Germany is a federal republic divided into 16 states. These states are called Bundesland(pl. Bundesländer) and each one of them has their fair share of places to visit and things to do. This series of posts titled “States of Germany” seeks to explore each state one by one and tell you a little bit about them. Feel free to post about things I have missed out on.
After my brief hiatus, I am back and my first post will be about the state of Hamburg. Hamburg holds the distinction of being one of the only two German city-states. Along with that Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city, the country’s main port and a vibrant social hub. The region which presently constitutes the city-state of Hamburg has been settled since the 9th century AD. For centuries, Hamburg sought to maintain its independence, uniqueness and determination. This is signified by the castle with a closed gate depicted on a field of red on the state’s coat of arms.
Located on the River Elbe, Hamburg joined the Hanseatic League early on during Medieval times. They city – because of the presence of a port – quickly grew wealthy. This wealth was then used to further the city’s prosperity as well as to defend it. The city was annexed a lot of times during the centuries of its existence, most famously perhaps by Napoleon I who incorporated it into the First French Empire. Ultimately, Hamburg became a part of the German Empire and later the Weimar Republic. After World War 2 Hamburg was almost totally destroyed due to its strategic importance. Post World War 2 rebuilding has now restored this city of 1.7 million to its former glory. The state joined West Germany in 1949 and is governed by a mayor (who is the equivalent of a Minister-President as in other German states), while the legislative duties fall to the Senate.
Although it possesses a distinct nautical culture, Hamburg has a lot to offer as is usual with big cities. The city is divided into 7 boroughs (Bezirke). The borough of Hamburg-Mitte is the central one, as the name suggests and also happens to be the most interesting one, depending on your priorities (that’ll become clear soon). This borough has the restaurant and bar district of the city as well as the main shopping district. This borough is also where the city’s port is located. The port is Germany’s largest, Europe’s third largest and thirteenth largest in the world. Naturally, it’s a must-see. The new and hip neighborhood called HafenCity is also located here. This neighborhood used to house the old warehouses for the port which have now been spruced up and converted into chic apartments. There are also many restaurants and pubs in the area.
The neighborhood of St. Pauli is also worth a mention. Aside from being the namesake of the St. Pauli Football Club. this neighborhood houses the Reeperbahn which is one of the world’s most famous red light districts. I hope my comment from before about priorities now becomes clearer wink, wink. Reeperbahn is sometimes called die sündigste Meile in German, or the “most sinful mile”. I think I should stop with these references now because everyone has gotten a picture by this time.
The city of Hamburg has a whole truckload of things to offer. But here are a few recommendations from yours truly.
Visit the Miniatur Wunderland (Miniature Wonderland) which is the biggest model railway attraction in the world.
- Do a harbor boat tour. More details here.
- Visit the Hafengeburtstag which is a festival commemorating the birthday of the Port of Hamburg. Small to big ships pass through including the biggest attraction of them all: the Queen Mary 2. Watch the video below to get a sense of it.
- Walk along the Reeperbahn. And remember, what happens in Reeperbahn stays in Reeperbahn.
- Climb what seems like a million stairs in Blankenese and enjoy the view from up top.
- Stroll through the Elbtunnel which runs under the River Elbe.
- Visit the U-boat U-434 in St. Pauli.
- Check out the Fischmarkt (Fish Market) and enjoy the weird yet traditional “barkers” persuading you to buy their wares* at the top of their voices.
Take the obligatory Speicherstadt photo of the cool river houses.
- Did you know the Beatles got their break in Hamburg? Check out the local clubs they played at. More info here (in German).
*Trust me, you face public humiliation if you don’t buy from the guy. He has a microphone. When he points at you to buy that eel, buy that eel.