Hamburgs Medieval beginnings
The first settlement on the grounds of modern-day Hamburg was the Hammaburg fortress, built in 825 between the Elbe and Alster rivers. It was from here that Saint Ansgar lead missions to evangelise Scandinavia. The Vikings didn’t appreciate his efforts and burned down the moated fortress in 845. It was rebuilt only to be burned down time and again in the following three centuries. Eventually, by the 12th-century trade took over missionary work and Hamburg established itself as a city of merchants.
In 1189, Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa granted Hamburg special trading rights, toll exemptions and navigation privileges. It became a Free Imperial City, a status that was the cornerstone of Hamburg’s growth and wealth in the centuries to come.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Hamburg was one of the key members of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive alliance of market towns that dominated the Baltic and North Sea trade for three centuries. The league lost importance, with the discovery of the New World, and was dissolved in the 17th century. Yet Hamburg succeeded in dominating the new trade routes, continued to prosper and soon surpassed its former Hanseatic sister cities.
Growth and destruction
Over the next centuries, Hamburg continued to flourish. The city’s stock exchange was founded in 1558, the Bank of Hamburg in 1619. It was the first German city to introduce marine insurance and the first who established a convoy system to protect merchant ships on the high seas. In the 19th century, Hamburg became part of the German Empire but retained its free city status.
But the city experienced numerous setbacks as well. In 1810, it was briefly annexed to the French Empire by Napoleon’s troops. In 1842 the Great Fire of Hamburg destroyed a third of the city and left around 20,000 people homeless. From the rubble a new modern city centre was built, followed by the grand Speicherstadt warehouse district. Prosperity lost to war and wreckage was quickly regained and trade routes now extended to the Americas, Africa, and Asia. At the turn of the twentieth century, Hamburg’s population had grown to one million.
Also, the two world wars have left their traces in Hamburg’s history. The First World War saw the collapse of international trade, and most of Hamburg’s commercial fleet was given over to the Allies as war reparation. During the Second World War, air raids destroyed 55% of housing, 80% of the port, and 40% of the city’s industry. Over 55,000 people were killed, among them the city’s Jewish community, once the largest in Germany.
In the postwar decades, Hamburg contributed to Germany’s economic miracle. The bustling harbour and the trade that it brings remain the backbone of the city’s wealth but Hamburg has also emerged as Germany’s hub of mass media, publishing and advertising. It’s an international, vibrant city whose past is still alive in its full name: the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
Hamburgs Denmark border
The borough of Altona in the city of Hamburg was part of Denmark between 1640 and 1864, thus the border between Germany and Denmark ran through St. Pauli for almost 2 centuries. You can still see the old demarcation line in the streets today if you look closely! (below - Old Danish border in Altona).
City of Most Bridges in the World
Hamburg has more bridges than Venice, London and Amsterdam combined. The total number of bridges in the city is a slight more than 2,300 a world record.
The Beatles in Hamburg
The Beatles’ booking agent, Allan Williams, decided to send the group to Hamburg when another group he managed, proved successful there. They regularly performed at different clubs in Hamburg, during from 1960 to 1962; a chapter in the group’s history which honed their performance skills, widened their reputation, and led to their first recording, which brought them to the attention of Brian Epstein (below - The Beatles sculpture in Beatles-Platz).
Hamburg has its own island in the North Sea
The island Neuwerk close to Cuxhaven is actually part of Hamburg, even though it's situated 100km west of the city! The city of Hamburg took over the rights to Neuwerk in 1299 in order to protect the Elbe river from pirates. Since then, the island has been part of Hamburg and its lighthouse is actually the oldest building on Germany's coast.
The biggest model railway in the world can be found in Hamburg
The Miniatur Wunderland of Hamburg not only features the biggest model railway of the world but also a miniature version of pretty much the entire world! You can explore Hamburg, Italy and the Alps, Scandinavia (even Tromsø!), and the US all in one day at this miniature wonderland in the old warehouse district of Hamburg.
Every ship receives a special greeting
Downriver from Hamburg, in the town of Wedel, lies the Willkomm-Höft - a “welcome point” for ships arriving at, or leaving the port of Hamburg. Every day more than 50 ships are welcomed here by playing the national anthem of the country where the ship is registered, or bid farewell by hoisting the signal flag UW to wish departing ships bon voyage. The six welcoming captains who man the welcome point can choose from a collection of 152 national anthems and recorded greetings in the language of every seafaring country in the world.