Robert Hampton

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2nd October 2015

A Hamburg stroll
Posted by at 10.05pm | No responses | Out and About

Friday morning we decided to do a walking tour of Hamburg. Every day at 11am a tour sets off, taking around two hours to take in some of the sights of the city. The tour starts at the Rathaus (City Hall), one of the many impressive buildings to be found in the city centre.

Hamburg Rathaus

In the square outside some sort of inter-schools concert was being held. Children of varying ages filed in and sat themselves down on folding chairs, to be entertained by other children. Well, I say “entertained” – we escaped just as a group of teenagers started rapping (badly).

Boris’s friends, Florian, Michael and Andrew, arrived, as did Boris’s aunt, who had travelled to Hamburg to join us for the day.

Here’s my shame: Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch. I studied German at school, and over the years I have tried to refresh my memory, but the truth is I am rustier than a Northern Rail train. Last year, when I was in Berlin, I was just about able to order a coffee, and even then I found the other person replying to me in English. Carrying on a conversation? Impossible.

I was the only member of our group who didn’t speak fluent German. This would embarrass me were it not for the fact that my companions were all genuinely lovely people who spoke English for me. However, one side effect of this trip was that I came home determined to learn German, and learn it properly.

Our tour guide was an enthusiastic Californian who informed us he had lived in Hamburg for the last 17 years. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough time for him to lose that annoying Californian habit of his voice going up at the end of each sentence? You know, so it always sounds like he’s asking a question? Luckily it didn’t detract too much? I didn’t really mind?

From the City Hall we headed for Trostbrücke, one of the oldest bridges in the city. On the bridge stands a statue of Adolf III, a 13th-century count who helped to establish an early settlement here.

Adolf III statue

Next, our walk took us to St Nicholas’s church. This fine gothic structure was left in ruins after a British bombing raid during World War II. The tower itself remained standing and it, along with the remaining walls, were preserved as a memorial (rather like Liverpool’s St Luke’s church, in fact).

The tower is open to the public for a small fee and the views are reportedly excellent. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside.

St Nicholas Church

Next, our tour took us down a narrow passageway onto the banks of the Nikolaifleet canal. Here, marked by a simple sign reading Brandanfang, was the point where the Great Fire of Hamburg started in May 1842. An arson attack on a warehouse started a fire which quickly grew out of control and consumed almost a quarter of the old city.

It was noticeable that the buildings north of the sign were of much newer construction, reflecting the direction in which the fire spread on that fateful night.

Brandanfang Nikolaifleet

After a short break, we carried on to Speicherstadt. This warehouse district was constructed in the late 19th century as a “free zone” where merchants could avoid paying customs on goods. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nowadays, the warehouses house various tourist attractions, including the Hamburg Dungeons and Minatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway – of which there will be more (a LOT more!) later.


Nearby is the grand new Elbphilharmonie building. Unfortunately this has become something of an embarrassment to the city of Hamburg, as its construction has taken much longer and cost much more than originally anticipated. It was supposed to be completed in 2010 at a cost of €241 million, but as of 2015 is still not finished. It is now expected to open in January 2017 with costs estimated at €780 million.


At the conclusion of the tour, we were treated to the story of Klaus Störtebeker, a notorious pirate who raided numerous merchant ships. The legend says that when Störtebeker was captured and brought to Hamburg in 1401, he made a bargain with the city’s mayor: if, after being beheaded, he could get up and walk past his fellow prisoners, then those men would be freed. The mayor, not believing it to be possible, agreed. The executioner brought the axe down on Störtebeker’s head, but according to the legend, Störtebeker was able to get up and walk past eleven of the men.

The city officials, stunned at what they had just seen, jokingly asked the executioner if he was able to continue. The executioner, pissed off at having his craftsmanship called into question, retorted that he could execute all the remaining prisoners and the senate. For his impudence, the unfortunate executioner was also sentenced to death (and you thought your day at work went badly). Then, for good measure, all Störtebeker’s associates were summarily killed as well, breaking the “deal” the pirate had made.

This story was all acted out by our guide, alongside several volunteers from the tour group (including one wannabe actor who really got into the role of Störtebeker). It was a fun (if macabre) end to the tour.

If you do visit Hamburg, I definitely recommend this walking tour. They are free of charge, but tips are appreciated (I gave him €5). See for more info.

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