Hamburg, Germany

I wasn’t in Hamburg long enough to do it justice. I literally had a few hours to get a taste of what seems to be a remarkable, if unremarked, city. Given all I had to choose from, and there’s a lot, I went for the churches. And what I could see in between.

The city beats Venice, London, and Amsterdam when it comes to the number of bridges. It has more than all three cities combined. I crossed some of the 2500+ in the city but it would take more time than I had to cross them all.

Collage of four photos. 1. White arches at the base of a three-story building line a waterway, a canal. Traffic pass over a bridge in the background. In the foreground, two people sit looking at the water while another walks by. 2. A green roofed gothic building with a large spire springing from the centre. 3. Flat river cruisers berthed at the side of a lake. 4. Take from the middle of a street, office building flank both sides but the foc is a glass skyscraper tiling to the left. Hamburg scenes.

Lake Alster, home to over 100 swans, is right in the city. I was reminded of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where the Duck Master escorts the ducks from the penthouse to the pond in the lobby. In Hamburg, the Schwanenvater (Swan Father) escorts the swans from Lake Alster (think summer home) to the non-freezing lake of Eppendorder Muhlenteich.

Speaking of cool jobs, “greeting captains” are stationed at Willkomm-Hoft (Welcome Point) on Hamburg Harbor, where they play the national anthem of every ship that passes through. As the anthem plays, they lower the Hamburg flag and raise the foreign flag.

A city with more millionaires than any other German city, the warehouse district is a testimony to the colonial riches shipped into the port. The tall brick warehouses built on oak pilings dot the canals, with both water and street access. Known as the Speicherstadt, this part of town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (lead photo).

A collage of six photos. 1. White and red brick warehouses line a canal. 2. statues of ships adorn the rooftop of a redbricked warehouse. To the right the top two floors of a modern building. 3. red-bricked 19-century warehouses on the left of a river. Modern office buildings on the right with a tall church steeple in the background. 4. Large redbricked warehouse line each side of a narrow street on which cars are parked either side at an angle. 5. Behind the bridge in the foreground, to the left, a large modern glass building with the words DER SPIEGEL spelled out in red. To the right, a redbricked warehouse. 6. A city scene of a metal arched bridge spanning a river with 19th-century redbricked warehouses with green roofs in the lower foreground and more modern office building the background. Hamburg city scenes

The building that caught my attention was the Chilehaus. Designed by architect Fritz Höger, it’s an example of 1920s Brick Expressionism. Buildings fascinate me. Doors fascinate me. Statues fascinate me. Hamburg has it all, in spades.

A collage of three pictures. 1. An angular six-story dark brick building with white windows built in the shape of a ship's prow. 2 The world CHILEHAUS .C. written in gold over a brick arched entryway. 3. six marble pillars form the entryway to a large brick building - statures of animals and angels are set into a honeycomb recesses above. Hamburg scenes.

A collage of three photos. 1. A double wooden door set in an white stone archway with two steps leading up to it. The pavement is made of coloured brick./ A black bicycle with a basket on the carried leans against a stone pillar. 2. a close up of the stone pillar with angel reliefs. 3. a close up of the wooden door with what appears to be carvings of men in boats.

The first church we happened across was St Petri, the city’s oldest church. It dates to 1195 and was remodelled in the 1500s in Gothic style. It’s famous for its church music and its Bach choir. Note to self duly made.

A collage of four photos. 1 a church with a spire and clok sits behind three tress in a city park. 2. the interior of the church with wooden pews and three arched stained glass windows behind an altar. 3. a large painting with two angles in the top right, a bearded older man in a blue cloak kneeling in front of a younger anm with long hair dressed in white. The younger man appears to be blessing the older one. Hamburg church


We lucked out and got to St. Michaelis church just as a prayer service began. I’ve no clue what was being said but the organ music was divine. It’s the city’s biggest church and, back in the day, its 132-metre spire was like a beacon for ships coming up the Elbe. It’s not had much luck though. This is the third church on this site. The first was a victim of lightning in 1750. The second was gutted by a fire in 1906, renovated, and then bombed during the war. What’s standing today is spectacular.  It is a beautifully designed Baroque space. The composer, Johannes Brahms, was both baptised and confirmed here. It also has the distrintion of being built for Protestants, unlike others in the city that started off as Roman Catholic and converted during the Rerfomation.  If it’s the only active church you visit in the city, this is the one to see.

A collage of four photos - a large gothic church with a tall steeple with a gold clock showing 11.50. 2. a photo taken from underneath a curved organ gallery looking over people in pews facing a altar - interior in white with gold fittings. 3. A gold organ in a curved gallery. 4. leather seats with gold trim on wooden pews. Hamburg.

The most stunning, from a visceral sense, has to be the church of St. Nikolai, or what remains of it. The original Gothic basilica was razed by the Great Fire in 1842. Rebuilt in 1874, it had the distinction, albeit a brief one lasting only a couple of years, of being the world’s tallest building. Then, the bombs of WWII came and what’s left is what we see today. No longer an active church, it’s now a memorial site, paying homage to those who’ve died in wars or suffered from tyranny. If you take the time and sit and feel, it’ll speak to you. The two bronze sculptures by Edith Breckwoldt are worth spending time with.

Examination is a memorial to the Sandbostel WWII POW camp where more than 50,000 people died, about 10,000 of whom were prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp. The man, with his head in his hands, sits on a base of bricks that came from the barracks,.

Earth Angel stands six metres high on a base inscribed with the artist’s messages in eight languages. The message ‘intends to express that all knowledge rests within the human being: if he finds his way back to himself, he will also find peace; this in turn is a prerequisite for peacefulness between people.’


A collage of three photos - 1. A bronze plaque on a brick wall with the writing ANGEL ON EARTH Take my hand and let me lead you back to yourself. Edit Breckwoldt - Bronze 2003. 2. A statue of a woman with her right arm extended to heaven. Hands curve around the pillar. In the background is a ruined church and behind them modern office buildings. 3. statue of a woman with her right arm extended to heaven. Hands curve around the pillar. In the background is a ruined church. Hamburg

As with St Michaelis, the tower can be climbed to get a panoramic view of the city.

St. Katharinen Church boasts the oldest stonework in the city, dating to the thirteenth century. Inside it’s plain and simple, more like an art gallery than a church and indeed the sculptures on display are worth a visit. I’m not sure if it was a temporary exhibition or if they’re permanent.

It was a whirlwind tour before I flew out. I’d spent a couple of days in nearby Geesthacht; Hamburg was never the destination. That said, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

And to the question that Hamburgers are probably sick of answering: Did hamburgers come from Hamburg? Sort of. Apparently, German immigrants introduced Hamburg steaks (made of minced meat) to America; the Americans added the buns and the trimmings. It was a joint effort.

For next time
  • Check out the Beatles connection with the city. It’s where it all began. They played about 270 gigs in Hamburg in the early 1960s.
  • Visit the opera, the oldest in the country
  • Check St Petri for concerts
  • Visit the Russian Orthodox Gnadenkirche, in the Karolinenviertel so see the icons
  • Visit the Flussschifferkirche  – the boat church
  • Have breakfast in the fishmarket
  • Take a side trip to Sandbostel
  • Visit the crypt in St Michaelis


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