Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany, a city of canals, claims to have more bridges than either Amsterdam or Venice combined. Who would have guessed that a northern German city could be so picturesque and interesting. With 1.8 million citizens calling Hamburg ‘home’, this cosmopolitan city has much to offer the visiting tourist.
Climbing the tower of St. Michael’s Church is the perfect introduction to the city. The church, built in 1685, boasts a 132-meter (433 ft) high tower. If you are feeling athletic, walk the 453 steps to the top. If you prefer to relax, a quick elevator ride will bring you up to the observation deck with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and surroundings. This bird’s-eye view of Hamburg from the bustling harbor to the tall commercial buildings in the center and the green countryside spreading out as far as the eye can see is well worth the 5 EUR ticket, less than 6 USD (3.50 EUR, or 4 USD for children, and discounted rates are available). More information including directions on how to get there can be found on their website .
Descending the steps of St. Michael’s, choose to walk the fifteen minutes to the Rathausmarkt, the central city square or take easily accessible public transportation to the center of town. A daily ticket, costing 6 EUR, or slightly less than 7 USD, allows you to enjoy unlimited trips on the trains and buses during a 24-hour period. There are special group and family rates as well. Rathausmarkt, the heart of the downtown, is reminiscent of a medieval town square bordered by modern shops, cafes and restaurants on three sides. On the fourth side of the square is the Rathaus, the well maintained Neo-Renaissance city hall and home to the Hamburg Senate, dating from the late 19th century. Daily tours of the public rooms are available.
Walk, walk, walk
Joining a free walking tour of the city that begins in Rathausmarkt is a lovely way to see the heart of Hamburg and learn about its people. Free walking tours depart at 11 AM and 2 PM daily. Look for the large umbrella that advertises “Free Tour” at the edge of the square across from Starbucks. Picturesque, cobblestone streets leading to the harbor and old warehouses that once housed spices, tobacco, and textiles help tell the story of the history of Hamburg, during both its years of glory and its years of infamy.
Years of infamy
Hamburg does not hide its past, but rather has created sobering memorials and reminders of the terrible Nazi years. Stopping midway through our walking tour in front of a nondescript building that currently houses a chocolate factory, you can read the sign that describes how Cyclone B, the gas used in the Nazi extermination camps was made in this very building. Stolpersteines, or stepping stones, are another reminder of the crimes committed against Jews, and others during World War II by the Nazis. The stolpersteines are small brass blocks placed in the pavement in front of buildings where Jews lived before being deported and sent to their death. They are engraved with the person’s name, their date of birth, and their date and place of death. These chilling reminders are scattered all over the city sidewalks and are easily found in the residential neighborhoods where many of Hamburg’s more than 20,000 Jews lived before World War II.
Water, water, and more water
Hamburg, a city on the water, offers lovely tourist attractions on both the Elbe and the Alster waters. An Elbe River boat tour of the harbor is a good way to learn about the inner workings of this port, and catch some views of the Hamburg skyline. Alternatively, a trip on the Alster provides one with an inside look at Hamburg from some of its many quiet canals, allowing one to see the gracious buildings and gardens that line these canals.
Museums abound in Hamburg and choosing which one to go to can prove to be a challenge. Purchasing the Hamburg Card at 10 EUR or 10.69 USD for one day, allows you entrance to many of the museums at reduced cost. Outstanding among the choices is the art museum, the Kunsthalle. Comprised of a particularly impressive set of buildings, both old and new, the Kunsthalle houses a wonderful collection of Old Masters, focusing on the the Northern European artists and landscapes. Their modern collection concentrates on German artists, and the museum hosts visiting exhibits as well.
Wish I had more time
With so much to see and do in Hamburg, you may find that you wish you had a few more days to spend in this beautiful city. Moderate temperatures and friendly locals will make your stay a memorable one. Whatever you decide to do — enjoy yourself, and don’t forget your umbrella!
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