The Many Faces of Hamburg

Text: Mariliis Pinn Photos: 22 / May / 2018

“THE HAMBURGERS are shaped by marine traffic, merchandise and centuries of independence. They’re reserved, friendly and elegant,” says Estonian Regina, who has lived in Hamburg for 30 years.

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 “Hanseatisches Understatement (hanseatic understatement) is Hamburg’s trademark – people like to be surrounded by things that look modest, but are expensive and valuable,” she adds. Hamburgers are proud of their city and its atmosphere and majestically consider it to be the gateway to the world.

Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, has more than 1.8 million inhabitants. It seems vast at first, but on investigation, it turns out that everything a visitor needs is close at hand: culture, museums, centuries-old architecture, fabulous cuisine and buzzing nightlife. “Hamburg is a normal, yet unique city. There are no significant tourist sights, but the city itself is very attractive. The centre and its vicinity are best discovered on foot,” says Regina. Hamburg is a diverse city and has many faces, but they co-exist harmoniously. There are outrageous millionaire villas, but also more flamboyant neighbourhoods, such as St Pauli, and, of course, the world’s most famous and sinful street – Reeperbahn.

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“The current talk of the town is the Elbphilharmonie. The concert hall was inaugurated on 11 January and is spectacular,” says Regina about Hamburg’s new landmark. Elbphilharmonie is a magnificent building and aspires to become one of the ten best concert halls in the world. It definitely has the makings, both architecture and acoustics wise. “Hamburgers themselves like to call the building ‘Elbphi’,” says Regina. By the way, the opening sound in the new concert hall was an oboe solo by an Estonian musician Kalev Kuljus.

Elbphilharmonie is designed by renowned Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and built inside a former warehouse that once housed cocoa, tea and tobacco. The characteristic structure and façade of the historical building have been preserved, but instead of 20,000 square metres of storage space, there are now concert and conference halls, restaurants, bars and parking spaces. Tickets have been sold out for months, but Regina suggests visiting the 4,000 m2 plaza, which is free of charge. It features an observation platform with a 360° view over the harbour, the Elbe and the entire city.


You haven’t seen Hamburg if you haven’t been to the harbour district. “I always take my guests to the harbour (Landungsbrücke). A small tour on the Elbe is also obligatory. I recommend buying a daily ticket that costs around seven euros and allows you to use the public transport boats to Finkenwerder and back,” says Regina. Where else would you feel like you’re in a maritime paradise if not on the piers of Hamburg harbour accompanied by the sights, smells and sounds of the sea, boats, seagulls, cranes and shipping containers?

Just a few steps away from the port is the old Elbe Tunnel – another place where Regina always takes visiting guests. A marvel of German construction, it was built under the river a hundred years ago. Another important landmark of Hamburg is the Speicherstadt – a historical warehouse district in the harbour, quite close to the centre. It is sometimes nicknamed the
world’s mall because it is the world’s largest warehouse area and is especially attractive at night when all the beautiful architecture is lit up. Speicherstadt also has many famous  museums:

Miniatur Wunderland (the world’s largest model railway attraction), the Deutsches Zollmuseum (taxation museum) and the Hamburg Dungeon with realistic performances of historical events. Speicherstadt and Kontorhausviertel was included last year on the UNESCO heritage list.


“If you’re in Hamburg on April 30, you can’t escape Walpurgis Night when dance parties called Tanz in den Mai take place” says Regina. Everybody goes out clubbing. The more famous and livelier clubs are all in Reeperbahn and those who want to enjoy some wild nightlife, even if a bit on the naughtier side, will definitely find their adventures there. Regina's daughter Lotta suggests visiting Halo and Clockers near Reeperbahn.

After clubbing, it’s a very popular tradition to head straight to the Fish Market (Fischmarkt) on Sunday morning. Eels and fish sandwiches are sold alongside fresh coffee, while the loud merchants, market  noise and opportunities for people watching make it a legendary sight on its own.


Hamburg has thousands of shopping opportunities. Mönckerbergstrasse is where H&M, Zara and the other high street brands are. The more exclusive brands can be found on Neuer Wall. 

“I’m a big fan of flea markets and if the weather is good, I recommend visiting one on Saturday,” says Regina. The flea market in Schanzenviertel is very popular with the younger crowd. Also visit Übel & Gefährlich, the former wartime bunker that’s a cafe by day and a club by night. In the same district, there is also the Rindermarkthalle with its many small food shops, including bakeries and butchers. The young prefer cafes like Berliner Betrüger, Kaffee Stark and Yoko Mono.

Regina also recommends taking a strip of black and white photos in a photo booth after going to the flea market. It only costs two euros and is very popular among visitors.

Article was published in Nordica´s in-flight magazine Time Flies  (spring 2017).