This city is probably not on a typical American tourist’s travel itenerary, but perhaps it should be. It is Germany’s 2nd largest city, the wealthiest in the country, and the busiest port in Europe. It has been a primary trading post since the 13th century and some of the medieval remnants still stand. It is considered to be the greenest city in Europe as well, thus in the spring and summer I can only imagine what a sight it must be, with trees and gardens abloom, bikes running the town, rowboats and dragon boat races on the lake, kids running through the enormous parks and botanical gardens, and visitors exploring the 2300 bridges, canals and waterfronts. Oh, and the ships, everywhere ships. There is an inescapable maritime spirit ; from the ship-shaped windvanes to the billionaire’s yacht and Russian submarine docked in the harbor, the water is the lifeblood of this city.`
A good first stop is the Hamburg history museum which covers Hamburg’s fashion, music, local families and politicians, history of its survival and roles in the wars, its maritime and jewish history and, on the top floor, has a huge model train running at the delight of the kids. The museum also gives a good history of the grossen Brand and its destruction, it houses a 1907 ship interieor, intact and undisturbed, which visitors can climb through.
To see some of the old churches, saved and restored from the grossen Brand (Great Fire) of 1842 which burned a quarter of the city, head downtown.
Head towards the Elbe to see some of the quainter, old-style buildings and shops, and to experience the feel of the water, the bridges and canals that give the city such character.
A walk in the other direction, along the lakes, from the Binnenalster towards the Alsenalster, through the high-end fashion shopping area, will give you a stunning view of the city scape, copper rooftops and church spires; it is a sight to see in any weather.
The Rathaus is hard to miss and will stop you in your tracks. It’s an imposing and beautiful building. The adjoining shopping area is full of small restaurants- Café Paris is popular at the moment.
We were lucky to have a local colleague as a tour guide who took us to dinner at the Hamburger Elbspeicher restaurant. It looks out over the water, and has a patio area which must be delightful in warmer weather. The interior has, of course, a maritime theme, mostly wood and brick. They serve a variety of seafood and local fare, including a twist on Labskause, usually a “kitchen sink” mixture of corned beef, potatoes, onions, beets, pickles, topped with a raw egg, but in this case made with raw fish- in any case, definitely an “acquired taste”; this one got rave reviews.
At the soccer stadium you can grab a one of a kind St. Pauli Pirates sweatshirt or team uniform or hat for our kids. Or better yet, stay for a game. Word has it the St. Pauli fans are the best in the world, especially for such a losing team.
Assuming there is a chance you are a little tired of German food, Protonovo, on the south side of the Alsenalster, nestled between embassies and rowing clubs, serves fresh Italian fare. It sits right on the water, with a deck primed for summer luncheons, and is popular with the business crowd year round. It is bright, decorated with black and white photos of the city, not too loud, and offers daily specials and a prix fixe menu. Serving sizes are small and prices a bit steep, but, as seems to be the trend in this town, you are paying for the privelege of a stunning view which, in this case, includes the historic, copper-topped Kempenski hotel across the lake.
For a beer near the botanic garden, head to Zwick St. Pauli, a rock ‘n’roll themed pub, with bass guitars on the walls, great beer, Marilyn Monroe and eclectic photos of naken men on the bathroom walls.
One of the hottest night spots (aside from the red light district) is the Mojo Jazz Club. An slab of asphalt opens from the sidewalk to let people in to see local and European talent while they choose from a list of high-end whiskeys and coffee.
Clouds Heaven restaurant and bar is beautifully appointed with shelves of liquor decorating the walls inbetween the enormous windows which frame the stunning 180 degree views of the city. It is appointed with leather chairs, light wood tables, steer skulls and friendly bartenders. The food is not particularly memorable, though for the price it should be; rather, one pays for the view and a memorable experience perched so high above this historic place.
If you have time for little more exploring, take the Ubahn to the Ohlsdorf cemetery, the largest in the world after the Wadi Al-Salaam in Iraq. (The Ubahn is also a good way to see some of the city outskirts as it is an above ground trip). This beautifully cultivated and maintained park is popular with runners, families and history buffs. Some of the stones date to the late 1800’s, and there are sections devoted to each of the world wars, foreign soldiers, and a section for the original stones of the cemetery. I was especially touched by the graves covered with greenery planted and pruned to decorate the gravesite in lieu of flowers.