FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Three days in Hamburg

Posted in Germany, Hamburg by folkestonejack on December 3, 2018

I have been meaning to visit Hamburg ever since we made a brief stop at the main railway station on a long distance train journey in 1984. Somehow, I didn’t get around to it until now but better late than never!

City of Hamburg

Our short trip to Hamburg gave us an opportunity to visit some of the fascinating sights on offer in this port city and pick up a few delights from the bustling Christmas markets. Along the way we visited the world’s largest model railway, explored the remains of a church by George Gilbert Scott, took a tour round the impressive Rathaus and walked along the city’s oldest underwater road.

The Rathaus

The impressive Rathaus (Town Hall) in Hamburg was built in 1886-97 as a replacement for an older headquarters that was intentionally destroyed in 1842 to form a firebreak as part of the overall effort to stop the great fire of Hamburg from spreading. Thankfully, the ‘new’ building survived the devastation of bombing in the Second World War while buildings all around were wiped out. A bomb did fall on the Rathaus but luckily didn’t go off. The detonator is now on display in one of the 600+ rooms.

The lobby

The courtyard and entrance lobby are impressive enough, but a guided tour gave us the opportunity to see the even more sumptuous interiors which feature expensive leather wallpaper (essentially Victorian bling), marble staircases, intricate woodcarved doors and wonderfully elaborate lights (look for the chandelier featuring the castle from Hamburg’s coat of arms intertwined with serpents!). To put it simply, I have seen Royal Palaces that are less palatial than this!

Queen Elizabeth II visited the Rathaus in 1965 during something of a political storm, which saw some opportunists attempt to bring down the popular mayor, Paul Nevermann, by whipping up some hysteria around his failing marriage and the oddness of the protocols adopted during the visit (at a function at the Rathaus the mayor broke a long held tradition to greet the Queen at the main entrance rather than making her walk up the stairs to meet him at the top). Paul Nevermann resigned 13 days after the visit.

Hamburg Senate

At the time of our visit hour long tours were offered in English three times a day at 11.15, 13.15 and 15.15 for the modest price of 5 euros per person (with a 1 euro reduction for holders of the Hamburg Card). However, tours are not offered when the building is in use for official business. The basement restaurant, Parlament, serves up some good traditional German fare too in a beautiful setting.

St. Nikolai Kirche

The St. Nikolai Kirche was a gothic church designed by George Gilbert Scott (perhaps best known for St Pancras station) after its medieval predecessor was destroyed in the great fire of 1842. The re-built church was consecrated in 1863 and was the tallest building in the world for a few years (1874-76). Ultimately, the height of the tower would prove to be its undoing – it served as an orientation point for RAF pilots during the second world war and was badly damaged during a bombing raid on 28th July 1943.

Museum in the crypt

After the war the idea of re-constructing the church were dismissed but the tower was preserved as a memorial against war. Today, a viewing platform at 76 metres up the tower (reached by a glass lift) offers a splendid view over the city. The tower itself is still the fifth highest church tower in the world.

A fascinating museum in the crypt provides an insight into the history of the church, the terrible bombing raids that set the precedent for ‘Operation Gomorrah’ and the impact of the firestorm in the city. It is a terrible reminder of the human cost of war across Europe.

St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel

The St. Pauli Elbtunnel was constructed at great expense to connect the city ith the rapidly growing port on the southern banks of the Elbe and help tackle the strain on the existing ferry service. The tunnel officially opened on 7th September 1911 and is still well used to this today, though mostly by tour parties if our visit was anything to go by!

St. Pauli Elbe Tunnel

The shafts on each side contain six lifts – two for pedestrians, two for cars and two for goods. It is apparently the only tunnel of this type in the world stll in use by road traffic – something that we saw proof of as we walked from one side to the other and back again.

All of this might sound quite functional, but the entrance buildings on each side have real character to them – especially the majolica reliefs that adorn the walls, including representations of the architect (holding a model of one entrance). It’s well connected to both the rail and ferry transport networks so easy to fit into an exploration of the city.

And a little more…

Other sights that we managed to see in the city included the view from the Elbphilharmonie Plaza, the Warehouse district, the Chilehaus, the Museum of Hamburg History, the St. Petri Kirche, Mehr! Theater am Grossmarkt, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the rather unloved Bismarck-Denkmal and the Kriegerdenkmal am Dammtordamm with its associated memorials to the victims of war.


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