"It's sometimes called London on the Baltic," said a German friend speaking of Hamburg. I couldn't tell for sure whether he was boasting or complaining. But commercial ties, dating back to Hanseatic League days, as well as matters of taste and deportment, seem to make the two European cities sisters under the skin. Traditional values are important here, and so is the green movement. Hamburg is said to be Europe's greenest city, with more than 50% of its surface area dedicated to woodlands, water, parks and gardens. This, despite being Germany's second largest city, having Europe's largest downtown mall (Europa Passage), and the world's third largest commercial aircraft manufacturing center (think the huge Airbus 380, assembled here).
In good weather, I recommend a trip on the Maritime Circle Line (Price round trip (90 minutes), €8. Daily sailings from early April through October, fewer in winter. St. Pauli Landungsbrucke 10; tel. 011/49 40 2849 3963; www.maritime-circle-line.de), taking you around Hamburg's bustling harbor, said to be the world's fifth largest and Europe's second most important container shipment center, with a choice of four stops, including that at Ballinstadt, see below. Among buildings you should look for on the waterfront is the marvelous new Philharmonic Hall, soon to be completed, I was told.
Culture vultures must visit the Kunsthalle (Glockengiesser Wall; tel. 011/49 40 4285 42612; www.hamburger-kunsthalle.de), certainly one of Germanys Top Ten museums. In addition to ancient masterpieces (Gothic through the Renaissance, for instance), modern works include those by Picasso, Warhol, Paul Klee, Kandinsky and more recent artists.
If you feel the pull of the notorious Reeperbahn, you should know that it's been cleaned up a good deal, though there is still lowlife for those who seek it. (The Herbertstrasse street is boarded up at either end to keep women and anyone under 18 out, though there are no guards, it's the honor system or perhaps the inhabitants themselves.)
The main reason to come here now is to enjoy local restaurants or to visit Beatlemania (Nobistor 10, Reeperbahn; tel. 011/49 1805 853 753; www.beatlemania-hamburg.com; admission €12), a new museum specializing in the Beatles, who got their start here in Hamburg back in 1960-62. Although I adore their music, I am not enough of a fan to adore this museum, which is four floors of more than everything you wanted to know about the Fabulous Four (or Five).
If you ant to check out the club where the Beatles performed long ago, visit Club Gross Freiheit -- Great Freedom -- (Grosse Freiheit 36; tel. 011/49 40 317 7780; www.grossefreiheit36.de), where acts change frequently, ranging from the famous to the dreadful. Note that this is not the original club where the Beatles appeared, which was torn down in 1986, but it's the same name and just a few steps away from the original.
The Emigration Museum at Ballinstadt
Based in the Emigrant Halls built by shipping magnate Albert Ballin, this museum (Emigration City Hamburg, Veddeler Bogen 2; tel. 011/49 40 3197 9160; www.ballinstadt.de; admission €12) replicates the experiences of more than five million emigrants who gathered in Hamburg before sailing off to North America in the period from 1850 to 1939. Ballin was owner of the prestigious Hamburg-American Line (later known as the Hapag-Lloyd Line), and he helped make Hamburg a gateway to the New World. The museum here opened in 2007, with three buildings delineating the emigrants' experiences in dioramas, audio and video exhibits. There are also a small gift shop and a large coffee shop, both in Building Three. You can research your own family history in Building One's Family Research Center at no extra charge. Look also on www.ancestry.de. You get here by boat or by regional train, the museum being off in the harbor boondocks somewhat.
Grab hold of a Hamburg Card, which allows free travel in the entire area, up to 50% discounts at about 130 places (museums, tours, cruises, etc.), 20% discounts in some restaurants, up to 25% discount in some shops. Tickets are for 1, 3 or 5 days, costing €8.50 to 33.90, respectively. Get them at tourist information offices, some hotels and travel agencies.
I followed my guide to his favorite Italian spot in St. Pauli, which is also a favorite of the authors of the excellent Frommer's Germany book. It is Cuneo (Davidstrasse 11, tel. 011/49 40 312 580), and I had a pleasant meal of tortellini in brodo at €4.50 ($6.75), spaghetti Bolognese at €9.50 and a glass of Chianti for €5.
A second dinner was at Vesuvio (Kirchenallee 55; tel. 011/49 40 2805 3643), opposite the main rail station, where I had a very acceptable pasta with oil and garlic at €7.30 ($10.95), bruschetta at €3.30 and a glass of Lambrusco at €2.70. Nothing fancy, just convenient.
I was lucky to stay at the Kempinski Hotel Atlantic (An der Alster 72-79; tel. 011/49 40 288 80; www.kempsinski.atlantic.de), which I still believe to be the city's best. It is certainly the most famous, having hosted the late Shah of Iran, Prince Charles and Madonna, to mention only a few swells. There are 250 sumptuous rooms, starting from €225. The breakfast buffet, included in the room price, is one of the most lavish I've seen, with sparkling wine as well as OJ, to mention only one delight. Other facilities include indoor pool, gym, two restaurants (one Chinese), private cinema and more. Oh, and you can once again enjoy the portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II over the fireplace in the lobby, after it was in hiding from 1918 to 1978.
Everything you want to know is on the website of Hamburg Tourism; www.hamburg-tourismus.de or by phoning tel. 011/49 40 300 51300. Information on all of Germany can be had at the website of the German National Tourist Office; www.cometogermany.com.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Germany Message Boards today.