Hamburg – it’s a free city, a big port city, a rich city, and a city that John Lennon once called home. (Yes, that John Lennon, of the Beatles fame). It’s a city that its inhabitants are fiercely proud of - and rightly so.
In fact, this is the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, one of Germany’s first free cities, the site of the second largest port in Europe, Germany’s second largest city and the city that most German Billionaires call home.
Not a bad dossier, huh? But if you think that’s all there is to it, then you need to scratch further under the surface of Hamburg’s austere façade. Because it’s not just about stately facades, renovated shipping warehouses and outdoor escalators. You’ll soon find that there’s much more to this northern city than business, shipping, and millionaires. It’s also a city that has over 2,000 bridges, making it known as the Venice of Germany, and a city with a thriving nightlife (seediness included), rivalling even Berlin’s party fame and Amsterdam’s red light notoriety.
In fact, the contrast of Hamburg’s seemingly staid appearances is underlain with a seedier underbelly – one that definitely tips Hamburg’s cool factor way above average. In Hamburg, you’ll find ambitious urban development projects in the old harbour area (Hafen City), quirky modern design among old brick warehouses belonging to an old industrial era, and the tawdry but fascinating St Pauli neighbourhood, home to the notorious Reeperbahn, red light area.
As a port city, there’s no doubt that you’ll find some great sights near the salt breezes. The old port area, and the new digital city being developed at Hafen City are not to be missed. Then there are her three rivers (including the mighty mouth of the River Elbe), two artificial lakes and over 2,000 bridges. Try crossing all of those in a short stay!
Try and get to the Altona Fischmarkt, open on Sundays at ridiculously early hours (like all fish markets!). To compensate for the early start, you’ll find a happening crowd, live music, the theatrics of the traders, sausages and socks, maybe livestock, bits and pieces. And of course, some of that fresh seafood that Hamburg is known for.
Explore the hip St Pauli by day, and the even cooler Schanzen district or nearby Marktstrasse, an emerging fashion block. The Schanzen was once an anarchist area known for its political activity, but recent gentrification has seen trendy cafes and boutiques spring up on its streets. If you’re in Hamburg at Christmas, there are three colourful Christmas markets to choose from.
Hamburg also has a nightlife that rivals that of Berlin, with a great music scene and thumping clubs. And like all big cities, the scene is found at the city’s underbelly – around the St Pauli area. You’ll find the clubs and bars jostling alongside the red light offerings, but won’t be disappointed by what’s on offer. Try the riverside for some clubs in unobtrusive spots. Follow your ear.
Hamburg has a quirky side that will leave you wondering what lies beneath the starched business collars of the hard working local Hamburgers. This marred perfectionism only makes Hamburg more fascinating, and justifies the time to explore her quirks, dents and defects.
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