What to do on (yet another) rainy Saturday afternoon in Hamburg? I managed to get all my errands run this morning while it was merely cloudy. Now the showers have returned so rather than venturing into the damp before I have to, I thought that it would be a good time to formulate another post.
This past week, I finally succeeded in taking the bus tour of the city (Stadtrundfahrt) that I had been promising myself I would take so I could get my bearings here. The pressure to accomplish this was increased due to the fact that a cousin of mine is coming to visit and he no doubt expects me to not get us lost. I took the train and a subway line to the Hamburg waterfront on the Elbe River and found waiting for me a red double decker bus. Boarding the vehicle, I surrendered my ticket and was given a pair of airline-type headphones. Once I took a seat, I plugged them in and turned the dial on the panel to “English.” I opted for the headphones because my German is fair at best and I thought I would get better information if it were in my native language. That may not have been a good choice since the English guide was pre-recorded and was more of a highlight reel, a “best-of” program. I probably should have struggled with the live-action German guide.
Off we went, first through the harbor district where an entirely new residential area has been constructed where warehouses once stood. The ground was raised 20 plus feet so it would be protected from flooding, an ever increasing risk due to climate change. The Elbe is being hemmed in by new higher flood walls, too, for the same reason. The city government realized some time ago that a city center devoted only to corporate offices meant a dead city twelve hours a day, so they began building AFFORDABLE housing and amenities (shops, services, infrastructure) to support it. It’s based principles of sustainability so all buildings are energy efficient and public transport is the rule. The gizmos you see on the roof in the photo below are wind powered generators–a new generation configuration.
The city is still major port; more than 100,000 cargo and cruise ships pass through Hamburg’s harbor each year. This year Germany had its largest budget SURPLUS in modern history. It apparently pays to invest in infrastructure. Do you think the Trumpster and “fellow Republicans” are listening or paying attention? Three guesses.
Of course, there’s lots of “old” Hamburg to be seen as well. The city has been around for more than a thousand years and while the original settlement is long gone, there is still much evidence of its history. Great sections of Hamburg have been destroyed over the years. There was a “great fire” (like London’s) that took out much of the original merchants’ area in the 1800s; there has been the occasional flood and then there was the small matter of WWII and the firebombing of the city that was carried out. Despite this, as I said, there’s a lot of “old town” left. The grand Rathaus or town hall, dating to the 19th century, is standing, as are a number of churches and public buildings. The center of the city has a number of pedestrian areas and shopping streets. While modern skyscrapers stretch above many streets, the general sense of Hamburg is that most of the buildings are of modest height and, rather than being torn down when they have outlived their original purposes, they are renovated or remodeled and put to other uses. The old central post office, seen below, is now home to offices for doctors, lawyers and other professionals as well as a gym.
Then there are the churches, of course. Everybody comes to Europe to see the churches. St. Michael’s Church is THE Hamburg landmark. Destroyed twice, to the foundations, since it was built in the 1800s and compulsively rebuilt and restored each time.