Hamburg Birthday Party for the Harbour
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Hamburg Birthday Party for the Harbour

Visit the Hamburg Port Birthday, a big event that take place every year in May

Ports can have birthday parties, too. Come and join the one million and more guests to the biggest birthday party ever. Records show that the grand Hamburg Harbour was founded in May of 1189 and for around 30 years now, each May, Hamburg celebrates this event with a big party (“Hafengeburtstag”) which lasts an entire weekend. In 2018, it is the 829th birthday – that’s a lot of candles! Here are some of the highlights of the weekend (and where to best witness them).

The grand arrival parade (Thursday)

The city’s Mayor officially kicks off the party at 4:30pm on Thursday, by ringing the old bell of Hamburg’s all-time favourite sailing boat, the Rickmer Rickmers. And that is when all the birthday guests will make their great entrance into the Harbour. More than 300 ships are expected this year, the highlights being the glorious traditional sailing ships from Russia, Scandinavia and Holland. Also, the newest cruise ships on the seven seas are making a splash.

The Thursday is still somewhat of an insider’s tip. The crowds are rather small compared to the other days, so you will have a decent chance to get a front-row spot on the Landungsbrücken pontoon and even enjoy a nice fish sandwich with a beer while you watch the guests roll in. (Best spot: Brücke 10 on the western end of the Landungsbrücken)

The traditional tugboat ballet (Saturday afternoon)

Always the crowd favourite, the traditional “Schlepperballett” is on display on Saturday. The huge and enormously powerful tugboats of the Harbour “dance” smoothly to classical ballet music! Hard to believe, but it is always a great pleasure to watch them effortlessly strike poses, doing pirouettes in an extraordinary and unique performance.

With Saturday evening being the most popular time for the weekend event, the tugboat ballet first draws a big afternoon crowd to the banks of the Elbe. A hassle-free spot to enjoy this event is slightly above the crowds. Try the famous Hafenstrasse; It has two nice Restaurants and a viewing platform.

Tug on the river Elbe while the tug ballett on the harbours birthday
The fireworks (Saturday night)

At about 8:45pm on Saturday night, there is a marvellous firework show on display in the Harbour. It is fired from one of the big cruise ships that are amidst the numerous guests. It lasts for about 20 minutes and if the weather is nice, it is one of the best firework shows you can witness apart from the New Year’s Eve spectacle. After the last rocket has exploded above the Harbour waters, every horn of every ship in Hamburg toots and honks in warm appreciation of the spectacle – a memorable cap to the night.

You do not have to be in the front row to enjoy the fireworks, though one sublime spot is the balcony (plaza) of the Elbphilharmonie, which oversees the entire Harbour. Be smart and book a plaza ticket for 9pm (for 2€) and make a reservation for an after-firework cocktail in the hotel bar of the Elbphilharmonie.

Fireworks. Hamburg Harbour
The grand departure parade (Sunday afternoon)

The departure parade on Sunday might be the official highlight of the entire weekend. Rightfully so, as all the guest ships group together to leave the harbour and they are accompanied by a hundred local boats who “escort” the guests out. The mood is very exciting and the views of such a dense number of ships is unrivalled. Always quite a party!

This last event is the most popular and on a nice day the crowds can be a bit overwhelming. It might be best to keep a safe distance to the waterfront. Or, rather the opposite: Nothing compares to the experience to celebrate this “Auslaufparade” aboard a ship and actually partake in the parade. There are numerous services renting out spaces on some of the boats.

The grand departure parade
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