- darkometer rating: 4 -
Hamburg is Germany
's second largest city, after the capital Berlin
– also in terms of dark tourism. That is to say, while Hamburg can't rival Berlin in the sheer range and number of dark sites, it still has enough such sites to warrant its own chapter here. These sites include a former concentration camp, the world's largest park cemetery, and several others – see below
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
Two particular aspects set Hamburg apart: its harbour and the city's destruction in Allied bombing raids in WWII
. Hamburg's harbour was and is a major economic powerhouse and a touristic sight at the same time. A boat tour of the harbour still is at the top of most tourists' itineraries.
Obviously, the harbour also has its dark sides, having been a major military production site in both world wars (battleships, submarines and military aircraft were assembled here, on top of the harbour's role as a transport and supply hub).
Another aspect of the harbour that is at least related to the 'dark' sides of history is the fact that it was the departure point for many people leaving their homeland behind to seek new fortunes overseas – and one of Hamburg's newest touristic offers commemorates precisely this aspect (BallinStadt
the harbour made Hamburg a prime target for bombing raids. It was, however, the death toll amongst the civilian population during the carpet bombings of the city by the US and British air forces that left the darkest impact on the city's recent history.
Cynically named "Operation Gomorrah", the relentless bombing of the city during July and August 1943 resulted in the second largest loss of life in any such campaign in Europe (only Dresden
was worse), especially on the night of 27th-28th July, when a so-called firestorm helped by unfortunate weather conditions killed 30,000 people in just three hours. It was the first such mass bombing in the Allied bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany. Of course, it all had been started by the bombing of Coventry by the Luftwaffe. But even this massive bombardment of Hamburg was only the overture to what was to come for many other German cities – most notably Cologne and Dresden. Several sites in Hamburg commemorate the 'bombing nights'.
Hamburg also used to have a few rather unusual darkish attractions, which unfortunately are no more: one was the Sielmuseum or 'sewer museum', which also involved a guided tour (following an extensive lecture about the workings of the whole sewer system) and a peek into Hamburg's dark underground. You can still read my report about this here, only now it is filed under "lost places" …
What there is to see: enough to make Hamburg a viable dark tourism destination in its own right. Here's my list of individual dark sites in Hamburg:
- Neuengamme concentration camp
- Fuhlsbüttel prison and satellite camp memorial museum
- Bullenhuser Damm school
- Nikolaikirche ruin and memorial to the bombing of the city
- Bunkermuseum Hamm
- Hamburg's underworlds (especially the nuclear shelter near the central station)
- Ohlsdorf cemetery
- BallinStadt emigration museum
- Bismarck monument
- U-434 submarine
Little can still be found in the harbour today that visibly relates to its history in WWII
– the U-boat bunker Elbe II used to be an exception for many years, but that has been lost
(literally buried, first by sand, and then paved over to make space for parking and storage).
Another U-boat bunker's remains, however, were rediscovered when the Airbus Industries factory site in Finkenwerder was expanded in the early 2000s. These remains are still partially visible but not accessible themselves. However, on the opposite bank of the Rüsch canal, now serving as a marina, a memorial text plaque has been erected noting the historical significance of this spot (best accessible by ferry – part of Hamburg's public transport network – get out at the "Rüschpark" jetty, from there it's a short walk west along the Elbe and then south into the marina; the bunker remains, not particularly spectacular as they may be, can be seen opposite).
in the north of Germany
on the River Elbe, just a few dozen miles inland from its estuary.
Access and costs: Easy to get to; but not a cheap place.
: Hamburg is a major transport hub, and is thus easily reachable by any mode of transport. Only access from the sea is (given the harbour) surprisingly sparse these days – there are occasional visits by cruise ships, but there are no longer any regular ferry connections as there used to be until quite recently – the huge ferry terminal in Neumühlen/Altona built only in 1993 for the now discontinued DFDS car-ferry connections to the UK
is testimony to this.
One reason for this is the fact that you can get cheap air connections to Hamburg. Its city airport in Fuhlsbüttel is served by major airlines, especially Germany's national airline Lufthansa, as well as a few budget carriers such as Air Berlin or Germanwings. Note, however, that connections to "Hamburg Lübeck" actually get you to another hanseatic seaside town, namely Lübeck, which, though a pretty place, is NOT a part of the North Sea city of Hamburg, but about an hour's drive away near the Baltic coast!
Getting to Hamburg by car couldn't be easier. And there are countless train connections too.
Getting there may be possible on the cheap, but Hamburg is a rather expensive city to be in generally, including accommodation, with several high-end hotels (including the world-famous Four Seasons and the Hotel Atlantik), although some budget options can also be found.
a long weekend should be the absolute minimum, even just for the main "dark" sights, better still is to allow a few days more. Note that some of Hamburg's dark sites have very restricted opening times (e.g. Bullenhuser Damm
), others require registration for special dates only (esp. Hamburger Unterwelten
), so if your itinerary is to include any of those sites, careful pre-planning is essential.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
For the dark tourist Hamburg is well worth a short break on its own, but can of course easily be incorporated into a grand dark tour of Germany
is only a couple of hours away. Other north German destinations could include Bremen/Bremerhaven (see Bremerhaven Emigration Center
, and, in particular, Heligoland
– as there is now a fast boat connection directly from Hamburg's inner city harbour front allowing for easy day return trips (ca. March to October).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Hamburg is one of Germany
's prime mainstream tourist destinations anyway, so there's plenty to do and see in this grand city for anyone. Prime sights include: the harbour front & harbour boat trips, the central Alster lake (centrepiece of the inner city), the Speicherstadt (literally 'warehouse city', a district of picturesque old waterfront warehouses displaying a unique architectural harmony) with its several special museums:
Speicherstadtmuseum, the new Maritime Museum, a Spice Museum (a hands-and-nose-on experience!), a miniature world (model trains, cities, a whole "world"), the quirky German Customs Museum ... (and formerly the cute Afghanistan Museum
, which unfortunately had to close down). Also housed in the Speicherstadt is Hamburg's own incarnation of the Dungeon
The area around and beyond the Speicherstadt is currently undergoing a massive redevelopment (reminiscent of what happened in London's Docklands
from the 1980s onwards), with new housing, offices etc. under construction – this is to be the new "HafenCity", and a special information point, even a lookout tower, if gazing at noisy building sites appeals. What the HafenCity will eventually be like remains to be seen – what's already completed doesn't exactly instil optimism in me, but hopefully I will one day stand corrected. So far I can't say that I find any of the new architecture convincing.
A new landmark for Hamburg is under construction at a prominent point here too, namely a conversion/expansion of one particularly ugly harbour warehouse into the future "Elbphilharmonie", which promises to be a truly spectacular structure … however, the project has gone over budget on a massive scale and completion of the building delayed, even though it already employs an orchestra with a star conductor, all sitting idle until their future workplace is finally finished. It's not quite as embarrassing as Berlin's disastrous new airport project but not far behind. The Elbphilharmonie building site can even be visited on guided tours (with hard hats).
Back on more standard tourist terrain, there are lots of mainstream museums in Hamburg, as well as several more specialized ones, including one on erotic art. The latter is predictably located in St Pauli – i.e. in Hamburg's red-light district around the Reeperbahn. This is apparently one of the world's best-known such districts (perhaps together with the one in Amsterdam
) and as such also quite a tourist attraction in its own way. Hamburg is also a city of culture with all the usual offerings as well as a city for shopping, especially of the expensive posh sort. And last but not least there is Hagenbecks Tierpark, the world's first zoo to display animals not in cages but in open, cleverly landscaped enclosures.
What I can't emphasize enough, though, is that the city as such is just so enchanting ... OK, I admit it before the accusations fly anyway: I may indeed be a bit biased here, since Hamburg is my original hometown – I was born there and lived the longest part of my life in or near this city, so I obviously have a special connection to the place, even though I haven't lived in Hamburg for almost two decades. But I do make regular return visits, if never for any prolonged periods – my current hometown, however, is Vienna.
As is often the case, the spatial and temporal distance has had the effect of making my old home feel even closer to my heart than it did while I was actually still living there. But please do not misread all this as "oh well, so he's just exaggerating about Hamburg's attractiveness". I'm not. It really is a fantastic place and I haven't yet met anyone who has visited the city and said otherwise. Go and see for yourself.
- Hamburg 1a
- Hamburg 1b - maritime legacy
- Hamburg 1c - Chile House
- Hamburg 2 - Speicherstadt
- Hamburg 3 - view over city and harbour
- Hamburg 4 - Speicherstadt birds eye view
- Hamburg 5 - old and newer
- Hamburg 6 - City Hall
- Hamburg 7 - Rathausmarkt
- Hamburg 8 - Landungsbrücken
- Hamburg 9 - Stolpersteine