Hamburg’s is a tale of two cities…or three, or four. Germany’s second largest city, after Berlin, and Europe’s second-largest port, after Rotterdam, has so many facets that visitors stumble into one fascinating cityscape after another. The copper-roofed tower of old baroque Hauptkirche St. Michael’s rises next to glass and steel office buildings. The port, with its wharfs, cranes, dry docks, and a flotilla of ships coming and going day and night rambles along the banks of the Elbe River as far as the eye can see. A maze of canals laces through the old city, lined with sturdy brick warehouses where Hamburg merchants once stashed carpets, tea, and the other lucre of trade. These days boldly designed high-rise corporate headquarters—Hamburg is a media capital and industrial center—are the powerhouses of wealth and influence. Elegant 19th-century facades along the shores of the Alster, the shimmering lake at Hamburg’s center, and Jugenstil (art nouveau) villas scream bourgeois comforts; smart-phone-toting Armani clad execs carry on the legacy of well-fed Middle Age burghers who made fortunes after Frederich Barbarossa declared the city a free port in 1193. Then there’s Hamburg’s underbelly—the infamous Reeperbahn, the sleazy avenue where “Hiya sailor” is the anthem of easy virtue. The stag partiers and other denizens of the night who dip into this slice of lowlife are onto something—Hamburg might be business-minded, even stuffy in places, but it can also be a lot of fun, whatever your notion of a good time is. That might also mean gazing at an Expressionist canvas in the Kunsthalle, or watching Hamburgers haggle over the price of cod at the Fischmarkt, or cruising past architectural stunners in HafenCity, a brand new waterfront quarter. As you get to know Hamburg, you will be surprised at just how easy it is to succumb to this city’s charms and how many there are.
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