Visiting Hamburg: Chocolate, coffee and trade, then and now
HAMBURG — For centuries, the port city of Hamburg was a powerhouse in maritime trade. These days, Germany’s second-largest city is still the country’s main entry point for exotic goods. But it’s also a magnet for foodies, fans of the arts and folks who prefer to wander rather than powerwalk their way around a new destination.
Feast your eyes, tickle your tastebuds
Maybe you want to start small. Really small. In Hamburg’s old warehouse district an indoor model railway called the Miniatur Wunderland stretches across two floors and takes visitors on a humorous journey around the world. Book tickets in advance: miniatur-wunderland.com/visit/ticket.
The warehouse district, or Speicherstadt, was once a free port. Its distinctive red brick buildings on timber foundations helped the area gain UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015. It’s hardly a museum, though. The warehouses are still used to store goods from around the globe and, with a little patience, visitors can watch Persian carpets and sacks of spices being loaded and unloaded using old-fashioned pulley hoist systems.
Hamburg has a long tradition of appreciating coffee. Enjoy a good brew at one of several coffee roasters around town, including Nord Coast Coffee Roastery, http:// bit.ly/2eWC4uo.
At Hamburg’s chocolate museum, Chocoversum, learn about the origins of chocolate and try your hand at creating a unique bar of your own. Tours during the week are in German, but English-language tours are available weekends. Book in advance via www.chocoversum.de/en.
A day on the water
Start exploring mankind’s complicated relationship with the sea on dry land at the International Maritime Museum in the warehouse district. It features replicas of ancient ships, including a Phoenician galley and a Viking dragon boat, www.imm-hamburg.de/international/en.
Once you’re ready to set sail — so to speak — walk or take a subway to the Landungsbruecken. During the week these piers are used by commuters travelling into Hamburg on public boats. For a modest fare, hop on the No. 62 for a ride down the river Elbe, passing some of Hamburg’s impressive maritime industry and not a few towering cargo ships along the way.
Step off at Neumuehlen and head downriver past the charming old sailboats to the Oevelgoenne beach for pizza and a hoppy beer, or coffee and cake, at a riverside café or bar.
A night on the town
The Reeperbahn is Hamburg’s notorious red light district. At night it transforms from a quiet street into a gaudy, neon-light affair filled with bars, live music venues and seedy entertainment. Near the Reeperbahn light rail stop is a square dedicated to the Beatles, who spent their journeyman years in Hamburg, english.hamburg.de/visitors/294386/reeperbahn-hamburgst-pauli-nightclub-english.
For a less touristy and more family friendly evening, head to the Schanzenviertel, a former working class district that became hip a few years ago. There’s cheap food aplenty and a thriving bar culture. Sternschanze is the closest S-Bahn stop.
From there, walk to one of Hamburg’s best-known clubs at Feldstrasse 66. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it. Known to the Nazis as Flakturm IV, this massive overground bunker was too difficult to destroy after the Second World War and so it was left standing. Nowadays it’s home to media companies and the club Uebel und Gefaehrlich — which roughly translates as Nasty and Dangerous. uebelundgefaehrlich.com. If you’re out all night, greet the day at Hamburg’s Altona fish market. Business starts at 5 a.m. April to October, in winter the market opens at 7 a.m. Don’t arrive too late as stalls shutter around 9:30 a.m.
Grand burgers and high culture
For centuries, Hamburg was dominated by a tight-knit ruling class known as the First Families, whose members had acquired a superior form of citizenship that made them Grossbuerger — ‘grand burgers.’ With the title came lucrative economic and political rights that they used to amass great fortunes and shape the city in ways that can still be seen in Hamburg’s centre with its Venice-like arcades and bridges, fancy shopping streets and lakeside promenade. From the underground stop Rathaus, take a stroll past the imposing town hall toward the Binnenalster, or Inner Alster, a reservoir inside the old city perimeters.
For a bit of high art, head to the underground stop Jungfernstieg and take the U1 two stops to Steinstrasse. From there it’s a short walk to one of Europe’s largest contemporary arts centres. The Deichtorhallen, situated in two former market halls built in late art nouveau style, host several simultaneous art and photography exhibitions. deichtorhallen.de/index.php?id=33 & L=1.
For a grand finale, end your trip at the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Completed six years behind schedule and at 10 times the original price, this billion-dollar venue is due to start hosting concerts beginning Jan. 11. If you can’t nab tickets it’s worth visiting for the architecture, which features a waveshaped roof, stunning glass facades and a panoramic view of the harbour. english.hamburg.de/elbephilharmonic-hall.
Tall ships pass by the billion-dollar Elbphilharmonie concert hall, an architectural gem in the Hamburg harbour.