Make you way to Germany’s second city and you’ll find a vibrant, welcoming metropolis replete with UNESCO listed buildings, bustling bars, a thriving sub-culture and a vibrant arts and music festival scene.
Wander around the Schanzenviertel and Karolinevietel districts and you’ll find streets filled with independent stores, coffee shops and boutiques. Graffiti art is encouraged in these colourful areas and on the street of Schulterblatt (shoulder-blade!) we discovered another aspect of the tolerant and welcoming nature of the city’s people. A former theatre, Rote Flora (Red Flower) has been operating as a squat for over 25 years despite attempts to revert it to its original purpose and is currently accommodating refugees from Syria in addition to its more permanent residents. The squat is now considered a cultural centre and holds exhibitions, parties and events.
Stroll through the Flohschanze flea market, where retailers were offering antiques, retro goods, books and dog-eared James Last LPs or the more mainstream shopping experience in and around the Neustadt area where designer outlets and pretty walkways flank canals and avenues.
The Speicherstadt district stands as a symbol of the importance of trade and industry that has made the port city of Hamburg into the richest in Germany. A 26 hectare warehouse complex that once bustled with merchants and seamen is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in addition to trade outlets also contains conversions to hotels and museums, such as the International Maritime Museum.
The bars of St. Pauli, where both the Star Club and the Indra Club on Groβe Freiheit, are famed for their role in the early development of a little-known beat combo called the Beatles. Where the street meets the Reeperbahn stands a sculpture displaying the unmistakeable profiles of the Fab Four.
Where to stay
25hours Hotel Hamburg Hafencity
25hours Hotel Hamburg HafenCity is at the interface between the hypermodern HafenCity, Hamburg’s new and dynamically growing district on the Elbe River, and the traditional, historic Speicherstadt. Attractions such as the International Maritime Museum, the recently opened Elbphilharmonie, the port and the city center are all within walking distance. The design of the 170 cabins is based on the stories of 25 seamen from all over the world. The rooms are designed as cozy, comfortable havens with accents set by individually crafted maritime elements (think tattooed lady illustrations in the bathroom). Nine good-sized XL -cabins are both spacious and comfortable. Plus there’s a communal room complete with turntable and vintage vinyl collection.
Where To Eat
Hein-Hoyer-Strasse 7-9, 20359 Hamburg St. Pauli
“German cooking like mum used to make” promises the blurb. Well my mum is Scottish and struggles to boil a haggis but you get the general idea. Unpretentious, hearty home-style cuisine with meat, fish or vegetarian main course options washed down with an extensive selection of German wines.
Lagerstraße 34b, 20357 Hamburg, Germany
TV chef Tim Mälzer’s restaurant is a meat lovers paradise (they are famous for their steaks) but you better book in advance if you want a table in this former abattoir, which is now converted into one of the cities hippest gastronomic areas.
Simon-von-Utrecht-Strasse 31, Hamburg 20359
This chic Eurasian restaurant is housed within the impressive East complex in what was formerly an old iron works and now features a design hotel, spa and a variety of trendy bars and lounges all surrounding a tranquil courtyard. Choose between contemporary European gastronomy and selections from the sashimi and sushi bar.
Where to drink
Lagerstraße 28b, 20357 Hamburg
Adjoining the Ratsherrn brewery and craft beer shop in a redeveloped former slaughterhouse, Altes Madchen “Old Girl” is a brew-house and restaurant guaranteed to titillate the tastebuds of the craft beer aficionado. Delicious burgers, snacks or evening meals can be accompanied by a selection of over 60 craft beers from around the world. For something a little closer to home try the tasting tray of Ratsherrn ales.
Silbersackstraße 9, 20359 Hamburg, Germany
Wonderful dive bar just off the Reeperbahn where the drinks are cheap and strong and boisterous German sailor songs fill the airwaves. Free of any pretentious frills this place has been an institution in the district of St.Pauli for over 50 years. Drink and smoke from 3pm-3am daily.
The Chug Club
Taubenstr. 13, 20359 Hamburg
Having opened its doors for the first time in September 2015 this funky bar is a stone’s throw from the Reeperbahn but a world away from the standard tourist-oriented Kiez fare and is already proving a huge hit with the Hamburg in-crowd. Talented mixologists specialise in preparing “chugs” – quality cocktails in small measures, meaning you can just go ahead and try more of them.
Where to go
Chocoversum by Hachez
Meßberg 1, 20095 Hamburg
With an entrance in the excellently named Pumpen street this museum is a magnet for chocoholics of all ages. Guided tours demonstrate the origins, history and production processes of chocolate and there is an opportunity to create your own bars using a variety of fillings and toppings.
Annenufer 2, 20457 Hamburg
Who doesn’t like a nice cup of coffee? This spacious and appealing coffee shop is complemented by a museum in the basement area with over 8,800 exhibits assembled over many years by proprietor Jens Burg. Guided tours and coffee tasting are available.
Kehrwieder 2, Block D, 20457 Hamburg
This permanent exhibition aims to demonstrate that miniature railways aren’t just for bespectacled middle-aged men with no social life and capacious attics and it succeeds with aplomb. Set over an area of 1,300 square metres and containing 930 trains and over 215,000 figures this is a model like no other and is still expanding. Initial funding for the project proved hard to come by as potential investors believed that no-one would want to pay good money to look at a model railway. 15 years later and Miniatur Wonderland now attracts over 1.2 million visitors per year making it one of the city’s leading attractions.
Summer events >>
MS Dockville Festival, 18-20 August
MS Dockville, Hamburg’s annual festival of music and art, takes place with an unprecedented presentation of visual art and musical line-ups. The unique city centre location of the festival, with its great combination of urban industrial charm and natural elements, provides an unconventional festival feeling. There is also a diverse musical programme presented on seven stages and venues, that combines both local and established artists with the young and talented. In the past few years, the MS DOCKVILLE Art Camp in Hamburg has earned itself an international reputation as a place where artists from all over the world live and work creatively together. This process is finally being made accessible to the general public in the form of an open air exhibition with various artistic events and media formats. The chilled atmosphere, great music, lively staging and fun art projects make it a must-visit event.
Reeperbahn Festival – 20-23 September
The Reeperbahn Festival is Germany’s largest club festival and is one of the three most important meeting places for the music and digital industries in Europe. The festival offers around 800 wide-ranging events in more than 70 venues on and around Hamburg’s Reeperbahn – including concerts by international newcomers, an extensive arts programme, and a business platform and conference for companies and organisations. Over 37,000 visitors are expected to check out over 500 concerts featuring artists performing indie, pop, rock, folk, singer-songwriter, electro, hip hop, soul, jazz, Concerts are held in clubs, bars, theatres, and an extraordinary variety of unique St. Pauli locations.
Indiecon – 25-27 August
Indiecon 2017 will provide a space for independent printed magazines, journalism and activism. What makes independent magazine makers from all over the world tick? Which topics are worth our attention? And what impact can small and bigger publications have?
Independent magazines are all about leaving those well-trodden paths; they are about experiments in design and content, and finding ways to tell the stories that matter.Indiecon is a rallying point for print publishing’s rare breeds: witty fanzines, savvy art journals and ambitious magazine innovators.
International Summer Festival Hamburg – 10-28 August
The International Summer Festival Hamburg is held for three weeks in August at Kampnagel and at selected locations in Hamburg, and since its founding in the mid-80s it is among the largest European festivals for contemporary performance arts from around the world.
Every year the festival presents and/or produces more than 50 different work in the areas of dance, theatre, performance, music, visual arts and film. Its focus is on interdisciplinary works: The programme features an equal weighting and intertwining of the various media. Works will be shown by artists who deal with current topics, are interesting from a pop-theory perspective and speak a radical aesthetic language.
A Hamburg Card can be purchased for periods of 1-5 days and provides free transport by bus, ferry and train (including to the airport) and discounts on over 150 further attractions including museums, theatres and restaurants. Cards can be booked online at www.hamburg-travel.com
To get around the city quickly hire a bike (bike hire is available from 25 Hours Hotel) it’s fairly flat and safe to cycle, especially at the weekend.
Flights to Hamburg from the UK are plentiful and can be inexpensive.
Direct flights from Birmingham are operated by Eurowings.
Easyjet operates flights from London Luton and Manchester from under £30 each way.
The S-Bahn runs direct from the airport to Hauptbanhof Central Station in around 25 minutes for under €4.