the Elbphilharmonie

Away from Munich and Berlin, the port city of Hamburg is blossoming a reputation as one of Germany’s must-visits.

A maritime metropolis centred around the geographical ebb and flow of its waterways, here is a city that has been reborn out of past conflicts, creating a juxtaposed, forever-evolving topography like no other. Contemporary developments sit proudly among iconic design, with eateries, attractions and culture evoking Hamburg’s alternative ethos.

UnSUBURBIA has looked at how Hamburg has become a cultivated hub of culture through its designs and ideologies, and is the perfect location for your next city break.

A city of eclectic contrasts

Hamburg’s integration of contrasting structural styles has allowed modern design to coexist harmoniously with pre-war architecture. It’s this juxtaposed proposition that now makes Hamburg such a lucrative location for city-breakers.

Outstanding architecture has always been at the epicentre of Hamburg’s development – it’s easy to forget that the city is home to its very own UNESCO World Heritage Site, Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus. Built in the red brick Neo-Gothic architectural form, the Speicherstadt area consists of cobbled streets, waterways, bridges and railway connections, joining up 15 multi-storey buildings. Formerly the centre of Hamburg’s tea, coffee and spice trade, it today plays home to the city’s creative quarter.

But amongst the pre-war (and rebuilt post-war architecture), swathes of era-defined buildings have arisen. Gothic church spires now sit alongside contemporary works, by the likes of Zaha Hadid, who has recently completed the Elbtreppen and David Chipperfield – the latter having just been granted a deal to build the Elbtower, Hamburg’s to-be tallest structure. Districts of the city are defined by brutalist building, built during the mid-20th century, throwing another architectural style into an already varied backdrop.

Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus

The city’s waterways have a stark disparity too. At Hamburg’s beating heart is tranquil calmness in Alster Lake, with the Außenalster (Outer Alster) and the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) shaping the city centre. Yet the Outer Alster flows into the River Elbe – an immense tidal artery that powerfully joins the North Sea. This divergence of themes and ideas, whether they are man-made or natural, seems to echo across the entire city – diversity is at its very heart, it’s happy to be different by design.

The architectural journey across the city is like no other you’ll find in Germany. One minute you’re crossing a road to face the brilliance of brutalism, the next a Gothic-inspired structure, and after that a slice of contemporary design. If anything, eclectic is an understatement.

A standing ovation for urban development

Hamburg’s industrial waterfront has seen a plethora of change throughout generations, from its importance in the city’s trade industry to the chic, cosmopolitan workplace and social space it has become today. And nothing defines this blueprint for progression more than the Elbphilharmonie concert hall.

Born out of the red brick Kaispeicher, before being reimagined as a storage warehouse for the tea, coffee and tobacco trades in 1966, the Elbphilharmonie is at the epicentre of Hamburg’s ambitious HafenCity development. As well as three concert halls, the building homes a public plaza, hotel and apartments too – it’s a multi-use setting for a multi-faceted city.

The Elbphilharmonie’s contemporary grandiosity is the epitome of the city’s innovative outlook on design and architecture. A crystalline façade is made up of over 1,100 mirrored glass panes and circular sequined panels on the roof, with the curves of the upper structure sculptured to shift depending on your viewpoint. The wave-esque peaks at the top almost mimic the movements of the waterway the Elbphilharmonie sits upon. The outer profile is said to contrast with the horizontality of Hamburg, ’as an expression of reaching out into new territory’, according to Swiss designers Herzog & de Meuron. Yet the lower half of the building is still made from the red brick of the Kaispeicher – again highlighting Hamburg’s coexistence of the old and the new.

Inside, curved escalators welcome you into the Elbphilharmonie whilst layered, spacious foyers allow for easy navigation. The 2,100-seat Grand Hall is the venue’s centrepiece, with steeply inclined tiers to allow for the perfect vantage point, wherever you’re sat.

Cultural juxtaposition

Hamburg’s offering of museums and galleries is also befitting of the city’s ever-evolving identity pretence, with venues homing both traditional and contemporary works, and exhibits with national, European and international origins.

Located in two former market halls from the early-20th century, the Deichtorhallen is one of Europe’s biggest museums of contemporary art and photography. The northern hall champions the best of contemporary painters, sculptors and designers, whilst the southern Haus der Photographie showcases a permanent collection of fashion photos and homes the journalist archive for the national Der Spiegel newspaper.

The Kunsthalle is a must-visit for those looking for a taste of the history when it comes to culture. Before you even enter, the stunning 19th -century Italian Renaissance-style building the museum is located within should almost be an exhibit itself. Here you’ll find collections from Master Bertram and Master Francke dating back to the medieval era, whilst Kunsthalle also homes paintings from Rembrandt and C.D. Friedrich.

Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus

Germany’s freshest seafood

Lovers of fresh fish – rejoice. Seafood is the go-to dish in Hamburg, with its coastal location allowing chefs to cultivate culinary masterpieces at an abundance of restaurants across the city.

To embrace the city’s finest delicacies, head for the Kreuzfahrtterminal where there’s a modern-day fish market strictly for professionals. You may not be able to set foot in the market yourself, but you’ll be able to reap the benefits of its fresh fish in the surrounding bistro. The authentic BistrOcean is a must-visit for any fish lover. Cramming in diners on rough round wooden tables, the fishmongers serve up platters of smoked salmon, halibut and mackerel, on top of a host of other locally sourced fish.

One of the city’s more popular attractions with tourists and locals alike, Altonaer Fischauktionshalle offers a unique mix of both culture and cuisine. Long has this fish market catered to the needs of Hamburg’s residents, and now visitors can take a seat for breakfast in the iconic Auction Hall, experience the markets and enjoy the live music of local acts, as they explore this riverside hub of activity.

For a city that is different by design, an advocate of juxtaposed architecture and offers cultivating culture, consider Hamburg as your next city-break location.