By Nick Duxbury
Hamburg is often associated with great freedom. Indeed, that is the name of a street (Grosse Freiheit) at the heart of the city’s famous Reeperbahn red-light district.
But, with a port that is known as Germany’s “gateway to the world”, the country’s second-largest city also offers great freedoms to tech start-up founders, discerning music lovers and sailing enthusiasts alike.
Hamburg has two lakes at its heart, both formed from the river Alster. The bigger one, the Aussenalster (Outer Alster), is a hub for sailing and rowing regattas. Its shores host famous clubs such as the Hamburger Segel-Club (Hamburg Sailing Club) and the Norddeutscher Regatta Verein (North German Regatta Club). In the winter, if the Alster freezes deeply enough, the Alstereisvergnügen folk festival — with up to 150 stalls — is held on the ice. And every May since 1968, the lake banks and park explode into life with the blossoming of 5,000 cherry trees planted by Hamburg’s Japanese community to mark an annual cultural festival that culminates in a spectacular lakeside fireworks display.
While Berlin may steal the limelight as Germany’s start-up hub, Hamburg is hot on its heels. The city is home to established big technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Freenet and Xing, and has three accelerator schemes. These are split across media, ecommerce and — unsurprisingly for a port city — logistics, and are supported by large, innovative companies such as Siemens and Airbus.
This support is bearing fruit. Figures from consultancy EY show Hamburg start-ups raised €230m in 2017, compared with €128m the previous year. A study by lender KfW also revealed that the city beat Berlin in terms of the number of people per capita starting businesses.
Live music legacy
“I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg,” stated John Lennon (allegedly) when reminiscing about The Beatles’ formative years, playing the music clubs on the Reeperbahn in the early 1960s.
Since then the city’s venues have to continued to influence music, from the 1980s Hamburger Schule punk and experimental pop scene to various notable other punk, metal and electro movements. Long-standing locales such as the Kaiserkeller in St Pauli continue to draw rock, pop, indie and electronic music crowds. So too does Fabrik, a converted factory space; Knust, previously a slaughterhouse; and Uebel & Gefährlich, housed in a former second world war bunker.
Jazz fans should head to Birdland and Cotton Club and those into blues to the Downtown Bluesclub. For classical music, the €866m Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall) — shaped like the bow of a galleon coming down the river Elbe — finally opened last year.
Europe’s second-largest port brings more to Hamburg than global commerce and seagulls. On the banks of the Elbe is the St Pauli Fischmarkt — a Hamburg institution since 1703. Every Sunday from 5am (7am in winter) until 9.30am a combination of bargain-hunters and late-night revellers hunting for breakfast descend on the historic fish market to barter for everything from fish and coffee to pottery. Away from the vocal market traders is the Fischauktionshalle auction hall, which hosts dining and dancing to live jazz, skiffle and country music.
Hamburg is incredibly well connected. The city has more bridges than any other in Europe — 2,496 at the last count — most of which span the river Elbe and its network of canals. It is connected below ground too; the 426m-long Old Elbe Tunnel runs under the river, taking pedestrians and cars to and from the city centre and the shipyards, while the network of underground and overground trains makes travel easy and rapid. Usefully, too, Hamburg airport is less than 10km from the city centre.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Alamy Stock Photo; Getty Images