The Port City of Hamburg is located on the Elbe River in Northern Germany and has a population of about 1.7 million people. It is one of the biggest ports in Europe in terms of trade and shipping, the other major ports being Rotterdam in the Netherlands and London in the UK.
Hamburg’s status as a Port and Trading City goes back to the days of the Hanseatic League (Hansa) that created a virtual trade monopoly over trade within the League Guild members in Europe. Ports where they had control included Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen and ports as far distant as Bergen in Norway, Bruges in Belgium (see Bruges on the Belgium section of this website) and even London in England. The Hanseatic League even at certain stages had their own ships, wharves, warehouses and even armies. The Hanseatic League that started in the 13th century saw both good times and bad and was only diminished in power and influence in the 18th century. Sometimes today you will hear people refer to Hamburg as the ‘Hanseatic City of Hamburg’ referencing this importance of the League in the development of the City. You might also hear it being referred to as the Venice of the north, as it has more canals and bridges than Venice.
There is a Museum in Lübeck, the Hanse Museum (see Lübeck below) that is dedicated to telling the story of the League – see www.hansemuseum.eu
Hamburg was a trading port for centuries and still remains so today, as a centre for many industries, importers and exporters. For example in the coffee and tea industries Hamburg is one of the world’s foremost tea and coffee importers, exporting coffees and teas all over Europe and the world. There are many other industries too, with both established companies and also tech start-ups having their warehouses, laboratories, offices, storage businesses in many of the 19th Century old rows of three and up to six storey warehouses that overlook the canals, with small bridges crossing over the canals for access. These blocks of warehouses also have a lot of charm to them too as do the old merchant mansion houses that you will see in the City too.
There are also some timber framed (Fachwerk) houses that date back to the old Hanseatic Guilds, the houses built between 1620 and 1700 – Look for Krameramtsstuben on Krayenkamp near the prominent Church of St Michael (Michaelliskirche). Number 10 is open to see inside as part of Hamburg Museum (See www.hamburgmuseum.de)
Hamburg is very much a city on the water – with the deep water port handing the biggest ships with their passenger docks, container docks and cranes, and other parts of the City being next to the inner or outer Alster Lake, Elbe River and canals. There are said to be 2500 bridges in Hamburg which gives you are real sense of how closely connected the City is to the water, even though Hamburg is around 100 kilometres from the North Sea, the Elbe River looking more like a long harbour than a river.
The best way to see Hamburg is from both the water and also land and you can purchase a Hamburg Card (HVV) that provides bus, subway, commuter train and ferry services on the one card and also some discounts on entry to a number of venues.
There are Cruises with commentaries and also open top Bus Tours that take you to see the main sights of the City. Taking an open top bus trip is a good way to see the city, take photos and getting a feel for the City. Many of the roads are right beside the Alter Lake and River, so you get great water views almost wherever you go.
Just one of the cruise operators is the Maritime Circle line that has a number of different cruise options relative the time and places that you will see, one of these options being a Hop on-Hop off cruise, so you can take more time seeing the places of interest. The cruise wharf is at Landungbrüken 10. See www.maritime-circle-line.de
Ferry boats also cross over the River and stop at various Jetties along the River. There are 61 Ferry Wharves along the River, which gives you an indication of how many commuters use Ferries to go to and from work.
If you are feeling adventurous in the summer time, you might also look to hire a canoe, kayak, sailing boat too or hire a bike. There are also lakside beaches too in Hamburg where you might like to get a sun tan in the summertime.
By way of history, Hamburg in 1842 was almost destroyed by fire, when a large part of the City burnt down to the ground, and then at the end of World War One, all of Hamburg’s shipping fleet, about 1500 ships were confiscated by the British and its allies – as War reparations. This included the passenger liners of the Hamburg Shipping Magnate, Albert Ballin (1857-1918) said to be the father of modern passenger Cruise Ship travel, his First 100% Passenger Cruise for pleasure as opposed to travel for transport being in 1891- a Cruise to the Mediterranean. His first Cruise ship, the SS Augusta Viktoria set sail in 1889 from Hamburg via Southampton to New York, and in the early pre-war time, his Hamburg-America Line would carry thousands of emigrants from Europe to the USA.
By way of interest – see the Nova Scotia, Canada section of this website – where you will find information about Samuel Cunard (1787-1865) the founder of the Cunard Shipping Line.
The end of World War One saw Albert Ballin commit suicide as he saw his fleet of ships seized by the British. The company however continued to survive and today is called the Hapag-Lloyd AG Line.
Another Hamburg company, Hamburg-Süd traces its history back to 1871, the year of German Unification and today you will see the company’s name and logo on shipping Containers around the world. They built their early years of operation shipping coffee and meat from Brazil and Argentina to Europe, as well as carrying passengers to South America too. In one year, 1911, some 60,000 passengers were carried by the Hamburg-Süd line to Brazil and Argentina, creating a sizable German population in both Brazil and Argentina in the pre-World War One period.
In World War Two, Hamburg as both an industrial and port city was heavily bombed by the British and its allies, the most devastating night being on July 28, 1943 when 2326 tons of explosive Incendiary Bombs (Fire Bombs) were dropped on the city destroying much of the city and killing around 40,000 people. The city’s devastation was massive, but today the City has been rebuilt and moved on from that time.
The City is roughly divided into two halves – the Altstadt (Old City) and the Neustadt (New City) with the Alsterfleet Canal separating the two halves of the City.
PLACES TO SEE -
Standing tall above the surrounding building in the Old City is St Michael’s Church, a prominent landmark with its round 132 metre high bell tower and clock. It has an observation post at 108 metres in the tower for views over the city, but it is inside that the Church that is most dramatic, being mostly all white with highlights in gold, with a 20 metre high altar as a centrepiece. There is also a crypt below too, said to hold around 2000 people buried there. The Church is actually the third Church built on this site, this one built in 1912. St Michael’s was also severely damaged in World War Two bombings, before being restored.
Another imposing building is the Rathaus Emperor’s Great Hall that faces onto the Rathaus Markt Square. This is massive building was built between 1886 and 1897 and has some 647 rooms. It was built for Hamburg’s Senate and Parliament, who continue to use it. The ornate clock tower, statues, sandstone construction is impressive, but even more so are some of the rooms inside, including the vast Grand Ballroom, some 46 metres long by 15 metres wide with a 15 metre ceiling height. The doorways and wall paintings all reflect the opulence of the Baroque Age in which the Building was built.
Not surprisingly, Hamburg has a number of Museums – and these are just a few of the main ones –
As much as Hamburg is famous for its great port and trading, it is also famous for the Reeperbahn Red Light District in St Pauli. Here you will find bars, brothels, nightclubs, theatres, restaurants and lots of activities related to the sex industry. There are a lot of smaller shops here too and if you search out Paul-Roosen Straβe or Simon von Utrecht Staβe – you will find some interesting places to see. Tour buses pass through Reeperbahn in the day to tell tourists about the streets and activities here, but it really is a night spot, more so than day. The Bus tours will also highlight where the Beatles once played in Hamburg too in the 1960’s. John Lennon once said that while he was born in Liverpool, he grew up in Hamburg, though what activities he was thinking about – I’ll leave to your imagination. The area can seem a bit tacky, so if you are more interested in finding cheaper and better bars and a more localised experience, head to the area called Schanze and another street named Marktstrasse in Schanzenviertel.
Hamburg is quite a stylish city and there is no shortage of places to shop, but the two main shopping streets or boulevards for shopping centres, arcades and fashion are Mönckeberg Straβe where you will find the Levantehaus Arcade and Europa Passage Arcade near the St Petri and St Jacob Churches and on Spitaler Straβe.
Another good place to shop is Colonnaden – a pedestrian street where you will also find the Gänsemarkt Passage shopping arcade.
Yet another is Alterhaus – a six storey building filled with shops too on Jungfernstieg 16-20. Note that in Germany most shops will be open from 10am and close at 8pm.
If you search on Hotels on this website you will see lots of different places to stay in Hamburg. If travelling by train you may want to stay close to the main station (Haufbahnhof) or in the city centre, but there are lots of options to choose from.
Once you have booked your accommodation, the Hotel Concierge or taxi drivers are best to ask for places that are nearby for the best restaurant choices. Being close to the North Sea with a big Fish Market in Hamburg, you will find a good selection of fish choices, but equally many and varied food options too.
CLOSE TO HAMBURG –
Many people commute to work in Hamburg, but live in many of the smaller towns and villages that surround it. Just one of the many smaller towns is Lüneberg (Lunenburg) which is south-east of Hamburg roughly 60 kilometres away by train or car. This was once a centre for salt mining and the town has the old cobbled streets and small traditional houses with a central square, Town Hall (Rathaus) and other civic buildings. It also has a salt museum and tourist office where you can get directions for walks and a therapeutic Spa Bath – the Sal ü Salztherme. Close to Lüneberg there are nature parks with cycling and walking tracks, and also some Castles, one that is open to the public is the ‘Celle Palace’ (Castle) in the smaller town/village of Celle.
There is no doubt that Hamburg is a beautiful city, but if you have the time also head to some of the other cities, towns and villages too in the north of Germany to get a glimpse of some of the older cities and towns that were not bombed or missed most of it.
Lübeck with a population of about 220,000 is probably the best preserved and most interesting of the cities – as it was the founding city of the Hanseatic League and its guilds, traders and merchants. The City has also been given UNESCO World Heritage Status too and is roughly 70 kilometres from Hamburg, or an hour by car or a little less by train.
The Hanseatic League (Hanse) had a huge influence on trade and commerce over the centuries of its existence and you can see a Museum dedicated to telling its story and legacy in the European Hanse Museum here in Lübeck on An de Untertrave 1. Also see www.hansemuseum.eu The Hanseatic League’s motto was proclaimed in Latin as “Concordia domi Foris Pax” (Unity at home, Peace abroad) and their story is certainly a fascinating one.
This is a city to just wander in the old town centre square area and laneways, just as people would have done so here in the Middle Ages going about their work. The old part of the City is located next to the Trave River on one side and the Elbe River on the other, with a moat around the old city and the Elbe-Lübeck Canal linking the two rivers together. In summer there are river cruises and bus tours of the old city too.
The first thing you notice in Lübeck are the round conical towers that seem to dominate the city skyline, the most notable ones being on top of the beautiful Lübecker Dom City Cathedral, the Holstentor Gate with its twin round towers on each side of the gateway built in 1478, the 12-13th century old Lübecker Rathaus Town Hall and the Hospital of the Holy Spirit that dates back to 1260.
There are also the steeples or spires of other churches too, the most notable being on the Marienkirche Church and Petrikirche Church with many of the famous Red Brick gabled buildings that date back centuries too here in the old part of the City.
Lübeck is sometimes even called the ‘City of 7 spires’, given the prominence of these spires – steeples or towers.
The Holstentor Gate in Lübeck, is along with the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, considered one of the most historically important buildings in Germany and there is a Museum here too that documents its history and importance. The Gateway also makes for a great photo too, almost like it stepped out of a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale story with its conical tops.
Lübeck is also known as the city where Niederegger Marzipan is made, its first Marzipan being made in 1806. Today at Breite Strasse 89 you will find the Niederegger Café where they sell great cakes, their famous Marzipan, ice-cream, truffles and nougat. Definitely if you like Marzipan and chocolate this is the place to come to.
Three of Lübeck’s most famous sons are Willy Brandt (1913-1992) the one time Chancellor of Germany; the controversial writer/artist Günter Grass (1927-2015); and writer, Thomas Mann and the houses that they lived in are now museums.
The most interesting, or maybe different museum however is one dedicated to ‘puppets’ and ‘theatre’ called the Theatre Figuren Museum. There are over 1200 puppets along with props and other memorabilia to see. Another museum is the St. Anne’s Museum Quarter and art gallery on St Annen Strasse 15.
Other notable museums include the Behnhouse and Dräger House Museums – in two historic houses with impressive paintings collections and Buddenbrook House Museum – where writer Thomas Mann once lived.
Lübeck was very close to the West German/East German border and there is the Border Documentation Museum that tells the story of the days of the Cold War, when Germany was in two halves.
During World War Two, Lübeck was both a port city but also heavily involved in industry too and there is an Industrial Museum also dedicated to telling the story of those days when forced labour was employed.
Perhaps one of the saddest stories of World War Two also happened in Lübeck too in the last days of the War. The city centre had been fired bombed in May 1942, with many historic buildings destroyed but it was on the 3rd May 1945 that an even greater loss of life occurred.
During the last months of the War, with the pressure of the Russians coming from the east and the British forces coming from the west, the German SS evacuated many of its citizens from Prussia taking them to safer places in West Germany. The Nazis also had Concentration Camps including the Neuengamme Concentration Camp in a former Brick works, south east of Hamburg, which had been operating since 1938. On April 19, 1945 they closed the Camp and murdered 3000 of the sickest prisoners and then took some 9000 others to be held on 3 old ships just off the coast in Lübeck Bay – the Cap Arcona, Deutschland and Thielbek. One can only imagine the horror that occurred on the night of 3rd of May 1945, when British Bombers bombed the ships. There were 30 different nationalities on board those ships, and most of those on-board would die, some 7000 people, with around 2000 surviving as best they could.
On the 8th May 1945, Germany surrendered.
Today in Lubeck there is little to remind you of the horrors of the War, but in front of the Marienkirche Church there are the shattered Bells on the ground, that fell to the ground when the church was bombed. You can also visit the Neuengamme Concentration Camp today, a grim reminder of the years 1938 to 1945 where over 40,000 people died during those years.
THE BALTIC and NORTH SEA COAST -
On a much lighter note, the beaches on the Baltic and North Sea are very close to Lübeck – with beaches like Travemünde having 100’s of small tent structures erected along the beach for beach goers. These small tents are actually covered wicker beach chairs (Strandkorb) where you can sit comfortably at the beach and be protected from the sun, wind and rain if that happens.
In Travemünde there is a lighthouse built in 1539, the promenade beach walkway and near the mouth of the River Trave there is the four masted Flying P-Liner museum sailing ship. Cruise ships all berth at the Ostpreissen Quay and ferries also leave from Travemünde heading to Sweden, Latvia, Estonia and Russia.
Two other towns in the north here too are Wismar and Stralsund – and both towns date back to the 13th century when they were ports for the Hanseatic League up until the 15th century. They both have the characteristic Red Brick Gothic buildings with a degree of Swedish Heritage too, as they became a Swedish territory during the 17th and 18th Century.
From Stalsund you can catch a Ferry across to Rügen Island, just 2 kilometres off the coast, the biggest island in Germany. Here on Rügen Island you will find many resorts to stay in and see great beech forests and massive white chalk cliffs. The contrast between the green of the forests and white of the cliffs next to the Baltic Sea, really create spectacular scenery. If you are lucky you might even spot a white eagle circling over the cliffs. Much of the island is taken over by the Jasmund National Park with walking and cycling tracks to follow.
Another island is Sylt – a long narrow island on the North Sea with long beaches and a wild sea climate to go with it. As much as when we think of beaches, we are normally thinking of palm trees and tropical days, here in the north, the beaches are also quite special too with their wild weather and stylish hotels. Sylt is roughly an hour or so from Hamburg, so not far to go for a beach holiday for those who live in Hamburg.
If you love seeing lakes and grand castles, then head to the town of Schwerin – where you will find the Schwerin Palace on its own island. It is now home to the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern State Parliament, but its towers and turrets, grounds and 6 sided shape make it one of the most beautiful in Germany. It was once home to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, but after 1945 it also became part of East Germany, having various uses, including that of a training college for Kindergarten teachers. It even has a resident ghost named ‘Petermännchen’.
This is one of my favourite cities in Germany, mainly because of the ambience and atmosphere of the old town area, what they call the ‘Schnoor’.
Many cities in the world have something that gives them an identity that is reflected in souvenirs and in Bremen it is a statue and reproductions of a dog, cat and rooster standing on top of a donkey. You will see depictions of this famous foursome in posters, postcards, wooden, woollen, metal, glass and plastic forms – and it relates to a Grimm Brother’s fairy-tale about these four animal “Musicians”. It is a great story with a real charm.
The Schnoor is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways lined with small shops, cafes and restaurants where you can walk and stop at places that you find interesting, having a chat with a store owner or buy something too.
While Bremen has the four Musicians it also has ‘Roland’ – the fabled Knight who protects the city’s traders from harm and there is a statue of Roland in the main Markt, market square that stands 13 metres high and has stood here since 1404. The square itself is surrounded by a number of classic Buildings, including the Dom St Petri Basilica that has history dating back to 1041, the Rathaus Town Hall built in 1410 and the Kirche Unser Lieben Frauen Church.
Just off the Markt Square is the Zur Böttcherstrasse – a small 110 metre long street that is lined with the Red Brick buildings. The name itself comes from the trade that was carried out here – Barrel Making. This street was made famous by the Coffee merchant, Ludwig Roselius who invented decaffeinated Coffee, patenting it in 1906. He made his fortune in Coffee with the brand Kaffee Hag, now owned by Jacobs Douwe Egberts Company and Ludwig Roselius spent some of his fortune on the creation of this street and buildings.
If you look up high you will see the 30 Meissen Glass Bells of a Glockenspiel, created in 1934. There are also Art Galleries – the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum Gallery and Roselius Haus Museum Gallery.
There are a number of Galleries and Museums in Bremen – along what they call the Kultermeille (Culture Mile) – look for the Street called Am Wall, and also for beer lovers, there is the Becks Brewery which also has tours too.
Bremen also has a strong commercial and university presence and if you like to star-gaze, look for the Universum Science Centre – See www.universum-bremen.de
The City of Bremen is located on the Weser River and during the summer months there are river cruises to take you on a cruise of the River and also bus tours of Bremen City.
The River itself flows on the Bremerhaven, a port city at the mouth of the River Weser, about 65 kilometres from Bremen, where Cruise ships berth. This city has a population of around 110,000 people and this port city is where between 1830 and 1974 some seven million people set sail for Ellis Island in New York City hoping for a new life The emigrants heading to the USA came to Bremerhaven Port from Germany but also from other parts of Europe, including Russia and if you have any German Ancestry and live in the USA, it may well be that some of your ancestors may have passed through Bremerhaven. Today here in Bremerhaven there is the Deutsches Auswandererhaus Museum that tells the story of the emigrants leaving Germany over those years.
Bremen has a Botanical Garden (Botanika) and many Park areas too – including a Rhododendron Garden that has some 2500 varieties with a massive greenhouse. This park covers an area of 46 hectares, while an even bigger park is Bürgerpark that covers an area of 202 hectares and also lakes too – Lake Werdersee and Lake Stadtwaldsee.
In Weserpark (Tram stop 1, Weserpark) there is a large complex called OASE – which has spas, saunas and Fitness facilities.
The city of Bremen certainly has lots of character and charm and nice people too.
I hope you have a great time here in the north of Germany seeing Hamburg, maybe getting to the North or Baltic Sea and seeing Bremen. Roads and trains connect all of these cities together making it easy to get around and see the countryside too.