By Phil Hawkes
Contrary to popular belief, hamburgers were not invented in Germany… we can thank the Americans for the ubiquitous fast food that’s found a permanent place in global society.
Hamburgers are those nice people who live in Hamburg, Germany… all 1.7 million of them. They’re lucky enough to live in one of Europe’s most appealing cities, up in the North where winters can be icy but rarely snowy and where summers are warm and sunny most of the time, as we experienced recently.
We weren’t there long enough to explore many of the individual sights in depth, but a good compromise is to jump on one of the frequent hop on-hop off buses and do the full 90 minute circuit, which gives you the history of the city and important buildings in a nutshell. The English commentary is excellent and encourages visitors to get off at key points of interest, then rejoin the tour on a subsequent bus. In fact there are two different circuits, so you can cover the entire city in half a day.
Hamburg is a major sea port, by far Germany’s largest, so another option is to take a harbour tour. These vary from one to three hours, but we found 60 minutes looking at container terminals more than adequate. It is interesting, though, to explore some of Hamburg’s canals joined to the River Elbe, giving rise to some descriptions of the city as “the Venice of the North”… a title which may be a tad overstated.
Speicherstadt with the new Elbphilharmonie in background
Possibly the most enjoyable activity is just walking around the different village-like areas of Hamburg, stopping to admire all kinds of architecture from medieval to Baroque and modern, cosily abutting each other as if part of a master plan. In truth, of course, much of the city was destroyed in WW2 but careful restoration has seen the skyline regain some of the charm of previous centuries.
Then, there’s the famous Reeperbahn precinct long known for its red lights, which have nothing to do with traffic control. It’s fun to explore this by day but we wouldn’t vouch for its nocturnal attractions without further research.
Another favourite part of the city is “Little Portugal” not far from the ferry port where you can feel exactly as you would in Lisbon with Mediterranean food, music (including an occasional fado singer) and that happy-go-lucky street vibe… plus great value eating places. Sardines ahoy!
For culture vultures, Hamburg has much to offer with churches, galleries, museums and music venues including the State Opera House and the Baroque Laeiszhalle. From early 2017 however, there will be a new “kid on the block” in the form of the new Elbephilharmonie, a stunning piece of modernistic architecture on the banks of the Elbe with concert and recital halls, hotels and a retail shopping area opening early in 2017.
The centrepiece of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg is the Grand Hall. Much like the terraced planting of vineyards, 2,100 seats ascend around the central stage, providing an entirely new music experience and creating an interface between the audience and the performing artists. As the maximum distance between the audience and the conductor is no more than 30 metres, the Grand Hall offers an intimate experience despite the immense size of the venue.
To ensure perfect acoustics, the architects collaborated with star acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota in designing a special wall and ceiling structure for the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg – the “White Skin”. Moulded to precision, 10,000 gypsum fibre panels ensure optimal and targeted sound distribution and turn every visit to the Grand Hall into an unparalleled acoustic experience. In addition, a reflector suspended from the ceiling ensures an optimal dissemination of sound. Klais, a traditional organ building company from Bonn, developed an organ with 4,385 pipes for the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg – an accessible and touchable instrument that is located in the middle of the terraced seats.
So there you have it… Hamburg is not a piece of meat in a bun, but a vibrant centre of culture which will be even more appealing very soon with the opening of the landmark Elbephilharmonie, northern Germany’s newest iconic attraction and a wonderful contrast to the Sydney Opera House.
Emirates offers one-stop flights from Australia to Hamburg via Dubai daily.
Adina Apartment Hotel is centrally located and makes Australians feel at home with Vegemite and Penfolds Wines available in their bistro-style Alto Restaurant, also the venue for superb breakfast buffets.
Main picture Canal-side scene in Hamburg