We will start in Altona, or Altona-Altstadt (“old town”) to be more precise. Altona was not part of Hamburg until 1938, and we still have our own flag that is very similar to the flag of Hamburg: A white castle with a red background but in contrast to the flag of Hamburg, our flag’s castle has open doors and water in front of it. Some people believe that the open door mirrors Altona’s openness to other cultures, and it is true that everyone was welcome to Altona to live his dreams who was not welcome elsewhere. The Holländische Reihe (“Dutch Row”) as well as several jewish cemeteries are good examples of this culture. However, the open doors are a symbol that the Danish king was always allowed to enter the town. It was him who gave Altona the rights of a town in 1665, and we also have several examples of the Danish reign. Nevertheless, Altona was open, and Hamburg was not too happy about so much trouble so close to its borders. In Old German, “to be too close” could have been “All to nah”, and some people say that this is the origin of the town’s name. In fact, we don’t know.
Our apartment is in the old city of Altona, and you may wonder where the old houses are. Our house is one of the few that survived the 2nd world war, the city center of Old Altona has been completely destroyed. Unfortunately, what the war hasn’t managed to destroy, the city of Hamburg did, for example our beautiful train station that had to disappear in favor of the ugly box that we have now. Our house, built in the mid of the 19th century but having taking the current shape in 1870, included a pub and later a pharmacy. There are still letters of the “Rosen-Apotheke” outside, the owner gave up in 2014 because he couldn’t afford the repairs anymore that such an old house often requires. In the 19th century, this street still was the Marktstraße (“Market Street”). The street connected the Old Town of Altona to Ottensen, another part of Altona that was separated by a train line (more about that later).
The old town of Altona has been an ugly area for a long time whilst Ottensen, at the other side of the train station, has been revived in the 1990s with many stylish shops, bars, cafes, theatres, restaurants, and a small shopping mall. Only in the last few years, our part of the city has been given more attention. One of the first city IKEAs has been built very close to us, creating (sometimes aggressive) discussions and protests. 1 year after the opening, IKEA realized that they have become a canteen for offices, schools and neighbors (we were told this is the only IKEA worldwide that has daily changing lunch menus), furniture is not bought as much as expected, and two of the parking decks are always closed. As many other areas in Hamburg, we see early signs of gentrification of this part of the town (and we may serve as an example of this… however, the house would not have survived without a considerable investment in repairs).
As said above, Altona belonged to Denmark, and you may see a few Danish flags but also the Christianskirche (Christian’s Church), named after a Danish king. Several initiatives to give Altona back to Denmark have failed, mostly because they were not completely serious about this. But these initiatives have a serious background: Altona has been disadvantaged by the senate of Hamburg for a long time after it has become a part of the Hanse town. Before, Altona and Hamburg were rivals, in particular with respect to fish. The famous Hamburg Fischmarkt (fish market of Hamburg) is in fact the fish market of Altona!
A walk or ride through Altona and Hamburg
This walk can be done in one day (if you are happy to walk a lot/if you rent a bike/if you only have one day in Hamburg) but you can also split it into several parts (recommended). In the picture to the left, you see the beautiful old train station (left) and the Grand hotel Kaiserhof (right). A small part of the hotel building still exist, it is the building at the corner when you go go to the train station. In front of the old train station, you see the Stuhlmannbrunnen (“Stuhlmann Spring”), and this is where our walk will start!
- Leave our house, make a left and cross the street into the direction of the small park. You will see the Stuhlmannbrunnen in the north side of the park, and if you compare its position to the picture above, you will notice that the spring has been moved further south. The Stuhlmannbrunnen displays two centaurs that are fighting for a fish, and the centaurs represent Hamburg and Altona and their fight for the fish trade.
- Go further south through the park. On the right, you will see the Altona Museum (that used to be a beautiful old building) and the Altona Theatre. The theatre is the auditorium of the school that is in the same building so that the building is almost always in use.
- Go further south and you will see a black form. It is a memorial for the jews that were killed by the Germans during the darkest phase of German history. There is another memorial stone if you go to the train station that remembers the jews that had been deported from the Altona train station.
- Go further south, cross the street to the beautiful white building. It is the town hall of Altona, and the senate of Altona is still working there. If you have a bit of luck, you will see both the flags of Altona and Hamburg. The old man on the horse in front of the “Rathaus” is the Emperor Wilhelm.
- Go around the building and look at the southern part of the building. What you see is the remainder of an even older train station of Altona that was built in the 1850s and then moved further up in the early 1900s. The trains went through the park that you have just walked through!
- You are looking at the southern part of the town hall and will not cross the street to your right. Walk a few 100 meters into the straight street that is called “Palmaille”. It’s name comes from Palla a maglio, a ball game that Otto V. von Schauenburg loved to play so that this street was built for this purpose in 1638. Beautiful buildings were built since the end of the 19th century, and some still exist.
- Cross the street (please use the traffic lights!) and go back until you come to a park that is opposite to the town hall. Go through the park and you will have a wonderful view of the former harbour of Altona which is now the harbour of Hamburg. This landmark is called “Altonaer Balkon” (balcony of Altona). Enjoy the view! You may see a cruise ship because one of the buildings you see down there is one of Hamburg’s cruise terminals. The other building that looks a bit like a ship is called “Docklands”, and there is a ferry stop on the other side of the building. By the way, there is a tunnel from the current train station under the Altonaer Balkon down to the previous harbor. It is called Schellfisch-Tunnel (because of the fish that was transported from the vessels to the train station), and it is opened once or twice a year. If you walk down to Docklands, you may see a bit of the tunnel between the green. It was closed in the 1990s, and some plans to revive it again have been abandoned since it would be too expensive to run trains through it again. What a shame!
- Go down to Docklands (if you look at the water, go the right and follow the street until you can make a left), and either take the ferry in the direction of Finkenwerder (line 62) or take a walk along the river (before you reach the Docklands building, there is a path alongside the river). We highly recommend that you walk 🙂 Please read our recommendations regarding the ferry and getting around in general in the relevant section.
- Your next stop is the museum harbor (“Museumshafen”) Oevelgoenne. This is either the next stop if you took the ferry or a 20-30 minute walk until you see old boats on the left. If you have walked, go to the pier and then to the wooden houses on the left; if you have come by ferry, go to the right. There is a small place called Nuggi, and she has the best Fischbrötchen in the world (“fish buns”). Ask for a “Matjesbrötchen”, and she will cut a warm bun, add fresh fish and some onions for €2,50. She will prepare each order individually, and if you go to other places, you will pay more for a piece of fish that has been in a bun for hours already. Worse, other places add mayonaise or even more terrible ingredients.
- Leave the pier and make a left until you come to the beach. Yes, there is a beach 🙂 You can now either walk through the sand or take the stairs on the right before the beach. If you chose the latter option, you will walk down a beautiful path with old fisher houses that have now become extremely expensive properties.
- Either way, walk until “Strandperle”, a old bar/cafe on the beach and have a beer or Alster (beer with Sprite). Now, you can either go back to the Stuhlmannbrunnen (step 1) and then continue with step 40 OR you really want to have a beautiful walk alongside the river. If you chose the latter option, continue with step 11.
- Go upstairs to the small street with the fisher houses (if you see cars, you have gone too far up 🙂 Make a left. You will now walk approximately 40 to 60 minutes with the elb river to your left. Walk until you reach Teufelsbrück where you can see a ferry and also busses.
- [OPTIONAL] On your right is the Jenischpark, it offers a beautiful villa with a nice but expensive cafe, a botanic garden, and the Barlach museum.
- [OPTIONAL] You can now go further along the river until you reach Blankenese. There is no ferry back from there, only busses or the S-Bahn (that goes directly to Altona). But it is a beautiful walk!
- [OPTIONAL END] Take the ferry 64 to Finkenwerder. There, you will have to change to the ferry 62 that can bring you back to Docklands (yes, it is a bit of a walk up). You can also leave earlier at Oevelgoenne and take the walk back alongside the river or through the park.
- If you are not tired, however, don’t leave the ferry until you have reached the station Altonaer Fischmarkt. Leave the ferry and take a walk around the fish auction hall. This is where the famous fish market takes place on Sunday mornings until 9:30 am. If you want to go there when the fish market is open, please be aware of pickpockets! Make sure you enter the fish auction hall where bands play and some people just celebrate the end of the night, coming directly from the Reeperbahn.
- Take the ferry again to the next station Landungsbrücken. Take a walk at the pier (don’t buy anything, it is way too expensive and not of good quality. We also don’t recommend a Hafenrundfahrt (harbour tour). You don’t see much more than with a ferry and by walking.
- Leave the Landungsbrücken and go up to the street. Make a left to the building with the dome which is the entrance to the old Elb tunnel (“Alter Elbtunnel”). Walk around the building so that you see the old escalators for cars that are still in use and to find your entrance. If you are lucky, the escalator guards will let you take a ride with them for free, cars pay 2€ for one use). The tunnel was built in 1910, and it was one of the technical world wonders of that time. Go down to the tunnel and then walk through it. Imagine that there are ships and fish above you! At the end of the tunnel, go upstairs, make a right around the building so that you come to the beautiful view of Hamburg from the other side of the river. After taking photos, go back through the tunnel.
- After leaving the tunnel, go back into the direction of the Landungsbrücken but don’t go down to the pier. Instead, walk along the river into the direction of the Elbphilharmonie (see picture on the right). Don’t make the full way, just a few hundred meters until you see the Michel on the left. Go the hill up and visit the church. It should be open. You can also access the tower which may cost a few € if you want to use the escalator. If you take the stairs, be aware of the church bells that are extremely loud!
- Behind the Michel are the Kramer Amtsstuben. It is a bit difficult to find, watch out for an old restaurant and go through the old entrance. You will see old buildings that were used for the wifes of traders that have died.
- Now, let’s go back down the hill. You may want to have a short break on the right side in the Portuguese quarter with lots cafes and restaurants.
- After your break, go back to the elb river and continue your walk to the Elbphilharmonie. Similar to the airport BER in Berlin, building the Elb Philharmony is a never-ending story, and it costs a multitude of what was originally planned. Some people say that if the real cost had been disclosed before a decision was made to build it, the decision would not have been made. Also, classical concerts in Hamburg are not as popular as you would expect so it is a bit unclear why Hamburg needed such a landmark.
- When you cross the bridge towards the Elbphilhamonie, you have entered the area of the Speicherstadt (“warehouse disctrict”). We highly encourage you to take a long walk through this area, including the HafenCity. The largest warehouse district in the world that was built on timber-pile foundations was created from 1883 to 1927. 20.000 people had to be relocated in order to build the district, and now, about 100 years later, a new part of the city has been built next to the old district houses (Hafencity, literally Harbor City). Walk through the beautiful streets of the warehouse district including the bridges (have I mentioned yet that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice?). Other highlights of the warehouse district are the Miniatur Wunderland and the Hamburg Dungeon. For both, please book tickets in advance. You can skip the queues for the Miniatur Wunderland if you have booked a time slot. On some days, it is the only possibility to enter the Wunderland. Make sure you also take a walk to the newer part of the city, e.g. the Magellan Terrace.
- One of the bridges from the warehouse disctrict brings you back to Hamburg, and please try to find the bridge that brings you close to Deichstraße. In this street, a fire started in the 19th century that burnt down most of the city. Only a few buildings have remained, and, ironically, some of them in this street. There is a small path between two old houses that bring you to a pier behind the houses from where you have a beautiful view.
- Go the street further up until you come to a bridge over the street. Use this bridge to come to the remainders of a church, the tower of St. Nicolai. The church was destroyed in the 2nd world war, and Hamburg decided neither to rebuild the church nor to demolish the remainders. It is now a symbol against war.
- From St. Nicolai church, go to the town hall of Hamburg. Enjoy the view and try to translate the sentence above the door from Latin to your language (you are allowed to use Google Translate 🙂 On the Christopher Street Day, you will see the rainbow flag, and the former mayor of Hamburg, Ole von Beust, took part in the parade after a political ally told Media he was gay.
- Turn around and go alongside the water to Jungfernstieg. This is one of the most expensive places in Hamburg, and it is also what we call a Postcard View. When Apple rebuilt the ground and the first floor of the Gutruf house, the senate of Hamburg denied them the right to place a bigger Apple icon on the building in order to prevent a too dominant placement of the brand. Make sure you visit the Alsterhaus, a famous shopping center. The Alsterhouse, too, has the rainbow flag during the Christopher Street Day.
- On the other side of the Jungfernstieg, you see the Alster. It consists of two parts, Binnenalster and Außenalster of which the first is the smaller part, the latter is the bigger part. It is an artificial lake built in the 19th century, and it will take you approximately 1,5 to 2 hours to walk around it. We highly recommend to take this walk! You can also rent small boats. If you want to rent a sailing boat, you need a licence for this! Be aware of the Alster ferries who claim to be always right and don’t care if you have trouble to get out of their way (I almost crashed in one with my small Laser 1!). If you have more tim ein Hamburg, we recommend you rent a canoe at Dornheim and spend several hours on the canals. They will give you a map of the canals, and you should definitely try to find the cafe with the window for people in boats on the canal. Dornheim’s website is http://www.bootsvermietung-dornheim.de/, this is one of the cheapest places to get a boat, but also a bit farer outside. Take the U3 to Saarlandstraße and then walk approximately 10 minutes to get to Dornheim.
- After having returned from the walk, go through the Colonnaden (the street that goes starts between the Nivea house and Starbucks. This is a beautiful street that brings you directly to the Stephansplatz. Cross the street twice (first to the Casino, then to the park). You will now start a beautiful walk through Planten un Blomen, a huge garden in the city centre. We highly recommend this!
- Hold yourself on the right path so that you will see the Dammtor train station and the CCH on your right. You will come to a model of Planten un Blomen on the left (take a few minutes to watch it) and you will go further straight. After a few minutes, you will see the rose garden on the right. On the left, there is a small lake, and there are light shows on the water organ every evening from April to October. Please google the exact times that may vary from 9 to 10 pm. Continue to walk and you will see a stage on the left where concerts are played in the summer. A free Jazz festival is one of the attractions that lets crowds visit Planten un Blomen. Go further and you will see the Apothekergarten (Pharmacist’s Garden) on the right. Although there are no translations, you will understand what herbs are for which illnesses.
- Go to the border of the park (in the direction of the TV tower) but don’t leave it and follow the path around the park, e.g. return on the other side. Unfortunately, you cannot access the TV tower (Tele-Michel), the restaurant has closed decades ago and nobody can afford to build the security measures that are required for a reopening. Continue to walk through the park until you come to a children’s playground, and follow the park further along the wall. On the left, you will see a small Japanese garden that you should spend a few minutes in.
- Go further and make a right to the place where you will see the model of the park again. Follow the signs to the botanical garden and then go down the stairs (or relax a few minutes on one of the chairs) to the river. Follow the river. You will see the court on the right side, next to it is a jail.
- Continue your walk, you will come to place for rollerblades or ice skating (depending on when you visit Hamburg) on your right. Soon thereafter, you walk through an old entrance which belongs to the former wall of Hamburg. On the left is the museum of Hamburgische Geschichte (History of Hamburg). This is a great museum, and you should make sure you visit the old train models under the roof of the building.
- Return to the park until you come to the end. This part is called Millerntor, and it was one of the doors to the city of Hamburg. So, 100 years ago, you would have left Hamburg now 🙂 By the way, this is also how the stadium of St. Pauli is called, and you will see it on the right. St. Pauli has never sold the name of the stadium to a company.
- Go straight to the Reeperbahn (just follow most people). The reeperbahn is a very straight street, similar to Palmaille, but in this case, it wasn’t used for a ball games. A Reep is a rope in English, and rope makers (Reepers) needed a long straight street for creaing their ropes. This is what this street was used for! As most ships that landed 100 meters further down (Landungsbrücken is very close from here) needed some equipment that was sold around here, the area wanted to accomodate the sailors. Imagine you were a sailor that hasn’t had too much fun on the sea the last weeks, what would you be interested in? Fun is the right term, and everybody may have a different definition of what fun means to him. Let’s just assume that most of these sailors were fed up with spending their time with men only, that access to alcohol was restricted on a ship, and entertainment systems had not been installed at that time. The Reeperbahn had to offer all of this. Still, today, you will find theatre plays (most of the time more entertaining than intellectually demanding), prostitutes, and lots of alcohol. Please make sure you don’t have a bottle with you during the weekend and after 8pm or so. By the way, we also call this area “Kiez”. In Berlin, your home area is called a Kiez, but in Hamburg, we only have one Kiez, and that is our red light district around the Reeperbahn.
- There are only a few places that we believe need to be seen in this area unless you want to party. One is the Silbersack, a very old bar that hasn’t changed much since the 1940s! Look at the old paintings on the wall.
- Another important piece of the Reeperbahn is the Star Club. Yes, we do have the Beatles Square (and you can impress everyone if you know who the 5th Beatle is), but more important, there is still a memorial for the Star Club that closed its doors a long time ago. It is said that it was here that the Beatles became a real band, given that they played several hours every day, 7 days a week. Go through the Große Freiheit and pay attention to a small entrance on the left where you will see the Star Club memorial on the left after a few meters. It is well hidden, unfortunately.
- Go further down the Große Freiheit, and you will see an old church on the left. A monastery belongs to the church, and obviously, this is a strange place for a church. There is a small sign outside that says that Jesus can cope with everything. Go further down Große Freiheit, cross the street and walk approximately 50 meters until you see the Indra Club on the right. This is where the Beatles played first.
- Go back to the street, and make a right. Walk the street up, and you will come to Altona again (you can also go a bit back on Reeperbahn and take the S-Bahn). You can now either stop and go to our apartment or you can continue your walk. If you chose to walk, take a look at the old Jewish cemetery on the left. You can enter it on specific days and hours from the other side (Königstraße). Please make sure you wear something on your head.
- Go back to the Stuhlmannbrunnen and then to the town hall of Altona. When the town hall is on the left, you will notice a small park to your right. Enter the park and notice the old buildings on your left that were built in the 17th century. Unfortunately, you cannot see them from inside. Go further through the park and you will see old graves. One of these graves belongs to the poet Kloppstock, and you may also want to visit the Christianskirche. Most of the churches in Hamburg have their doors open during the day!
- Leave the church and make a right to the square called “Ottenser Marktplatz”. Nobody understand why this is called a market because the market never takes place here. Follow the street Bahrenfelder Straße and enjoy the shops on both sides. You will come to the Spritzenplatz where a market is held twice a week. After the Spritzenplatz, make a right into the Ottenser Haupstraße and enter the Shopping Center Mercado on your left. No need to do shopping now, but try to find the stairs down. You will see plates on the wall, and they list the names of those who were buried on a cemetary under this shopping center. When the center was built in the 1990s, left-wing people protested because they feared a gentrification of the area (that ultimately happened). Then, a gravestone was found, and it was pretty clear, that this grave belonged to a Jewish cemetery that seemed to be forgotten. The left-wing protesters were joined by Jewish protesters, and it took some time until a solution was found: The shopping center was allowed to be built but without a parking deck below it because a Jewish grave may never be moved. So the Mercado was built on top of a Jewish cemetary, and the parking house was built next to it.
- Leave the Mercado, make a right back to Spritzenplatz, and then again a right in order to follow the Bahrenfelder Straße again. When you come to the Alma-Wartenberg-Platz, have a coffee at the Bar Centrale on your left (see further below) or go further down the street and watch out for the Bonscheladen (a shop where they create sweets manually). If you are lucky, you can taste a piece that is still warm for free!
- On the other side of the street, you will find the Zeisehalle, and the restaurant/bar “Filmhauskneipe” was said to be the conference room of the factory. Follow the path into the old factory, take a look at the photos above the entrance when you turn around, and then walk through the hall. Go back to the Ottenser Hauptstraße, make a right and have a look at the unique shops until you come to the Reitbahn. Have a break at Eisliebe or Cafe El Rojito. Go back the Ottenser Hauptstraße and finally, go to our apartment 🙂
- Other places you may want to see but that take at least half a day each:
- Hagenbecks Tierpark: A private zoo, running for more than 100 years. Expensive but good.
- Kiekeberg: A museum of old farmer’s houses with nice exhibitions.
- Tierpark Schwarze Berge: If you want to see local animals with lots of space, this is the right place!
What to drink & what to eat
Hamburg and the northern area of Germany have some specialities such as:
- Labskaus. Well, it is probably not the most beautiful dish. According to some people, sailors that lost their teeth due to the lack of vitamines, needed food that gave them strength. Cooks then cut meat, potatoes and vegetables into portions that could be enjoyed without teeth. You would usually eat an egg with it. Try it at Old Commercial Room, in front of the Michel church.
- Hamburger Pannfisch. Different fish with mustard sauce and potatoes. Try it at Filmhauskneipe at Zeisehallen.
- Rote Grütze: Berries in a red sauce, most of the time with vanilla ice cream.
- Hering mit Pellkartoffeln. You can buy the fish in cream sauce for less than 3€ at most supermarkets, potatoes shouldn’t cost more than 2€. You will have a meal for 2 people that will take about 20 minutes to prepare (cooking the potatoes, you don’t need to peel them before you eat them).
- Astra is our preferred brand as it is the beer of St. Pauli, the local football club that has become famous for having a skull on his merchandise. The big foe is HSV, the other local football club. HSV supporters drink Holsten, St. Pauli supporters drink Astra. Not to confuse with Alster which is beer with Sprite.
- Jever is another nordish brand
Hamburg has several options for getting around
- The Bahnhof Altona close to us has busses into almost all directions
- The train station also offers long distance and regional trains (go to Munich, Sylt, Budapest, Berlin, Basel, etc).
- There is a S-Bahn in the basement of the train station
- You can rent bikes, 30 minutes are always free
- The nearest ferry station is Docklands.
- There is no U-Bahn close to us, you have to drive 2 stations to Sternchance for the U3.
At hvv.de, you will find all information about fares. Please note that you can use busses, S-Bahn, U-Bahn and ferries with a HVV ticket! Some busses, however, need a special ticket (“Schnellbus”). We recommend that you take a look at the HamburgCard that offers some special fares.