Gems of Europe 2009: Germany

Hamburg holds the key to history, fine art, music and sustainability

By: By Skye Mayring

Gems of Europe

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Think you know Hamburg? Think again.

Referred to as the “Gateway to the World” for centuries, this second-largest German city has grown tremendously in its scope. Furthermore, in 2008 alone, Hamburg’s airport served approximately 12.8 million passengers. And it shows no signs of slowing down.

Gems of Europe 2009: Germany // (c) 2009


The Hamburg Airport, as with many other aspects of Hamburg, is undergoing a major upgrade with new terminals, an S-Bahn railway connection and more, while still offering nonstop flights from major hubs such as New York, Newark, N.J., and Toronto.

“The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is one of the most marvelous cities in Europe, one that is constantly evolving,” said Dietrich von Albedyll, managing director of the Hamburg Tourist Board. “This can be observed nowhere more so than at the old Elbe docks.”

About 100 years ago, exclusive goods, such as spices, oriental rugs and cocoa passed through the docks of the Elbe River and the Speicherstadt warehouse complex. Nowadays, the historical harbor area, known as the Speicherstadt district, is the largest remaining warehouse complex from the late 19th century, brimming with artists, designers, bohemians and entrepreneurs.

The Speicherstadt boasts expansive views of HafenCity, Europe’s largest inner-city construction project. The new district encompasses approximately 383 acres of parks, restaurants, hotels and the Hamburg Cruise Center, a port of call for Costa Cruises and Cunard Line, among other cruise lines. By 2012, the cruise center will be expanded significantly with a new, two-story terminal designed by the Italian architect Massimilano Fuksas.

Adding to the colossal HafenCity project, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, is under construction on the banks of the Elbe River. When completed in 2012, the concert hall will consist of two concert spaces, a five-star hotel and luxury apartments all under a unique, wave-shaped roof. The glass roof will be designed to look as if it is floating above a 19th-century brick warehouse, a bold architectural statement that will help position the concert hall as an iconic Hamburg landmark.

But clients don’t have to wait until the Elbe Philharmonic Hall is completed in order to get a taste of Hamburg’s high culture. Hamburg is home to three state theaters — the Hamburg State Opera (Germany’s oldest opera house), Deutsches Schauspielhaus and the Thalia Theater — as well as approximately 40 other theaters and countless museums that range in subject from maritime history to fine art. Of these museums, Hamburger Kunsthalle is, perhaps, one of Hamburg’s most often visited, boasting the largest collection of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich.

Early risers will want to pay a visit to Hamburg’s Fish Market, located along the banks of the Elbe River in yet another historic and industrial district, Hamburg-Altona. On Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the winter months, clients can find a wide selection of fresh, local produce and seafood, as well as vendors selling Hamburg’s famous herring or
mackerel fishbrotchen (fish sandwiches).

After a morning of browsing, clients can satisfy their appetites with a seafood brunch and live local music at the adjacent Fish Auction Hall, which also houses several beer stands and finger-food booths.

However, Hamburg’s underbelly is arguably the biggest draw for first-time visitors. If only to come home with a very colorful story or two, every client should take a stroll down Germany’s Street of Sins, the Reeperbahn, in the St. Pauli district. Along this red-light district street, clients will find punk clubs, erotic shops, “couch bars” (bars outfitted with comfy couches and home decor to make visitors feel like they are kicking back at a friend’s home), quirky restaurants offering international cuisine and venues to hear new music.

“Many famous bands and musicians have launched their careers in front of small audiences in St. Pauli’s indie rock clubs,” said von Albedyll. “For example, James Blunt, The Whites Stripes and The Killers have all played at the Molotow club for some dozens of trendsetters.”

In September of next year, St. Pauli will host the annual Reeperbahn Festival of music on more than 20 stages throughout the red-light district.

“The Lemonheads, Arrested Development, Paolo Nutini, Lykke Li and so many others [have played the festival]. It’s difficult to pick a few names out of the 450 excellent bands that performed at the Reeperbahn Festival in the last three years,” explained von Albedyll. “The festival is really about discovering new sounds and trends, strolling around on the infamous Reeperbahn and meeting trendsetters from all over.”

This historic city in Northern Germany is not only a cutting-edge metropolis of new music, shopping arcades, hotels and restaurants, but is also raising the bar for sustainable tourism in Europe.

Hamburg has reduced its carbon emissions by 15 percent since 1990, while planning for an additional 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. Come next year, the European Commission will name Hamburg the European Green Capital, a prestigious title earned for the city’s innovations in sustainable development and urban planning.

“[We are] showing the world that economic growth and environmental protection do not have to be mutually exclusive,” said van Albedyll.

Such gains account for just a few of Hamburg’s highlights, making it a city for all types of travelers, whether they seek sustainable tourism, new music or fine art.