The River Elbe has been the lifeblood of the port of Hamburg for centuries and with the trade came the money. In fact since 1189 when Kaiser Barbarossa granted the people of Hamburg their trading license, Hamburg has prospered.
Yes the Beatles cut their teeth on music here in 1960 and 1962 at the Star club in the Reeperbahn red light district of St Pauli. But the River Elbe has endured. Much of old Hamburg was lost first in the great flood of 1117, the great fire in 1842 and then again during the Second World War blitz. It has been rebuilt for commerce and trade. The cityscape of high-rises and wide streets are interlaced with the canals. Few old buildings stand out except for the gothic looking church spires of St Michael and St Nicholas. However, the majestic Rathaus (city hall) is a masterpiece that took seven local architects eleven years to complete. With 647 rooms it has six more than Buckingham Palace in London. It seems the local senators thought highly of themselves.
Hamburg is known as the Venice of the North and also as the gateway to the world for Germany. Hamburg port handles cargo, cruise ships and still has an active shipbuilding industry. The 100 year history can be seen at close quarters at the Speicherstadt museum including the very lucrative tea and coffee trade.
Hamburg’s integrated transport system will take you to Hafen City. Take the U1 underground to the Messberg station or take the bus on line 3, 4 or 6 to the Marco Polo terraces. Venturing onto the Baumwall boardwalk and jetties at the edge of the Elbe is a pleasure. Once at the jetties there was a mass of people unlike the city streets.
I ventured onto the orange ferry, line 62 which in the autumnal sunshine was packed with tourists and locals alike. Taking in the sun, the waters glistened as we passed the changing shoreline. At Ovelgonne, the gaily coloured homes give way to a wooded area of imposing wooden houses. This is in fact the the place to live and with a price to match. Along the river sand beaches were packed with locals taking in the last rays of summer. There is the Fischmarkt to visit at one stop. This teems with people on a Saturday night and the brave stay until the fish are sold at 5 on Sunday morning.
Our last stop was the Old Country where Airbus is based. The ferry trip is over one hour long if you stay on board. But of course you can jump off and on at any or all of the stops. At Fischmarkt jetty it is a short walk to the Reeperbahn the infamous red light district. Along this avenue in the 1960s, the clubs had a very busy music scene. It was here in 1960 that the original line up of the Beatles first played. At Beatles Platz, there is a steel street art installation. The Reeperbahn Festival takes place each September and young musicians from all over Europe come to try and emulate their success.
Back at the Landsbrucken jetty the future is taking shape. It is called HafenCity, and it is changing the skyline of Hamburg dramatically. It is a city within a city.
At the moment it is a work in progress, where a massive array of colourful red, green and blue construction cranes toil above the steel and glass buildings. All of the Überseequartier in HafenCity is in different stages of readiness. Top names from Europe are moving into these eco built landmarks. The top European architects are vying to build the best. Designs by Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron and Renzo Piano will soon dominate a new skyline. This architectural dream will give Hamburg a city fit for the 21st century. Buildings are stretching for the sky. Once completed it is expected to increase the size of Hamburg City by 40 percent. So a visit to Hamburg is not complete without spending time in HafenCity.
Project 24, the Elbphilharmonie building without doubt will be a landmark stunner. The locals are in love with it even before its completion. Herzog and de Meuron are creating this concert hall to rival Sydney’s from an old cocoa warehouse. The core of structure was completely removed; its cubic shape and brick façades remain intact and will be crowned with an undulating, curved and inclining glass structure to over 110 meters high.
The emerging hybrid will house a five-star hotel, 47 apartments and a concert hall of world quality to rival the Sydney Opera House. Its public plaza will offer fantastic views of the harbour, HafenCity and the River Elbe is taking shape. At a height of 37 meters above ground/water level its hugs the brick building, below the upper glass structure. The Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall will become a location for performances of classical music and the first concert in its large auditorium will be given in 2012. So with a mix of work.rest and play it will be the place to be.
The Überseequartier stretches across 8 hectares and will become the life and soul of HafenCity. Besides apartments, hotels and eateries there will be a science centre with aquarium designed by Rem Koolhaass. And with the new cruise liner terminal bringing in the big ships it is sure to impress the visitors as they dock.
But 2012 will see completion, so watch out for the waterfront of HafenCity at midnight on New Years Eve in 2013.
So while you sip your coffee or eat lunch, admire the view. And spare a passing thought for the sharp suited business man close by, that will have to return to work. And don’t forget to try the great tasting croissant with melted cheese topping. It was my favourite and its best eaten with a glass of good German beer.
The future is bright for Hamburg, a city of quality, cutting edge design and culture to rival any European country. The future is even brighter for the regeneration of the port area and HafenCity. This is street life as it should be.
It’s all happening in Hamburg’s HafenCity.