Sept 2, 2018
We came to Hamburg yesterday from Edinburgh. While we have transited through Frankfurt many times as we went to the US or returned to India, we haven’t visited any city in Germany. Our tour of Germany starts from Hamburg. I had booked us on the “Discover Hamburg” walk on the Berlin Walks website that started at 10.30 am.
We are staying in an Airbnb that’s two minutes from the Hamburg central station, Hauptbahnhof. The meeting point for the start the walk, was the war memorial next to Rathaus (townhall). When we checked on the Google maps, it showed a distance of 1.4 kms, so we decided to walk. It took us a few false starts before getting our bearing and then it took us just 20 minutes to get to Rathaus. Then we spent the next 15 minutes walking around everywhere unable to find the war memorial as almost all the signage is in German!!. Finally while we came back to the Rathaus we saw a blue umbrella and thought we could ask them… and well there was Anna, our guide from Hamburg Walks. We heaved a sigh of relief. Anna spent some time at the war memorial explaining the history of Hamburg before starting out on the walk.
We took a selfie to celebrate finding the guide and the war memorial. This is one of the many bridges across the river Alster’s canal. Actually the river runs for almost 37 kms and has been dammed to make tiny lakes and canals that go across the city. Hamburg is the wealthiest German city and it has been historically a port city. Also almost all immigrants to the US from the UK and Europe, in earlier days emigrated from the Hamburg port.
Here’s the war memorial that has a relief of a mother with her child waiting for her husband, a soldier who probably has died in either of the world wars.
The Rathaus or townhall is an impressive structure. The earlier townhall was gutted in the great fire of 1842 when 1/3rd of the city was burnt down. We saw the earlier townhall a little later in the walk.
The Rathaus was built in 1897 and has 647 rooms. Today its the seat of the local government. The courtyard is decorated with a Hygieia fountain. Hygieia as the goddess of health and hygiene in Greek mythology and its surrounding figures represents the power and pureness of the water. It was built in remembrance of the cholera epidemic in 1892, which killed over 8600 people. This fountain also helps in air cooling the city hall. On the bottom left you see London’s seal – there are many other such seals of countries that Hamburg city trades with all over the wall of the courtyard.
From the Rathaus we walked across to the old townhall (5th) a part of which is restored and used as the office of the “Patriotic club”, one of the earliest clubs of which the Rothschild of Hamburg, Salomon Heine was a member. There is a restaurant downstairs there.
On the sidewalks everywhere you will find names engraved of Jews that were taken to the concentration camps and killed during the Nazi regime. Next to the old Rathaus, there is a cluster of them on the sidewalk.
From the old Rathaus we went to the Kontor buildings that were basically the first “office” buildings. Earlier people would have a shop front in their house and there was no separation of the home and office building. These buildings were the first time the offices were separated. One Kontor building is owned by Allianz insurance and is non-functional now. The other one is a shipping company that is still in use and had an interesting “Poodle” story. The “P” fleet owner loved his wife and called her a “Poodle” as her hairstyle resembled that of a poodle. Theirs was a good marriage but funnily all the ships were named with words starting with the letter “P”.
As you cross over the tiny bridge between these buildings, you have to imagine the sea port being there … its extremely difficult to imagine that with all the modern buildings that now fill the space. As you cross the small bridge you see the famous St. Nikolai church in the background and that is where we went next. This church has a tragic history and was burnt down in the great fire, then bombed in WWII… so now its just standing there as a museum.
Read more about this building here – https://www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/culture-in-hamburg/culture-from-a-to-z/st.-nikolai-memorial/.
From the St. Nikolai memorial we walked across a pedestrian overbridge to the Deichstrasse where the great fire started from … a Jewish tobacco factory is where the fire supposedly started from. Here some of the old houses are still preserved. The fronts of the houses were beautifully plastered and they extended all the way to the back where the canals led them to the sea. So boats and ships could come here and goods were loaded and unloaded.
As we walked into the street, there was an interesting modern art installation with water fountains that danced to the pillars going up or down.
From the Deichstrasse street we walked across the old warehouse district of Hamburg or what’s called the Speicherstadt. Massive warehouses standing on millions of oak trunks many of which were destroyed during WWII and almost all of them have been made into museums now. Fascinating walk across a wooden walkway that helps you see how they looked from the front and the back and ending with the view of the stunning Elbphilharmonie, the new concert hall.
The tour ended with us learning about the Elbphilharmonie … which was supposed to be built at a cost of 74 million euros but they ended up spending 800 million!!! The residents of Hamburg aren’t so sure if they wanted this expensive concert hall built with their tax money when there were other more pressing needs. The building is a stunner but I tend to agree with the residents that maybe the money could have been put to better use.
Krishnan and I walked back to our Airbnb and took more pictures along the way. Will post them separately later. A great day spent learning about Hamburg :).