Continuing our morning walk, we moved towards the centre of town and began walking along Willy Brandt StraBe. We then turned left as we were following the maps direction to the remains of the Church of Nikolai. St Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors so it was an apt name for a church amongst the waterways of Hamburg built in 1195. It was replaced by a brick building in the 14th century. This church was burnt down as was much of Hamburg in the great fire of 1842. The church along with the locals suffered many trials over the centuries but none was worse than the bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 which destroyed much of the city and killed at least 42,600 citizens. After the bombing of Hamburg, only the crypt and the huge tower (between 1874-76, the tower was the world’s tallest building!) were left, along with a huge set of bells. That parts of the church survived is amazing as its tower was used as an orientation point by the allied bombers.
The image on the left, above, is of St Nikolai in the late 19th century and the image on the right was taken as we approached the tower on Sunday 4th September 2022. The image below is the site of the old nave of the church with some surviving sections of the church walls that have been incorporated into the restored church’s walls. In the right of the image below is a sculpture called the ‘Angel on Earth’ and one of the statements written on its base says, “Take my hand and let me lead you back to yourself“
The museum down in the crypt of St Nikolai was a very interesting place with lots of historical photos and plenty of information about what happened to the citizens who survived the bombing and spent years assisting the city recover. I was particularly struck by the board that took a non-vengeful approach to the destruction of the city in 1945. It reads…
“The images and destruction of Hamburg and other German cities must not get in the way of our understanding of what went before the bombings. After coming to power in 1933, the NAZI’s made a concerted effort to dismantle all democratic structures within society and to prepare for war. The German attacks on Guernica (1937), Warsaw (1939), Coventry and Rotterdam (1940), London (1941) and other cities in Western and eastern Europe preceded the bombing of Hamburg in 1943. The decision by the allies to carpet bomb Hamburg must also be seen as a response to earlier German bombings. The many dead, wounded and bombed out citizens of Hamburg were victims of NAZI aggressive policies, their attempt to make Germany a world power and the barbarisation of the war they had started.”
An elevator has been built in the tower of the memorial church that takes visitors up to the top and provides some great views over the city. We were able to get a great view of the Elbephilharmonie Concert Hall over on the edge of the river and looking in the other direction, a great view of the Rathaus and the city’s central lakes.
By the time we finished our thorough exploration of St Nikolai’s Church, it was well and truly time for lunch. We were in the central district of Altstadt, and so we were not likely to find a café similar to the cafes of the suburbs of Brisbane. We certainly found a place that was happy to serve us a sit-down lunch but the tiled ceiling of the restaurant was a give-away that we were moving in circles that we weren’t used to. We survived the experience with our pride still intact and we were able to continue our slow inspection of the centre of Hamburg. We were just over the road from the city’s Rathaus, not just the seat of local government but the home of one of the 16 state parliaments of all of Germany
The city’s original town hall had something in common with St Nikola’s Church, it was one of the victims of the major fire of 1842. It was a long time before the process of building a new Rathaus began; the gorgeous building we had come to see was not started until 1886 and not opened until 1897. There are approximately 647 rooms in this flamboyant building.
From the Rathaus we strolled over to the roadway that separated the two artificial lakes in the centre of Hamburg, Binnenalster (‘Inner Lake’) and AuBenalster (‘Outer Lake’), fed by the River Alster. The road we were standing on was once on the path of the original defensive walls of Hamburg that were knocked down in the late 19th century. The route of the old walls has been largely replaced by parks that surround much of the left-hand side of the city, all the way to the River Elbe.
We were heading towards the central railway station to check out a Banksy Exhibition that we had seen advertised and along the way we wanted to check out another two of the city’s famous churches. Not far up Mönckebergstraße we came to St Peter’s Church, built by order of the Pope, Leo X, but has been a Lutheran Cathedral since the reformation. It is believed that this area is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Hamburg and a previous church/cathedral existed on this site before the 12th century. This church was rebuilt around 1418; the bronze lionhead door handles are the oldest works of art in Hamburg.
Over on the next city block from St Peter’s Church is a park (Domplatz) that despite its innocuous green space, has a long history of city conflict that goes back to the reformation. In the 12th century, this was where St Mary’s cathedral of the ancient Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hamburg was built. During the Middle Ages, many Catholic Cathedrals in Europe had an area designated around them as an ‘Immunity District’, an enclave or Cathedral Close that was often surrounded by walls and was ruled by the archbishop. With the arrival of the Reformation, it was converted to a Lutheran Church and by the start of the 19th century, the immunity enclave was seized by the city and the church was ordered to be demolished by the local government. It still remains a city park and has not been redeveloped due to continuing community conflict over what should be built here.
Further up Mönckebergstraße there is St James Church, another Hamburg church that has a long history. The first church was built here in the 13th century. When Napoleon decided to go to war against many of France’s neighbouring states in the early 19th century, Hamburg was one of his targets. His army appears to have been encouraged to be anti-clerical in whatever city they entered and it appears that their favourite place to house their horses was in an invaded city’s churches. This particularly offensive approach to conquest occurred in Rome but St James Church was also used for the same purpose between 1806-1813. Like so much of Hamburg, St James was largely destroyed during the bombing of the city ion 1944 but was rebuilt in the 1960s (below left).
After inspecting St James Church, we continued up Mönckebergstraße towards the city’s central station (Hauptbannhof). On the way we passed a curious small, collection of Hamburg architecture. The first was a large impressive memorial to an 19th century local burgomaster of the city, Johann Monckberg. The memorial features a portrait of the worthy citizen, a lion, Adam and Eve and some sea-lions. This seemed to be a little over the top as a memorial until we noticed that the local burger shop was housed in a small replica of a Greek temple, perhaps a place to discuss Greek archaeology over fries and a can of coke. The third building behind these first two sites seemed to break the trend and was a perfectly pleasant looking building.
We were very pleased to find the exhibition of the works of English street artist Banksy. Part of the curiosity of this artist is that his name and identity has never been confirmed. His street art being amusing speculations to all manner of modern views and institutions and we came away from the exhibition very stimulated by his curious take on modern history and world culture. Here are just a few examples of what we saw.
I am not sure how Banksy would have found the use of supermarket trolleys outside the doors of St James Church down the road from his exhibition but the ladies in our party seemed to find them both comfortable and entertaining.