Visit: 28th/29th January 2017
My first World Heritage Site of 2017 was in Hamburg – though you wouldn’t know it from the title. The Speicherstadt district of the city is an area of waterside warehouses similar to Liverpool‘s centre. It is not the most exciting of places so I needed an exciting companion, who took the form of Teutonophile and former Hamburg property-owner Peter Nowell.
Our plan was simply to spend one night in Hamburg and then go home again. This being Germany the plan centred around drinking beer, but upon arrival our first move was to stop at local favourite the Mö-Grill for an oversized sausage in an undersized bun.
I had chosen us a hotel in the Speicherstadt district as I like to stay as close as possible to the WHS itself and preferably within its limits, if possible. The water in the photographs is the Elbe river, and the warehouses that sit on its islands and banks were originally built between 1885 and 1927. The buildings, which display a coherence of style that impressed UNESCO when it was inscribed in 2015, stand testament to the development of large-scale international trade in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.
Significant damage was inflicted in the Second World War, leading to a a general reconstruction of the area in the 1950s and 60s. Today many of the warehouses seem still to be tenanted by import/export businesses. Interestingly, most of the proprietors’ names written above the doors are of Islamic origin.
Also included in the WHS inscription is the Chilehaus, which is a Modernist office block just across the water from most of the warehouses. To me it has a more obvious architectural merit than the warehouses, though I believe Nowell prefers the latter.
Our night out in Hamburg was quite enjoyable, basically consisting of drinking from early-afternoon onward. We started at a Bavarian brauhaus drinking out of one-litre steins but we came to realise that the Hamburgers do not do it this way – preferring more sensible half-litre glasses for their beers.
I had half-planned for us to visit another WHS in the nearby Heanseatic city of Lübeck, but our late night put paid to that. My overall impression of Hamburg (which is also Hanseatic, just not obviously so) was of a pleasant enough city but not a terribly exciting World Heritage Site compared with others. As it is the second largest city in Germany is it fair to call it the Birmingham of Germany? Birmingham doesn’t have a WHS (yet…), but whilst Hamburg has a claim to the Beatles I’ll take ELO over the ‘Fab Four’ any day.