As with many German towns and cities Hamburg is famous for it’s Christmas Markets. Therefore, I decided to spend a long weekend in Hamburg at the beginning of December 2007. In the hope of experiencing a taste of Germany and its history, as well as hopefully solving my Christmas present buying problems.
I stayed at the Best Western St Raphael hotel just a short walk from the main train station. This made the trip from the airport very convenient and cheap as I was able to take a bus from the airport to the distinctive Hauptbahnhof railway station. The hotel was very nice but not really close to any of the tourist attractions, which is hardly surprising considering they are spread out around the city. Hotels near Lake Alster are perhaps in the best location, unfortunately their prices reflect this fact.
A guided tour of the Rathaus (City Hall) should be considered a must and is the only way that you will be able to see the wonderful interior of this impressive and imposing neo-Renaissance style building dating from 1897.
Hamburg has many churches, including several neighbouring the main shopping streets of Spitaler Straße and Mönckebergstraße. These streets link the Rathaus and Railway station.
One of the more famous churches is the ruin of St. Nikolai Church which sustained significant bomb damage during World War II. As with Coventry Cathedral in England the Steeple remained intact despite the significant destruction. The ruins and steeple now stand as a memorial against war.
Continuing to travel away from the city centre is St Michaelis church which is famous for the great views of the city from its tower. If you’re feeling fit and not too tired after the walk from the city centre then you can walk to the top of the tower. Having walked the countless steps to get to the top, I would recommended that you take the lift.
The view from the St Michaelis also includes the harbour which is within walking distance. Two distinctly different ships can be toured from the harbour front, and I would recommend visiting both. Rickmer Rickmers is a sailing ship that has been carefully restored and is definitely worth exploring. The other, more modern ship, is Cap San Diego. One of the last remaining examples of a pre-container cargo ship. The Ship is now a museum and can be explored at your leisure. Within the aft cargo hold is a very good exhibit explaining the emigration from Hamburg to the new world of America. Hamburg was a major departure port used by those looking for a new life in America. I hope one day to see the other side of this story by visiting Ellis Island in New York where these new American’s were received.
Whilst visiting the waterfront its worthwhile taking a harbour tour with one of the many boat tour companies. The tour provided a good view of the city skyline from the water and also provided an interesting view of the modern container docks. You really get a feel for the immense size of these huge container ships being loaded when you’re on a small tourist boat.
In the centre of the smaller part of Lake Alster was a Christmas Tree that was illuminated at night. A walk around this smaller part of the lake is a good way to get away from the hustle and bustle of German’s second largest city.
There is certainly no shortage of Christmas Markets within Hamburg, including one next to Lake Aster with an Ice Rink (however I didn’t go and practice my skating). However, I found it difficult to find something to either my taste or that of the intended recipient (shopping rarely poses a problem for me). It was however fun to browse and experience the food and drink available at the various stalls. The almost continual rain during my visit did little to dampen the spirits of the locals and tourists alike congregating around the various stalls selling Glubwein – mulled wine. One of the more traditional markets was the one outside the Rathaus, which also had the best shelter from the rain!
A good way to explore Hamburg is via the double decker tour buses that run a hop-on-hop-off tourist service with recorded commentary in many language, including English. I found this especially useful due to the rain one afternoon and simply stayed on the bus for the round-trip, listening to the commentary and deciding where to return to on another day… hopefully dryer day.
With the very odd exception everyone I met was pleasant and helpful, despite me not being able to speak more than basic pleasantries in German. However, whilst the city does cater well for tourists, it does not cater well for international tourists, especially out-of-season. If only I’d have paid more attention in my German lessons at school.
Hamburg wouldn’t go on my list of must sees but its certainly got some interesting attractions and its worth taking a couple of days if you happen to be nearby. Hopefully my next trip to Germany will be to Berlin.