end up at the Hamburg Fischmarkt. The market has been taking place since the early 18th century, and although they still sell fish, you can buy just about anything there.