|Hamburg's main train station|
Hamburg has played an important role in Germany’s economic and industrial history. Today it is still the center of the country’s shipping industry, and it is Europe’s third largest port. Its reputation had been one of an industrial city, with nothing much to see, but in recent years it has become a tourist destination with a growing arts scene. I decided it was worth checking out on a recent trip.
Sitting along the Elbe River, Hamburg’s history dates back to the early 800’s, when
Charlemagne ordered the construction of a castle to stand
against invaders from the east. While it was attacked and sacked several times
over the centuries, it maintained its importance. In 1189 it was granted the
status of “ ”
by the Holy Roman Emperor, giving it both political and economic independence. In
1266 Henry the III of England signed a contract that established free trade
with the city-states of northern-Germany, forming the .
The League controlled shipping and trade in northern Europe from the 1300’s
until around 1600. Hamburg’s economic and shipping importance allowed it to
maintain tis independence after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and
up to the unification of Germany in 1871. Today, it’s official name is still The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
|The Emperor's Station, because here he would descend from the tracks|
|One of Hamburg's many canals|
The first thing that I noticed while walking around Hamburg is that, like Venice, it is built on a collection of islands. You can’t walk too far without running into a canal or lake. Just north of downtown there are two lakes – the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and
the Aussenalster (Outer Alster).
There lakes are formed by the damming of the Alster river in the city. The
names refer to their position relative to the original city walls. I had taken
the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus around the city, and I got off along the Aussenalster
for two reasons. The lake has beautiful park along its shore. This area became
the home to Hamburg’s rich at the end of the 19th century, and the
street along the lake is lined with building that had been built as mansions. Today
they house offices and schools, cultural institutions, and some high-end
stores. This neighborhood, Rotherbaum, is also home to the University of
Hamburg. In among it high-end stores there are inexpensive restaurants. Here
you will also find the , which is what Germans call the museums dedicated to
|Along the Aussenalster|
The second part of my walk was through the center of the city, from Stephensplatz, through the Gänsmarkt to City Hall. This area has been fully rebuilt since the end of World War II, but it has been done in a way that melds the old and new. Height limits were placed on buildings, so that the profile has been maintained. You don’t have skyscrapers towering here, in fact you have to look carefully to figure out which buildings were put up more recently.
|The Old Post Office|
|Taking in the sun in the Gänsmarkt|
|The main rail station|
I also visited two museums during my stay. One was the
medieval times through contemporary era. When I visited,
the Kundsthalle was hosting an exhibition of
landscapes. While many people know Gainsborough for his portraits, landscapes
were his true passion. It was in this genre that he felt most free to
experiment and push the boundaries of both his skills and the accepted style of
art. Its permanent collection includes several pieces by Max Beckmann, whom I
love, and a whole building dedicated to contemporary art. It was here that I
developed my new theory of art – “a contemporary artist has never met a floor
that wouldn’t be improved by adding a pile of dirt or rocks.”
one of the main art museums in the city. It has a large collection of works by
German artists, from
|Wooded Landscape byThomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
The other museum I visited was the . These two former market buildings among the train tracks and canals are now exhibition spaces that are mostly dedicated to contemporary art and photography. Because they were markets, the interiors of these buildings are large and open. This not only allows for the display of large works of art, but also allows for the chance for some excellent people watching. There was an exhibit of drawings by , whose work is almost photographic. They are large, often 2-3m (6-8 feet) tall and 5 m (15 ft.), or more, wide. As interesting were the reactions of the people who came to see these pieces.
Hamburg’s history and present role as industrial city is evident, but it has become much more than that. It is definitely worth a visit.