A Rambler in Hamburg


When we decided to add Hamburg as the end stop on last summer's trip that started started in northern Italy and kept creeping north, we weren't really sure why: just an occasional article that hinted it was a place to go. Now. So we did.


Hamburg's history is unusual; while nearly everywhere you go in Europe, there are tales and buildings linked with this or that king or empire, this or that bishop—but for nearly 700 years, Hamburg was only lightly touched by those hands while it kept busy trading, and governing itself. The manhole cover still carries that idea, and its official name: The Independent and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.


With Lübeck, it created the Hanseatic League, a powerful trading alliance of Baltic cities that not only dominated trade across several countries but acted like a modern multi-national, standardizing trade, dominating the political life of many of its customers and acted almost as a state itself.

Hamburg, Berlin and Leipzig all claim to be the original home of Currywurst

That trade created wealth for Hamburg's elite (and only the elite were able to take part in the city's self-government until well into modern times), and is the basis for Hamburg's status today as Germany's second-largest city, Europe's third-largest port, and a true survivor of the shift of shipping to containers.


And, it's left a lot to look at as you walk the city. And, as usually happens, after I've written a number of blogs about various aspects of our time there, I find there are more photos to share, some to repeat, and more background.

As befits a city that prided itself on its wealth and refinement, its museum resources are huge, including the immense Kunstalle, which stretches for blocks near the main railroad station. Think Louvre. Think New York's Met.


The Hamburgmuseum, formerly the Museum of Hamburg History, has a large and eclectic collecction of objects and ideas that range from these elegant instruments to a large electric train layout modeled on parts of the city.


This one's not a model: it's the interior of the city's huge main station, busy at all hours. And it's not unconnected to museums and art, as the pranksters below challenge with the question "Is it Art, or is it Cheese?" The same question might apply to the folk-character sculptures on its concourses.


Hamburg's public buildings are impressive, and not all as old as they might seem: This City Hall dates to the mid-19th century, replacing one that was destroyed in Hamburg's Great Fire of 1840. The Central Library is unabashedly modern (as well as huge and full of interesting programs and resources). And it clearly welcomes tall people!P1110929P11109301110889

Near the city hall, on the edge of the Inner Alster lake, we found people who weren't tall on their own, but made up for it by piling up.


The lakes, which flow to the Elbe River, run through central Hamburg and are criss-crossed by ferries and excursion boats.


Architecture in the city's central areas ranges from seriously heavy stone and the red-brick 'speichers' or warehouse buildings that are one of the city's most notable types. With the coming of containerization, many have been recycled as housing, retail, wholesale and museum spaces.


One of them has become the base of the city's newest pride, the Elbphilharmonie, a combination office/retail/residential complex integrated with the city's grand new concert hall. It's sail-like roof can be seen from many points in the city center. It sits on a spit of land at the edge of the harbor.


Many of the city's interesting buildings are near the harbor or front on one of the many canals and streams (the city counts about 2,000 bridges of various sorts).


The stepped roofline on this building recalls typical buildings of the Hansa era, and is part of the style of many later buildings.

In the picture below, along one of the canals, medieval warriors appear to confront the rise of modernity, or at least of modern architecture.

And just below that, easily the most impressive Starbucks exterior I've seen anywhere, in a downtown pedestrianized area near the main station.

Near that, a muesli-only store that's part of a popular chain.



Hamburg has many fine churches, but St. Michael's is a real standout, and has been described as the best example of Hanseatic Protestant baroque churches. Built in 1669, it's now a major concert venue when not used for services.


And it's a good place to look up: there's plenty of ornamental sculpture on building facades, representing trades, associations and events.


A museum filled with model boats, and a spectacular display at the Museum for Art and Industry. Hamburg also has the House of Photography, a Museum of Work, Museum of Archeology, and local history museums, including an outdoor living museum. More than enough to tempt us back some day!



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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