Free Hanseatic City
Hamburg began as a missionary settlement on the Alster River. Around 830 AD the “Hammaburg” was established between the Alster and Elbe rivers, a wooden palisade type of fortress. After the Vikings had burned the building down in 845 AD, it was rebuilt but destroyed several times again over the next couple of hundred years. Only in 1189, a group of merchants received a charter for the building of a proper new town, close to the old one, with a harbour on the Alster and Elbe.
A year later, Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) granted special trading rights, the privilege of imposing custom duties on the Elbe River and navigational privileges which soon let the town prosper. Hamburg joined the Hanseatic League (Hanse) – the powerful city-network of the Middle Ages – and became an important trade centre and port in the North. In 1842, in big fire devastated large parts of the town. However, the fire disaster also had its advantage: Hamburg was newly rebuilt to become a modern metropolis.
Hamburg has a population of roughly 1.7 million people today and is – after Berlin – the second biggest city in Germany. Economic backbone of the Free Hanseatic City is its giant duty-free harbour, Germany’s most important gateway to the world and Hamburg’s warrant of prosperity as well as multiculturalism. The “Speicherstadt”, an neo-gothic brick-built warehouse complex, is the historical center of the port of Hamburg. Still today, the smell of roasted coffee and exotic spices lies in the air, experience unforgettable events in an authentic hanseatic setting. Hamburg is also Germany’s media capital with a great number of major publishing houses, TV and film producers being located here.
The heart of the city is the “Alster”, a lake devided into a smaller part right in the centre called “Binnenalster” and a bigger part called “Aussenalster”. Ferry boats connect the city centre with the most attractive residential areas lined around the Aussenalster shores. The Alster is a popular watersports venue as well. On summer weekends hundreds of sailing dinghies crisscross the lake. In winter, after a few nights of good frost, the Alster is used as an open-air ice-scating arena.
The 700 metre-long floating dock “Landungsbrücken” is Hamburg’s waterway station. This is where tours of the harbour start, from here harbour ferries depart and the HADAG steamers to nearby Finkenwerder, Övelgönne and Blankenese. Even imposing luxury cruiseships put in here from time to time. Colourful souvenir shops offer waterfront memories to buy and cosy fish restaurants serve as much fresh plaice or North Sea shrimps as you can eat.
Culturally Hamburg offers anything and everything starting at the Great Hall of Art and the State Opera, and continuing on to the 31 theaters, 6 musical performing halls, 10 cabarets as well as 50 public and private museums. But Hamburg’s best known feature remains its red-light district, the “Reeperbahn”, with its numerous music clubs, cinemas, casinos, restaurants, night clubs, brothels, sex shops and bars that never close doors.