Hamburg Back to the Future
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Janine Alsterhaus, Hamburg

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Hamburg Back to the Future

Only about 10% of the buildings in Hamburg date back 100 years or more, but there is still a lot of architectural brilliance to admire and history to breath in during a trip to the city.


The Speicherstadt (warehouse district) is in itself a historic sight and architectural marvel. If one had to choose one building which represents best the beauty and functionality of this district, it would be the Wasserschloss (or Wasserschlößchen). It is the one historic site that you photograph the most when you take a boat trip through the Speicherstadt (highly recommended). Located on the corner between two canals, it looks like an urban chateau. Built in 1907, it did not house any royals but served as a home for the technicians in charge of the winches on the side of every warehouse. Since there were no elevators, the outside winches were crucial to the transport system and commerce in general. Thus, the workmen in charge of the winches were treated to the right to stay in this fine building – a real perk to the job! The Wasserschloss is now home to a tea shop, café and restaurant. If you want the best place in the house, you should make a reservation right outside at the tipping point, watch the sunset, drink a tea and breathe in history.


In the shadow of everyone’s favourite Hamburg church, the St. Michaelis (St. Michael’s), there is a small and narrow alley called the Krameramtsstuben. The timber-framed houses on this alley are the oldest assembly of townhouses in Europe. They were built between 1620 and 1700 and are almost perfectly intact until this day. The buildings were owned by a guild of merchants (Kramer), and their code of arms can still be seen on some of the houses’ walls. The rooms upstairs in these tiny houses were especially dedicated to the widows of deceased guild members, while the merchants operated shops on ground-floor. The “Krameramtsstuben” are protected as heritage buildings. They survived the bomb raids of WWII without any damage. Today, you can find many small shops, galleries and a nice restaurants in these houses. The oldest house can be visited and might give you a good idea of what life in Hamburg must have been like some 200 years ago.


On your way to or from the Speicherstadt you will find the small Deichstraße, which is the oldest remaining street in the old city (Altstadt) of Hamburg and a rather popular visitor attraction. The street dates back to the 14th century and was built along the Nikolai canal (Nikolaifleet). Pass the shops and restaurants and walk through the narrow passages onto the pontoon bridge on the canal to marvel the historic facades. It seems like not one building is still standing straight, it is like a child’s drawing of buildings. You are looking at carefully restored 17th – 19th-century houses which were set to replace the old original buildings some centuries ago. Here was the first historic Harbour of Hamburg. Today, Deichstraße contains some of the oldest buildings in the city, including the oldest warehouse (Peterstraße 27) which was built in 1780.


Hamburg is proud home to a number of museum ships. The most beautiful is the Rickmer Rickmers, a glorious green sailing ship at the banks of the Landungsbrücken, close to the inner city. This three-masted barque has become a floating city landmark and offers you an insight into seafaring life. Take a look at the engines of the ship and find out about the three types of marine propulsion that have been used over the past 100 years: wind, steam and diesel. You may also find some rather interesting art expositions and a restaurant. But the real price is to stand outside aboard the ship and glance around, feel the gusty winds and imagine that this boat has been to China, Vietnam, Africa and South America and sailed every ocean there is.


The Colonnaden is a short but exquisite shopping street in the inner city. It is now largely a pedestrian zone and connects the “splendour mile” which is the Jungfernstieg with the Esplanade/Stephansplatz. It has a rich tradition and was once the fanciest place to shop in Hamburg. Most of the buildings are designed in Renaissance architecture in the 1880s. What is special about this street is that the eastern side of the street is formed by elegant arcades, which will protect you from sunshine or, more likely, the rain. This is common for most southern European Cities, namely in Italy, but it was, at the time, totally unheard of in Germany. It still feels strange but also luxurious to wander these streets.

Hamburg Town Hall It was built between 1886 and 1897. Its impressive architecture dominates the centre of the city. Can be visited only with guided tours.
Colonnades Antiques Market In the heart of Hamburg’s city centre, the Colonnades Antiques Market takes place from spring to autumn every Sunday. Facing the Alster, this market has a wide range of antiques.