The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is a city-state. That’s right. Often we forget that through the radical transformation which happened in its history, today Germany has become a Bundesrepublik, a federal republic comprising autonomous states. And in this variegated mosaic there is also the city-state of Hamburg, a North European metropolis with a lively charm, sweetened by the friendliness of its people.
With over 1.700.000 inhabitants, Hamburg is Germany’s second most populated town. But its harbour is the country’s number one, an impressive feat since there are about 200 kilometres between the city and the Northern Sea. Through this distance stretches the Elba river, on its banks Hamburg prospered through the centuries and on its waters sail ships from all over the world directed to Deutschlands Tor zur Welt, ‘Germany’s gate to the world’.
Hamburg’s commercial and industrial soul is highlighted by the stern and squared urban architecture ruling over the city, and imposing over the largest boulevards strict geometries of Teutonic order. Moreover, the town is a fundamental centre of the communication industry: here have their headquarters the renown German magazine Der Spiegel and an important newsroom of state television ZDF.
It seems the town was born and raised to work and produce, but the vitality that brought Hamburg on the highest level of economy and industry also echoes with palpable beauty in the administrative as well as in the recreational areas. Night life and leisure are focused in the areas Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel, not very mundane by their look but capable of an eclectic and bold charm. And all over the town there are art galleries and museums, including the museum of chocolate Chocoversum which allows the visitors to combine their personal chocolate stick and to assist to demonstrations with ancient machinery of the choco industry.
But the most eloquent picture of Hamburg is found in Speicherstadt, the historic warehouse district. The buildings of this area tower over the Elba river, whose waters stroke them since over a century. The red bricks are mirrored in the river in every detail, offering an impressive sight, while on both sides of the bridges crossing the Elba there are extravagant and surprising Gothic buildings.
To have a look of Hamburg from above one can climb the tower of the Church of Saint Michael, the town’s major Evangelic church. Its bell tower is 132 metres high and it has always been an unmistakable landmark of Hamburg. But the visitors have to stop at the platform rising only 83 metres from the ground, after they moved with the elevator or through the 453 steps of the staircase. The church itself is an exquisite example of German Baroque consecrated to archangel Michael, who is depicted in a triumphant bronze statue over the main gate symbolizing its victory over the devil.
A very different impression – but not less delightful – is the sight of Hamburg from the river Elba. The enjoy it visitors can paddle on the large river on a kayak, or they could sail on boat. An activity that happens to be exclusive prerogative of tourists, since the locals – after road transportation made the ferry obsolete – seem to watch at any river activity with cold detachement.
Chocoversum – The museum of chocolate was established by German confectionery company Hachez in Pumpenstrasse, a 10-minute walk from the main train station. It’s open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
Käpt’n Prüsse – Sailing classes over the Elba river. It’s on the Gurlittinsel, An der Alster 47, north of the harbour area and of the main train station.
Food and drinks
Fillet of Soul – Local food and with a slight fusion touch in an old factory renovated with sober elegance. Excellent meals and great local beer.
Altes Mädchen – Brewery in the heart of Lagerstrasse, a very lively area also at night. Cheerful atmosphere, traditional meals and artisanal house beer. Better to book in advance.
Mutterland – Shop and restaurant, large variety of uncommon products including a lot of bio, all coming from small, family run or single-handed companies.
Hotel Wedina – Simple rooms spreading through various buildings at a short distance from Hamburg’s main train station. Excellent breakfast, a lot of books free to borrow and exquisitely kind staff.