Hamburg, the city in the water

Coordinates: 53°33′N 10°00′E

Has it ever happened to you that once you’ve got a plan, you stumble over articles or people who know the place, thus you get more excited about a destination? That’s what happened to me: I came across an article about an area in Hamburg, Germany. The area, called Spreicherstadt, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Center in July of this year. This detail spiked my curiosity about the destination and what it could offer.

Spreicherstadt, the biggest warehouse district in the world. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Spreicherstadt, the biggest warehouse district in the world. Photo: Bruny Nieves

WITHOUT A PLAN

Facts I already knew about Hamburg were that it has one of the most important ports in the world, and that it was one of the places heavily impacted by the strong floods Europe experienced during the summer of 2013. Other than that, I went for a weekend without a plan, but open to surprises.

At the Landungsbrücken Tower, they show the current time and tide level. Photo: Bruny Nieves

At the Landungsbrücken Tower, they show the current time and tide level. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Hamburgers

We arrived around noon, so after walking a little along its famous port, we decided to have Hamburgers for lunch. We joked a bit about eating something named after the city, but later confirmed there is actually a relation between the two. Tatar Russians brought this recipe to Germany. Then, German emigrants leaving from this port took the recipe to the United States, where it became popular.  Pairing the hamburgers with a beer was a given!

One thinks of Germany and thinks about beers. Besides currently producing an extensive variety, during the 13th century they introduced big innovations such as using hops. Photo: Bruny Nieves

One thinks of Germany and thinks about beers. Besides currently producing an extensive variety, during the 13th century they introduced big innovations such as using hops. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Door to the world

The port is extensive and seeing the visiting container ships up close, it is hard to believe you are in a river, whose direct access to the North Sea is thirty minutes away. The Elba River is 723.9 miles: almost eight times the size of Puerto Rico! This tributary is Hamburg’s door to the world and an indisputable part of this city’s relationship to its water bodies. There are plenty of port tour alternatives; we chose one in a small barge that was able to approach better.

At the port we could appreciate the colossal merchant ships; that can load and discharge up to nineteen thousand containers. Photo: Bruny Nieves

At the port we could appreciate the colossal merchant ships; that can load and discharge up to nineteen thousand containers. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Crossing the river

Another way of touring the Elba River is using the St. Pauli Elba underground tunnel, which connects the city with the wharf and shipyards in the south side. Although its use has decreased due to new access routes, its construction in 1911, at a depth of twenty-four meters, was an engineering marvel.

Pedestrian and transport tunnel under the Elba river built in 1911. Photo: Marco Dettling

Pedestrian and transport tunnel under the Elba river built in 1911. Photo: Marco Dettling

Warehouse City

Spreicherstadt was built to solve a storage necessity. Nevertheless, its brick Neo Gothic architecture and surrounding water channels create the splendor that earned it such recognition. Located in the quarter known as Port City, it is possible to tour it in a barge, if the tide is not very high, or walking, as we did. The area houses museums and warehouses, mainly for carpets and provisions such as spices and coffee.

Frontside of a building in Spreicherstadt where you can appreciate the hooks used to upload goods for storage. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Frontside of a building in Spreicherstadt where you can appreciate the hooks used to upload goods for storage. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Port City

This area is the center of the biggest urban revitalization effort in Europe, to be finished by 2021. An iconic building of this redevelopment is the Philharmonic Hall designed by Herzog and de Meuron, a Swiss architectural firm known as well for the Beijing National Stadium built for the 2008 Olympic Games.

The Philharmonic Hall was built on the roof of a historical building. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The Philharmonic Hall was built on the roof of a historical building. Photo: Bruny Nieves

THE CARIBBEAN AND CENTRAL AMERICA IN HAMBURG

Walking towards Port City, we noticed a bridge flanked by statues for Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus, important seamen in the history of my Puerto Rico and Central American countries like Costa Rica. Under this bridge there is structure that can block the flow of water, if the tide rises, thus preventing flooding. We noticed such structures in other bridges and buildings around the city.

One of the 2,300 bridges that rise over the rivers, channels and creeks of Hamburg. Photo: Bruny Nieves

One of the 2,300 bridges that rise over the rivers, channels and creeks of Hamburg. Photo: Bruny Nieves

FAIRYTALE SHIPS

The marine topic is a constant in this city: one sees it in buildings built to emulate ships, in round windows that simulate portholes and even in Christmas. The five Fairytale Ships anchored at the shore of the Alster artificial lake offer children activities during the season.

The Fairytale Ships have been part of the City’s Christmas tradition for almost thirty years. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The Fairytale Ships have been part of the City’s Christmas tradition for almost thirty years. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Captivating city

A visit during Christmas time adds delightful details to Hamburg. Markets can be found in every square, the Fairytale Ships plus it begins to get dark around four o'clock. I came without knowing very much and, after three days walking along its streets, I must say this city in the water captivated me.


One of a hundred Hans Hummel statues included in a 2003 exhibition. When not all houses had water, in the middle of the 19th century, Hans Hummel was the last water deliverer in the city. Photo: Bruny Nieves

One of a hundred Hans Hummel statues included in a 2003 exhibition. When not all houses had water, in the middle of the 19th century, Hans Hummel was the last water deliverer in the city. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Conscious Travel Practices:

1. Explore the destination by bicycle or walking.

2. Support the small hotels.

3. Promote sustainable attractions.

4. Support local markets.


The baroque interior of the St. Michaelis Church, the most famous in the city. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The baroque interior of the St. Michaelis Church, the most famous in the city. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Sights:

BallinStadt Emigrant Museum

St. Michaelis Church

Rickmer-Rickmers Museum


The impressive town hall building (Rathaus in German), located in the city center, was built in 1897. Photo: Bruny Nieves

The impressive town hall building (Rathaus in German), located in the city center, was built in 1897. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Lodging:

Mercure Hotel

Movenpick Hotel

Meininger Hotel


Access to the port of Hamburg is through the Elba River. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Access to the port of Hamburg is through the Elba River. Photo: Bruny Nieves

Gastronomy: