Ham­burg’s re­ju­ve­nated wa­ter­front is putting the city on the map


There’s a new word on the streets of Ger­many’s sec­ond big­gest city: to “cor­nern”. In our era of smart­phones and pre­dic­tive text, where lan­guage gets mashed, this piece of Denglish means to buy a beer from a kiosk and stand on a street cor­ner chat­ting with a group of friends. It is some­thing of a so­cial phe­nom­e­non in the trendier ar­eas of Ham­burg on sunny sum­mer evenings. El­e­ments of Ham­burg so­ci­ety don’t like this “cor­nern­ing”, and it cer­tainly doesn’t sit com­fort­ably with the staid, but­toned-up im­age of the wealthy trad­ing city. But then this is also the city that has re­cently been de­clared the most live­able in Ger­many (Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit), the fourth best city des­ti­na­tion in the world (Lonely Planet), and home to the world’s best nightlife (Hostel­world).

Lo­cals are slightly mys­ti­fied by all these sud­den ac­co­lades. Ham­burg has been like this for a long time, they say, but it seems that the rest of us are only just cot­ton­ing on.

There’s a very big rea­son for this “why now?” A rea­son that rises proudly from among the for­mer wharves. The Elbphil­har­monie, or El­phi for short, is a gi­ant con­struct of glass and brick, a rad­i­cal wave-topped ware­house. This hugely ex­pen­sive con­cert hall/ho­tel/apart­ment block is Ham­burg’s equiv­a­lent of the Eif­fel Tower, and it has at­tracted a stag­ger­ing four mil­lion vis­i­tors in its first year of op­er­a­tion. And that in­cludes an aw­ful lot of blog­gers and jour­nal­ists whose me­dia cov­er­age has put the city on the map.


Some­times fan­ci­fully called the Venice of the North thanks to all its bridges and canals, Ham­burg has al­ways thrived on its water­side lo­ca­tion. Mariners nav­i­gat­ing up the River Elbe into Ger­many’s largest port have long ap­pre­ci­ated the fact that they can moor right next to down­town, rather than be ex­cluded to some dis­tant, in­dus­trial no man’s land.

The Hanseatic ware­houses have been trans­formed into banks and ex­clu­sive bou­tiques

Ham­burg’s cen­tral dock­lands make them feel wel­come, al­though fast turn­around times these days mean they barely get the chance to go ashore.

It was the port that cre­ated the orig­i­nal ur­ban­i­sa­tion along a web of streets between the banks of the Elbe and the Al­ster lakes. Here, the re­main­ing Hanseatic ware­houses and ship­ping com­pany head­quar­ters have been trans­formed into banks and ex­clu­sive bou­tiques. The key cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions such as the Kun­sthalle art gallery are here, as are the fa­mous St Michael’s church and the Rathaus, the neo-Re­nais­sance style town hall. The city cen­tre is pleas­ant enough, es­pe­cially on the ter­raced lake­side at Jungfern­stieg, where white and red cruis­ers pick up pas­sen­gers for a saunter out onto the stip­pled, swan­rich wa­ters of the two Al­ster lakes. The Outer Al­ster, in par­tic­u­lar, is lined with cof­fee houses and fine vil­las. Around Uh­len­horst, along the east­ern shore, it looks like some lux­ury sea­side re­sort with jog­gers, cy­clists and pic­nick­ers mak­ing the most of the water­side green­ery. But there’s far more to Ham­burg than this.


The best ap­proach to Ham­burg’s water­side is the el­e­vated U-bahn, which runs out through Baumwall to Lan­dungs­bruecken, the busy land­ing stage for all the har­bour cruises and fer­ries. There’s a new el­e­vated walk­way here, too, with a unique view: to your right, big ships and cranes sil­hou­et­ted like ques­tion marks against the sky, and to your left, ware­houses and the El­phi. And it’s towards the left that Ham­burg’s grav­ity has shifted in the past decade, ex­pand­ing the city cen­tre by some 40 per cent. Not long ago HafenCity’s dock­lands be­came too small for the new gen­er­a­tion ships; now it is one of the largest ur­ban de­vel­op­ments in Europe, and one which has taken care to mix of­fices with res­i­den­tial and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions. And to make sure it is sus­tain­able and ac­ces­si­ble, plan­ning rules here in­sist that any res­i­den­tial projects must be one third for sale, one third rentable, and one third so­cial housing.

All this new devel­op­ment, with its sleek mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture, is be­hind the ini­tial bar­ri­cade of the Spe­ich­er­stadt, two mas­sive and el­e­gant UNESCOreg­is­tered rows of brick-built ware­houses dat­ing back 100 years, sep­a­rated by a fin­ger of wa­ter. Orig­i­nally for stor­age of spices and cof­fee, these now house tourist at­trac­tions such as Miniatur Wun­der­land, a minia­ture model world which has topped the list of Ger­many’s most pop­u­lar at­trac­tions for the past two years, beat­ing cen­turies-old his­toric sites (see page 54). Be­yond Spe­ich­er­stadt are the var­i­ous quays in their new con­fig­u­ra­tions, par­tic­u­larly Gras­brookkai and Sand­torkai, with water­side bars, restau­rants and pres­ti­gious com­mer­cial ten­ants. The city’s cruise ter­mi­nal (cruis­ing is huge here) is on Strand­kai, and a col­lec­tion of his­toric ships rubs gen­tly against the pon­toon in Sand­torhafen.

Dom­i­nat­ing this whole dockscape is the €800 mil­lion El­phi, which sits out on the end of Kais­erkai, draw­ing a con­stant stream of vis­i­tors. De­signed by Swiss ar­chi­tects Her­zog & de Meu­ron, its au­da­cious con­cept meant that its con­struc­tion was fraught with bud­get-bust­ing de­lays, but that’s all wa­ter un­der the bridge, now that it’s fin­ished. At its heart is an or­gan­i­cally shaped con­cert hall with 2,100 seats and a wide pro­gramme of dif­fer­ent types of mu­sic. Some of its con­cert tick­ets are only avail­able to lo­cals, and most sell out, but ev­ery­one can come up to what is called the Plaza (at busy times you need to pre-book through the vis­i­tor cen­tre), on the in­ter­sec­tion between the orig­i­nal gi­ant brick ware­house and the flow­ing glass­work on top. Po­si­tioned right at the point of the quay, the El­phi of­fers a mag­nif­i­cent view in all di­rec­tions; this con­cert hall has its feet in the wa­ter, and its head in the clouds.

St Pauli and be­yond

Ham­burg’s rep­u­ta­tion as nightlife des­ti­na­tion is tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with the salty Reeper­bahn, but these days the ta­ble-danc­ing clubs are go­ing out of busi­ness. There’s still an “over 18s only” shut­ter across Her­bert­strasse, the heart of the pros­ti­tu­tion zone, and stag par­ties still come sway­ing down the streets, but more peo­ple come here these days for mu­sic, and mu­si­cals; this is, af­ter all, where the Bea­tles started out and per­fected their craft from 1960-62. There’s now a big mu­sic fes­ti­val ev­ery Septem­ber. Lo­cals are here, too, but not on the main drag; the side streets around the Reeper­bahn are home to large num­bers of pub­lic re­la­tions com­pa­nies and dis­creet restau­rants such as Krug in Paul-Roosen Strasse, or Chug on Tauben­strasse which serves taster flights of in­no­va­tive cock­tail cre­ations.

For the many lo­cals head­ing for a night out, the early evening hang­outs are fur­ther in­land, to the north, in the up and com­ing dis­tricts of Karo­li­nen­vier­tel and Stern­schanze. This is where all that trendy “cor­nern­ing” is go­ing on.

Karo­li­nen is es­sen­tially just a cou­ple of streets of lo­cal fash­ion de­sign­ers and quirky shops and cafés. Its main axis is Mark­t­strasse, with shoe­mak­ers, pot­tery shops and street art.

The big­gest land­mark build­ing in this area is the huge World War II bunker on Feld­strasse, which cur­rently hosts all kinds of creative or­gan­i­sa­tions, but is slated to be­come a ho­tel with a roof gar­den and a mu­seum. Next door is a fine con­ver­sion al­ready com­pleted: the brick-

Un­til as re­cently as 1871 the Hanseatic city of Ham­burg was staunchly in­de­pen­dent

built Rin­der­mark­thalle, a for­mer cat­tle mar­ket, now with an open-plan in­te­rior housing pop-up stores and food out­lets at the cen­tre and su­per­mar­kets around the edges (though not the usual Ger­man dis­count stores).

Stern­schanze sits to the north­west of the Rin­der­mark­thalle. Its main axis, Schul­terblatt Strasse, is a mix of shops and man­i­fes­ta­tions of typ­i­cal Ham­bur­gian al­ter­na­tive liv­ing, par­tic­u­larly in the iconic squat of Rote Flora, a for­mer mu­sic hall now fes­tooned in ban­ners and rechris­tened Achidi-John-Platz af­ter an African im­mi­grant who died in sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances. There’s a squat­ter stock­ade of camper­vans around the cor­ner, and the wide pave­ments cre­ate a big gath­er­ing point on sum­mer evenings.

This part of town is a fo­cal point for the young, the creative and the up­wardly mo­bile, many of whom grav­i­tate a cou­ple of streets north to the Schanzen­hofe, a hip­ster­ish con­ver­sion of brick-built, mar­ket-style build­ings. Here, there’s a big craft brew­ery (Rat­sherrn) beer gar­den, a cof­fee roaster cum meet­ing place café (El­b­gold Rostkaf­fee) and the Bullerei, a big restau­rant run by TV chef Tim Mälzer, Ger­many’s equiv­a­lent of Jamie Oliver.

Al­tona and Ovel­gonne

Un­til as re­cently as 1871, the Hanseatic city of Ham­burg was staunchly in­de­pen­dent, and it was sur­rounded on the north and west by Den­mark. Its western axis, Al­tona, was un­der Dan­ish rule, and so the ad­join­ing re­gion of Ot­tensen is dis­tinc­tively low-rise,


At first sight, the de­par­tures board of this Ger­man air­port seems nor­mal enough. It must be one of the big hubs, for there are im­mi­nent flights to the likes of New York, Jo­han­nes­burg, Osaka and Panama City, with air­lines like Lufthansa, United and Con­dor. But also com­ing up is a flight to Kil­i­man­jaro, which strikes an odd note: surely the tiny Kil­i­man­jaro air­port doesn’t have di­rect flights de­part­ing from Ger­many? And then, at 1425, the killer en­try: des­ti­na­tion Death Star, ser­viced by the Mil­len­nium Fal­con. And there it is, parked up on the apron among the A380s and the B777s: the

Star Wars’ Fal­con, an ugly duck­ling among the beau­ti­ful big birds. It’s a geek mo­ment the model-mak­ers couldn’t re­sist.

As you might have guessed by now, this is not a real air­port. This is Knuffin­gen, in Ham­burg’s Miniatur Wun­der­land, but half-close your eyes and you can barely tell the dif­fer­ence. In the dis­tance, planes are tak­ing off and land­ing. Ar­rivals are taxi­ing to the gates, led by “Fol­low Me” ve­hi­cles and at­tended by pas­sen­ger buses and bag­gage crews. Fire en­gines cir­cle the perime­ter, and the whole thing is a blaze of lights, es­pe­cially when “night time” falls.

For avi­a­tion en­thu­si­asts, the re­al­ism and de­tail of Knuffin­gen air­port is mes­meris­ing, es­pe­cially when you see the lift sys­tem that shuf­fles the de­parted air­craft back to the ar­riv­ing queue, and all the apron ve­hi­cles bring­ing them­selves into recharg­ing dock­ing sta­tions when they sense their bat­tery power is get­ting low. Its am­bi­tion and com­plex­ity are breath-tak­ing.

For the past cou­ple of years, Miniatur Wun­der­land, which is housed in Ham­burg’s UNESCO-reg­is­tered Spe­ich­er­stadt ware­houses where down­town meets dock­lands, has been Ger­many’s most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion. This is slightly to the con­ster­na­tion of the na­tional tourist board, be­cause cul­tural icons such as Neuschwanstein Cas­tle and the Bran­den­burg Gate are be­ing trumped by what is es­sen­tially a model rail­way.

Wun­der­land doesn’t need spe­cial pro­mo­tion; word of mouth has al­ways done it proud. The an­nual through­put of 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple is al­ready a strug­gle within the con­fined space avail­able, and at the busiest times you can wait for many hours if you haven’t re­served in ad­vance. Some­times, in the height of the sum­mer, the doors stay open un­til the early hours of the morn­ing to give ev­ery­one a chance.

It is clear from the en­trance that the project is still very much home-grown; there’s none of the flashy pre­sen­ta­tion as­so­ci­ated with big en­ter­tain­ment cor­po­ra­tions. Inside, a screen shows the ori­gins of its 16.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors since it started 17 years ago. The big num­bers are the Ger­mans, Aus­tri­ans, Swiss, Dutch, Brits and Amer­i­cans; the small num­bers

with Scan­di­na­vian-in­flu­enced ar­chi­tec­ture and so­cia­ble tri­an­gu­lar town squares that could be out of Paris’s Mont­martre. This is still an in­de­pen­dent think­ing part of town, and with the shops along Ot­tenser Haupt­strasse (start­ing with big brands and end­ing with quirky in­de­pen­dents, delis and bak­eries) there’s enough go­ing on for lo­cals not to need to go down­town for their needs.

A short walk south from Ot­tensen’s cen­tre you find your­self back on the banks of the river. This ex­clu­sive north­ern bank is a place of big vil­las built for mer­chants and sea cap­tains, while down towards the wa­ter’s edge are pretty rows of Dan­ish-in­flu­enced cot­tages. Here, at Ovel­gonne, is one of Ham­burg’s big­gest sur­prises: the Elb­strand beach along the river bank. This long stretch of sand, with fish restau­rants and beach bar Strand­perle, is a des­ti­na­tion for fam­i­lies on hot sum­mer days. It’s an un­usual place to build sand­cas­tles, in the shadow of pass­ing su­per­tankers.

De­spite its dis­tance down­stream, Elb­strand and Ovel­gonne are part of Ham­burg’s pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem. In fact, route 62 back to Lan­dungs­brucken must be one of the travel bar­gains of the world. Who needs a har­bour cruise when this ferry, which runs ev­ery ten min­utes, charges down the Elbe, with the El­phi loom­ing up out of the haze? are Tonga (six vis­i­tors so far) and the Vatican City (five – and it doesn’t say whether one was the Holy Fa­ther him­self).

Miniatur Wun­der­land is the brain­child of twin brothers Fred­erik and Gerrit Braun, who both re­main fully in­volved in the project. When they first went to the tourist board with their idea, all those years ago, they were turned down, on the ba­sis that model rail­ways ap­peal only to men and boys. And yet to­day, says mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer Thomas Cerny, it is fe­male vis­i­tors who de­clare them­selves most sat­is­fied, prob­a­bly be­cause they “come with the low­est ex­pec­ta­tions”.

Cer­tainly the sta­tis­tics are im­pres­sive. Aside from the air­port, some 270 model trains are si­mul­ta­ne­ously thread­ing their way through a va­ri­ety of na­tional land­scapes (Ger­many, Switzer­land, Den­mark, Italy, etc), along with 9,250 cars, 260,000 model peo­ple and 385,000 LED lights. There are even ships on real wa­ter bring­ing them­selves into docks guided by work­ing rud­ders and pro­pel­lers.

But what makes it work for ev­ery­one, and not just trainspot­ter types, is the de­tail; the lit­tle touches of hu­mour, such as the wa­ter ski­ing pen­guins and the two monks gaz­ing through the trees at a naked sun­bather. There are over 100 fig­ures mak­ing love in these land­scapes. And there’s lots of so­cial ob­ser­va­tion: the wannabe sui­cide be­ing talked down off a clifftop, the long queues of women at the toi­lets in the pop con­cert, and the Ham­burg hip­ster pulling his bed out of the wall in his stu­dio flat when night falls.

And night does fall. Ev­ery 15 min­utes the mood and the light­ing changes. Sev­eral af­ter-dark set pieces in­clude the erup­tion of Ve­su­vius, com­plete with smoke and lava, which took years to per­fect. And the open­ing up of the Elbphil­har­monie, Ham­burg’s ex­tra­or­di­nary wave­topped con­cert hall, with tiny mov­ing fig­ures in the orches­tra.

All of this is run by a team of around 370 peo­ple, which in­cludes the two clean­ers who have to walk over the dis­plays like del­i­cate­toed King Kongs between 4am and 6am, wield­ing vac­uum clean­ers; dust is the big­gest enemy of some­thing with so many tiny elec­tri­cally pow­ered mov­ing parts, and it takes them three weeks to clean the whole thing, be­fore they start again.

Miniatur Wun­der­land is clearly a hugely, and maybe un­ex­pect­edly, suc­cess­ful en­ter­prise. The Brauns have just turned 50, and their next plan is to open up a France and Eng­land sec­tion, but with no room left in the cur­rent ware­house, they’ve sub­mit­ted plans to do so in its sis­ter build­ing across the canal. That’ll mean a bridge between the two, but that also brings the model mak­ers up against a new ob­sta­cle: Spe­ich­er­stadt’s UNESCO World Her­itage sta­tus.

So the next chap­ter in its devel­op­ment starts with UNESCO ver­sus Miniatur Wun­der­land, some­thing of a David and Go­liath bat­tle. There’s prob­a­bly a model in that.

It’s an un­usual place to build your sand­cas­tles, in the shadow of pass­ing su­per­tankers

FROM LEFT: Cy­cling along the dock­side in HafenCity; Lan­dungs­bruecken U-bahn (rapid tran­sit train) is the best way to reach the docks

ABOVE: El­b­gold Rostkaf­fee in Stern­schanzeLEFT: A canal­side cor­ner of the Spe­ich­er­stadt, or Ware­house District

ABOVE: Model air­port at Miniatur Wun­der­land RIGHT: Scale model train and land­scape LEFT: Schanzen­hofe beer gar­den

ABOVE LEFT: Elb­strand beach RIGHT: Miniatur Wun­der­land’s Venice BE­LOW: Venice by night, in minia­ture

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from International

© PressReader. All rights reserved.