“Hamburg is famous for its sheet weather,” my walking tour guide Alex says.
“Shit weather?” I repeat. The dark grey sky hangs low, giving the city a claustrophobic feel. It has been raining on and off and the biting wind is picking up as the morning goes on. Not ideal for today’s plan of a walking tour and photography mission but this is Autumn in northern Europe after all.
“Ha ha, no. Sheet weather. One minute it’s overcast, the next it’s sunny. An hour later it’s bucketing down and before you know it the sun’s back out. That’s what the Germans mean by sheet weather,” Alex says.
It’s a pretty spot on description of Hamburg, however if I had one word to sum up the city it would be angular.
The city is teeming with architectural contrasts and angles. Brick buildings with sharp edges stand next to post-modern glass facades and tower over baroque churches. Beautiful jugendstil structures – similar to art nouveau – line the canals, reminiscent of Amsterdam. Rows of distinctive red brick warehouses are connected by bridges in the Speicherstadt – the world’s largest warehouse district – giving the district a heavy industrial feel.
Lines and contours are everywhere.
The most striking building of all is the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Encased in glass and fixed upon a red warehouse, it’s the centrepiece of Hamburg’s harbour. Climb to the observation deck for views across the harbour and Speicherstadt (entry is free but get in early to avoid crowds). New and old intersect across the city skyline; sharp angles are contrasted against softer curves of bridges, cathedrals and the late 19th century gothic style architecture. From up here the neat rows of streets and newly constructed buildings make it look like something of a model city.
What makes the Elbphilharmonie even more enticing is the novelty of riding on the world’s longest concave escalator. By itself it’s pretty cool but the scores of selfie-snapping tourists make it even better. 10/10 location for people watching.
I spent three days in Hamburg. It quickly became one of my favourite places in Bavaria. I had just wrapped up Oktoberfest in Munich and had a week to spare (and recover) before meeting a friend in Berlin. I headed north on a whim. Boasting the title of Germany’s most liveable city, the best nightlife in city and with a harbour similar to that of Copenhagen I was intrigued. Now, I recommend for everyone to spend at least a day here if they’re visiting Germany. Particular during the changing seasons.
My favourite thing to do was rug up and wander around with my camera in hand. I loved getting lost in the streets, crossing bridge after bridge, snapping photos and popping in and out of coffee shops as the rain bucketed down. The intermittent dull, grey light does pose a bit of a challenge to photography but once the sun makes an appearance the city is absolutely magical and full of energy. In a matter of moments bleakness is replaced with colour and activity. The colourful building are more vibrant, trees lining the street seem greener, the canal water isn’t so murky and locals spill onto the footpath.
While there are a few tourist attractions Hamburg really is a city to experience rather than frantically tick items off a to-do list. In saying that you HAVE to visit Miniatur Wunderland, the models at that place are seriously incredible. There is even a miniature runway with planes taking off and landing.
You can get around on canal and bus tours however I recommend exploring on food. It’s small enough to do so and you really get a feel for the city’s character, history, maritime spirit and are bound to have a few run ins with locals which will leave you smiling from ear to ear.
Whether you’re overlooking the city or wandering along its canals, Hamburg is a photographer’s paradise. But that’s not all this place has to offer.
Until this year modern history has never been my area of expertise. I could tell you anything about the Egyptian pyramids, Trojan War and early Rome and even read hieroglyphs so this has been an incredible opportunity to learn as much as I can about the last few centuries. Like all of Germany, Hamburg is bursting with a history both fascinating and heart-wrenching.
The city’s proximity to the North Sea and concentration of industry and fleet made it a favourite target for WWII bombing raids. Remains of churches and other buildings destroyed in the war are scattered across the city, a constant reminder of the horrors which took place. A third of the city’s housing was destroyed, forcing locals to take on a new identity and rise from the ashes. Instead of completely clearing the rubble, some of it remains with commemorative plaques and statues erected. It’s a way for visitors like myself to try to learn about and understand the unfathomable.
These aren’t the only reminders of the war, like many European cities ‘tripping stones’ litter the footpaths. Alex first introduced me to the concept of them. The square pieces of metal are inscribed with the names, dates and occupations of victims of the holocaust. Then they’re inserted into the pavement outside places these people lived or worked. The idea is every day as you walk past your heart will trip over them and their memory will never be forgotten. Once I saw these I noticed them in almost every central European city I visited – a stark reminder of the lessons to be learned from the past.
All of these elements blend to create Hamburg’s rich, fascinating soul. I would return here in a heartbeat.