- 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 during 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 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 offerings 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 air raid 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
. 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" …
Similarly, the wonderful Afghanistan Museum
disappeared more recently as well, which is an even greater loss … For now I also kept the now outdated entry for the Afghanistan Museum, but 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
- Hanover Station Memorial
- 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
In addition there are various smaller memorials and plaques to keep an eye out for, especially those relating to Hamburg’s Jewish history, most which came to an end in the Third Reich
. In the district of Altona there is also a large Jewish cemetery
that is now a memorial (only open Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays in the afternoon).
If you’re combining a visit to the BallinStadt emigration museum
with a visit to the “Hafenmuseum” (Harbour Museum), you can make a slight detour and go to the Lagerhaus G
(warehouse G) at Dessauer Ufer
. In 1944/45 this was a satellite camp of Neuengamme
, where thousands of Jewish prisoners were housed who had to perform slave labour (mainly clearing rubble from bombing raids) until they were transferred to other camps (including Fuhlsbüttel
). Today there are a couple of memorial plaques on the roadside facade, but the inside of the building is as yet not open to the public. However, there is a campaign for creating a proper documentation centre here.
If you’re using the old Elbtunnel
, these days open only to pedestrians and cyclists (but no longer cars) to get one of the best views of Hamburg’s skyline from the other side of the River Elbe, take note of the plaques pointing out the fact that in nearby shipyards there were yet more satellite camps of Neuengamme
where inmates had to do forced labour.
Hamburg was one of the three cities that in WWII
were equipped with Flaktürme
(ant-aircraft-gun towers), like the better known ones in the Augarten
(the third city was Berlin
). Hamburg had two pairs, of which one each still exist but in a starkly altered form. The central one at Feldstraße is undergoing a massive conversion, with a “green” hotel being constructed on top of it, whereas the remaining tower in the southern district of Wilhelmsburg has been clad in solar panels and is now dubbed “Energiebunker
”. The latter has a small exhibition, but with such limited opening hours (Friday to Sunday only) that I’ve so far never managed to visit it.
Little else 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
(called Fink II), 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.
Google maps locators:
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 limited these days – there are visits by cruise ships (indeed there are no less than three termiinals for those awful monsters of the seas in Hamburg now), but there are no longer any regular ferry connections as there used to be – the huge former 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. 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 once you're there, 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 (see Bunker Valentin
), Bremerhaven (see German Emigration Center
), Cuxhaven (see shipwreck museum
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 the new "HafenCity". Parts closer to the city centre are already finished but construction further away is ongoing. What the completed HafenCity will eventually be like remains to be seen – what's already there 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 ... with one possible exception:
A new landmark not only for the HafenCity but for all of Hamburg is the “Elbphilharmonie”, a classical concert venue with apparently excellent acoustics inside the main hall. From the outside, however, it is the spectacular architecture that has become a new icon for Hamburg. It’s a gleaming, wave-y, pointy structure vaguely reminiscent of ocean waves, a diamond or perhaps an iceberg (interpretations vary). Whatever you make of it, it is certainly eye-catching. The modern structure sits atop a former harbour warehouse (which previously was one of the ugliest buildings of its type) and you can visit a gallery on the roof of that former warehouse and the bottom of the modern superstructure and walk a circuit around the west, north, and east facade and enjoy great views over the city and the harbour. It’s become one of the must-sees in Hamburg and has almost replaced the “Michel” (the prominent St Michael’s church) as the city’s principal landmark.
There are lots of mainstream museums in Hamburg too, 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 fabled 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 more than two decades amd a half. But I do make regular return visits, if never for any prolonged periods (my current home town, 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 01 - bird eye view over the city and harbour, Michel on the right
- Hamburg 02 - towers
- Hamburg 03 - Warehouse G
- Hamburg 04 - a former satellite camp of Neuengamme
- Hamburg 05 - old Jewish cemetery in Altona
- Hamburg 06 - harbour museum
- Hamburg 07 - Landungsbrücken and Elbtunnel
- Hamburg 08 - inside the Elbtunnel
- Hamburg 09 - rats
- Hamburg 10 - city hall
- Hamburg 11 - city hall by night
- Hamburg 12 - Speicherstadt
- Hamburg 13 - the Elbphilharmonie, new landmark
- Hamburg 14 - view over the harbourfront from teh Elbphilharmobie
- Hamburg 15 - classic view with Elbphilharmonie and Cap San Diego
- Hamburg 16 - another classic view with Michel and tall ship Rickmer Rickmers
- Hamburg 17 - on the other bank of the Elbe
- Hamburg 18 - The Elbe and former ferry terminal
- Hamburg 19 - not such a rare encounter on the harbourfront
- Hamburg 1a
- Hamburg 20 - HafenCity
- Hamburg 21 - reconstructed old buildings
- Hamburg 22 - Reeperbahn
- Hamburg 23 - Chile House
- Hamburg 24 - Hauptbahnhof during a train drivers strike
- Hamburg 25 - the Alster