Shaped by water and commerce since the Middle Ages, Hamburg is defined by it’s maritime past and is also Germany’s largest and busiest port. The skyline filled with huge cranes over the port area attest Hamburg’s claim to be the ‘Gateway to the world’.
Beautiful Gothic style, 100-year-old seven storey red brick warehouses topped with copper turrets and built on oak piles are adjacent to the port. Connected by canals and now UNESCO World Heritage listed as the world’s largest continuous warehouse complex, stretching more than 1.5kms and in use until a few years ago storing tea, coffee spices and to my surprise carpets. Now used as museums, restaurants and very exclusive apartments.
It is Hamburg’s new Elbe Philharmonic Hall sitting atop one of these 100-year-old seven storey warehouses that to me is the most outstanding building in Hamburg.
The bottom half looks virtually unchanged from the warehouse it was until the late 1990’s, but then looking up you see the soaring structure above of more than 1000 curved glass panels, that remind us of waves.
The 82m long escalator is the first sign that the interior will be just as spectacular as the building’s façade. Said to be the longest escalator in Europe, it’s a long and slightly curved golden tube that makes you feel like you’re travelling through a tunnel of magical bubbles. Acoustically the concert hall is the most advanced currently, and it would be amazing to attend a concert here at some time.
Hamburg’s Altstadt or old centre was all but destroyed during WW ll, with very few of the beautiful Gothic buildings and churches left standing after the cities devastating fire-bombing in July 1943.
The haunting and soaring half ruin Church of St Nicholas, first built in 1195, and taking decades to complete was reduced to rubble in only minutes during one night of Operation Gomorrah, the three days and nights of bombing in 1943, which killed 35,000 citizens, and incinerated much of the centre. The tower once the world’s highest has been left standing, with only a few of the walls left. The crypt is now fittingly an Anti-War Museum, and serves as a memorial for the victims of war and tyranny from 1933 to 1945.
Fortunately, the Rathaus, with it’s gilded façade and soaring coffered ceiling wasn’t seriously damaged, as it would have to be one of the most opulent buildings we have seen in Germany. The main entrance leads you up Sicilian marble steps to an elaborate wrought iron gate, where the roof is supported by more than a dozen sandstone columns. Our 45 minute guided tour sadly didn’t take us to all the 647 rooms, although we did get to see the Emperor’s Hall with it’s unusual embossed leather wall covering, and amazing ceiling fresco, Government meetings rooms, and it’s elaborate 50m long Grand Ballroom, with three massive crystal chandeliers our guide told us weigh more than a car, and beautiful paintings that tell Hamburg’s 1200 year history.
This week the temperature has soared all over Europe. Germany has had 36c – 40c day’s and poor Hermione (and us) have been struggling as well.
With the Elbe River, and all the canals around Hamburg it’s been the perfect place and time to be on the river. Doing a little research on Hamburg I discovered that one particular ferry route takes you along the river, and is included in our day transit ticket, bonus, and about a 10th of the price of a river cruise! Obviously loads of other tourists read about this trip as well as it took us a couple of go’s just to get onto the ferry, but there is nothing better on a hot day than to sit up the front to catch the breeze, while soaking up the river landscape.
One of the other things that Hamburg is famous for is it’s ‘Fischbrotchen’, which is fish on a bread roll (brotchen). It can be pickled herring with onions a local fav apparently, salmon, a homemade fishcake (my fav) with a rémoulade (spicy mayo) or a filet of battered fish. We tried all but the herring. ‘The’ place to go is Brücke 10 down by the port, a trendy café/restaurant/bar right alongside the river, the best place to catch what little breeze there was on those hot, humid days.
Apart from it’s proximity to Brücke 10, our excellent free and dock side parking was reached by an under-river pedestrian/bike tunnel, with a separate vehicle tunnel that runs alongside, the Alter Elbtunnel or Old Elbe Tunnel.
Built in 1907, 426m in length and built at a depth of 24m and built to provide the dock workers a direct route to the city, and such an engineering marvel in those times, well any time really. This experience was probably the coolest, both in temperature and experience, that I did in Hamburg!
Restoration of the pedestrian tunnel was only recently completed, and the Art Deco lamps that line the tiled walls, with beautiful terracotta glazed plaques of fish, crabs and other water life, match those from the original build in 1907.
Entry is by either three large vehicle elevators, that only operate during the week, or the two new passenger/bike elevators on either side of the lovely red brick Art Deco building, that from the exterior you would never guess what was going on underneath.
Restoration work is now being done on the vehicular tunnel.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Hamburg, take a couple of days and enjoy this great city, I know we really did.