Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city and at the same time one of the 16 German states, with its 1.8 million inhabitants is the most populous city within the European Union that is not the respective country’s capital. Although Hamburg is not situated at the ocean coast, but some 100 kilometers away, it is connected to the North Sea via the Elbe river and well-known for its busy port, the second-largest in Europe, which serves as one of the most important transportation hubs in Germany.
Hamburg usually ranks high in livability indexes and “best places to live” surveys. For several years, the Greater Hamburg area has been named the European Union’s most affluent region by personal wealth, and while people here tend to be quiet about their private fortunes, there are some very impressive villas, particularly in the Altona borough, to show for this fact. However, visiting other parts of the city yields a colorful picture of distinctive quarters. The St. Pauli neighborhood is home to a famous fish market as well as to the even more famous entertainment and red light district around Reeperbahn, while Wandsbek boasts quiet forests within the city and a somewhat rural atmosphere and the Schanzenviertel quarter is home to many people dedicated to alternative lifestyles.
Hamburg is the center of a metropolitan area with a population of about 5 million. Within the city, people from many countries have found a home and recent estimates put the percentage of inhabitants with a migrant background at more than 30%. These people fuel the city’s economy which is organized in more than 120,000 businesses. The port is the most important economic factor of the region, directly or indirectly employing thousands of workers in logistics. Other industries include the aerospace business (Airbus has a major plant within the city’s boundaries), large media outlets and consumer goods. In addition, tourism plays a large role for Hamburg’s economy, as the city registers more than 9 million overnight stays per year.
While being a very diversified city enjoying many multicultural influences, Hamburg has retained a distinct local character as expressed in a specific dialect spoken here, as well as in music, literature and cuisine. Hamburg boasts a broad cultural scene, offering more than 60 theaters, a large number of music clubs and a wide range of museums. Thanks to many domestic visitors traveling to Hamburg to see stage productions, Hamburg has the most-visited theaters in Germany.
To get here, travelers may opt to choose the Hamburg airport as their destination, which offers a lot of flights to other European cities as well as excellent connections to the international air hubs of Frankfurt and Munich. Several main traffic arteries also serve the city, among these are important railway lines as well as a number of autobahn connections. Within Hamburg, car travel is fairly easy as long as you don’t want to stay in the city center – in that case, it is more advisable to make use of the good network of public transportation.
The official name reflects Hamburg’s history as a member of the medieval Hanseatic League, a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire, a city-state and one of the 16 states of Germany. Before the 1871 Unification of Germany, it was a fully sovereign state. Prior to the constitutional changes in 1919 it formed a civic republic headed constitutionally by a class of hereditary grand burghers or Hanseaten. The city has repeatedly been beset by disasters such as the Great Fire of Hamburg, exceptional coastal flooding and military conflicts including World War II bombing raids. Historians remark that the city has managed to recover and emerge wealthier after each catastrophe.
Situated on the river Elbe, Hamburg is home to Europe’s second-largest port and a broad corporate base. In media, the major regional broadcasting firm NDR, the printing and publishing firm Gruner + Jahr and the newspapers Der Spiegel and Die Zeit are based in the city. Hamburg remains an important financial center, the seat of Germany’s oldest stock exchange and the world’s oldest merchant bank, Berenberg Bank. Media, commercial, logistical, and industrial firms with significant locations in the city include multinationals Airbus, Blohm + Voss, Aurubis, Beiersdorf, and Unilever.
The city is a major international and domestic tourist destination. It ranked 18th in the world for livability in 2016. The Speicherstadt and Kontorhausviertel were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2015.
Hamburg is a major European science, research, and education hub, with several universities and institutions. Among its most notable cultural venues are the Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle concert halls. It gave birth to movements like Hamburger Schule and paved the way for bands including The Beatles. Hamburg is also known for several theaters and a variety of musical shows. St. Pauli’s Reeperbahn is among the best-known European entertainment districts.
Hamburg has architecturally significant buildings in a wide range of styles and no skyscrapers (see List of tallest buildings in Hamburg). Churches are important landmarks, such as St Nicholas’, which for a short time in the 19th century was the world’s tallest building. The skyline features the tall spires of the most important churches (Hauptkirchen) St Michael’s (nicknamed “Michel”), St Peter’s, St James’s (St. Jacobi) and St. Catherine’s covered with copper plates, and the Heinrich-Hertz-Turm, the radio and television tower (no longer publicly accessible).
The many streams, rivers and canals are crossed by some 2,500 bridges, more than London, Amsterdam and Venice put together. Hamburg has more bridges inside its city limits than any other city in the world. The Köhlbrandbrücke, Freihafen Elbbrücken, and Lombardsbrücke and Kennedybrücke dividing Binnenalster from Aussenalster are important roadways.
The town hall is a richly decorated Neo-Renaissance building finished in 1897. The tower is 112 metres (367 ft) high. Its façade, 111 m (364 ft) long, depicts the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, since Hamburg was, as a Free Imperial City, only under the sovereignty of the emperor. The Chilehaus, a brick expressionist office building built in 1922 and designed by architect Fritz Höger, is shaped like an ocean liner.
Europe’s largest urban development since 2008, the HafenCity, will house about 10,000 inhabitants and 15,000 workers. The plan includes designs by Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano. The Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall), opened in January 2017, houses concerts in a sail-shaped building on top of an old warehouse, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron.
The many parks are distributed over the whole city, which makes Hamburg a very verdant city. The biggest parks are the Stadtpark, the Ohlsdorf Cemetery and Planten un Blomen. The Stadtpark, Hamburg’s “Central Park”, has a great lawn and a huge water tower, which houses one of Europe’s biggest planetaria. The park and its buildings were designed by Fritz Schumacher in the 1910s.