After spending a couple of wonderful days in Copenhagen, we were condemned to return to the Copenhagen train station and make our onward journey to Hamburg. Although having clear train tickets for the task, Copenhagen station failed to support us. The boards sent us to a platform where there was a train waiting but it was locked up. One of the sensible members of our party went looking for information and eventually we were directed to another platform where we only just made the train before it departed but without a booked seat. We spent the next six hours like refugees, moving seats around the train until we landed exhausted in Hamburg. Hamburg was the only city we stayed in where our hotel was not in walking distance from the station so we caught a taxi to our hotel for the next two nights, Apartment-Hotel Hamburg Mitte. It was a very pleasant hotel to stay at but we discovered getting a taxi at the times we wanted was not easy. The hotel was right next to an impressive pillar with a golden sailing boat on top (below right).
One of the minor reasons I was interested in visiting Hamburg was because of its links with the medieval Hanseatic League which was a large trading conglomerate that between the 13-15th centuries stretched from Holland to Russia. We became familiar with this story from our time in Bergen where the centre of town was dominated by old Hanseatic League buildings along the main harbour. Hamburg was the main centre for this trading bloc and so its status in modern Germany from this long history is different from other German provinces. Hamburg is different from all the other major German cities as it is the “Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg,” separate from the surrounding two regions, Lower Saxony and Schleswig Holstein. It is connected to the Baltic Sea by the River Elbe, a perfect position to be a continuing success story in terms of European trade.
Most of our day had been taken up with getting to our Hamburg hotel from Copenhagen so there was to be no returning to the city that late afternoon to start to get to know Hamburg. We had already fallen in love with northern European fish markets so we decided we would start the next day early by heading towards the city’s famous fish market which took up a long stretch of territory along the Elbe River. The map below sets out our route for the first half of our morning walk where we discovered that Hamburg itself was a lovely place to spend some quality tourist time.
When visiting a city for the first time I always like to look up those websites that promise to inform me of the top 15 sites to visit in a new city. We discovered that we had started in the right area because there were a few ‘sights’ here worth seeing. For example, one site recommended finishing a long night out at the bars and nightclubs of Hamburg with breakfast at the fish market. We skipped the hell-raising night out and started with the entertaining folk who tried to sell us a lot more than fish at this huge market-place.
The river port that we walked along was not short of grand sites. The building that dominated our horizon at the start of our walk away from the fish market (Above right) was the Elbephilharmonie Concert Hall unveiled in 2017 in ‘Hafen City’. It is a huge building and appears to be covered in crystal tiles that can be seen shimmering in the sunlight from all over Hamburg. The dock area around Hafen City is now protected as a World Heritage Site but many of the old warehouses no longer store goods from the East Indies; many have been converted to expensive apartments.
We came across by accident our next ‘Top 15’ sight of Hamburg . If we had re-checked the map of our morning walk we would have seen the line on the map that indicated the Elbe Tunnel running under the river here. Most tunnels that are built under rivers are usually for cars. In Hamburg in 1911, they built a river tunnel for both cars and pedestrians. It apparently transformed the lives of workers living on the other side of the river. The building on the left below marks the entrance down to the pedestrian tunnel and we decided to descend the 24 metres of staircases down to the ‘under-river’ level. The locals certainly make good use of this facility as there were plenty of pedestrians and bicyclists using this huge, tiled tunnel. There were lifts provided for tired pedestrians and bikes.
The Elbe Tunnel’s green domed entrance building stood right next to a huge building that runs along a large section of the river at this point. The building is called Landungsbrucken or St Pauli Piers. It is a transportation hub for many of Hamburg’s tourist attractions.
At this point in our Hamburg walk we decided it was time to turn away from the river and head towards the old centre of the city. We crossed over the main river-side road and headed up Ditmar-Koel-StraBe. They take their fish shops seriously in Hamburg and I was very impressed by the beautiful, blue sea-faring tiles on the fish shop early along this street. It was a street graced with two churches; the one that I was particularly struck by was the Finnish Seemannskirche (right below). It looked like it had lost its church tower in the wind but decided to reuse it again as the roof over the main building. It is apparently a great charitable organisation that particularly looks after the long-distance travelling workers regularly driving or sailing to Hamburg.
Ditmar-Koel-StraBe took us to a huge park called Michelweise where we found ourselves in another large, Sunday morning, local fruit and vegetable market. It was a happy crowd to make our way through as we headed towards our next major destination, Hauptkirche St Michaelis (St Michael’s Church or ‘Michel’). It is one of Hamburg’s five Lutheran Churches and it is described as a Hanseatic, Protestant Baroque Church. As we would discover in our walk around Hamburg and its churches, most of them were originally Catholic Churches and were converted to Lutheran during the Reformation in the 16th century. The church is named after the archangel Michael, famous for his battles with Satan in the bible. There is a fabulous sculpture of Michael over the front entrance of the church (right, below) engaged in his traditional combat with the devil. The copper spire of the church is a landmark for ships arriving in Hamburg.
On the other side of St Michael’s Church was a statue of Martin Luther (1483-1546), the famous German priest, theologian and former Augustan friar whose life was a watershed period in the history of Europe, not just its religious background. Luther left a divided world behind with his teachings undermining Catholic Europe and from the middle of the 16th century, the divided and often life-threatening religious affiliations of countries around the world.
From Hauptkirche St Michaelis, we walked towards the city centre down Ludwig Erhard StraBe where we started to come across the iconic canals that link the lakes in the centre of the city with the River Elbe. Like the Hafen port area, these canals and their surrounding buildings were once essential components in Hamburg as a centre of trade for the region. Now they are just replacement streets where citizens can walk along the canals or moor their boats outside their apartments.