The D&O Diary was on assignment this past week in Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city and Europe’s second-largest seaport. January may not be the best time to visit; at 53 degrees northern latitude, Hamburg is chilly and dark this time of the year. Fortunately for me, the weather was not nearly so unkind as had been forecast, and other than a few periods of rain, I most enjoyed chilly sunshine. My northern Germany visit included a brief stop in the Baltic port city of Lübeck.
I have been to Hamburg once before. On this return visit, one thing I wanted to be sure to do based on my prior visit was to walk around the larger of Hamburg’s two man-made inland lakes, the Außenalster. (The smaller lake, close into the central city, is the Binnenalster; the artificial lakes were formed from ponding the Alster River, a tributary of the Elbe River.) A walking path runs around both of the lakes. It takes about an hour and a quarter at a good clip to complete the 4.7 mile circuit around the larger of the two lakes. I made the circuit several different times during my visit, once in the evening, once in the morning, and once at midday.
Between the lakes, and at the northern end of the smaller lake, are two side-by-side bridges, the Kennedybrücke to the north and Lombardsbrücke to the south. At the Southern end of the smaller lake is Hamburg’s famous street, Jungfernsteig. The classic image that you usually see in pictures of Hamburg, as reflected in the picture at the top of the post, is the view from Lombardsbrücke looking back toward Jungfernsteig, the city’s most famous street, with the spires of the city’s many churches and the Rathaus (town hall) tower bristling behind.
While the lakes are at the city’s center, the real heart of the city is the Elbe River. The far shore on the river’s south side is now heavily industrialized, reflecting the city’s long history as a center for maritime trade, as shown in the first picture below. For many years, the city has turned its back on the river and its wharves, dry docks, loading basins, and factory quarters. In the last few years though, the city has been redeveloping the city side of the river in a urban reclamation project called HafenCity. Many swish new buildings have already been built in the area, just south of the city’s famous old warehouse district, the Speicherstadt (literally, “City of Warehouses”). While it is clear that an impressive amount of money has been poured in the HafenCity development I am not sure what to make of it. Compared to the rest of Hamburg, the development seems cold and sterile to me. The area could use a lot more trees, and more of the retail level activity that gives so much life to urban streets.
The highlight of the HafenCity project is the city’s new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie , the top of which you can just see in the picture above. As shown in the first picture below, the new riverside concert hall was built on top of the Kaispeicher, the largest warehouse on the river in Hamburg. The building’s shimmering glass façade and undulating rooftop perched atop the warehouse’s utilitarian solidity give it a distinctive appearance that the New Yorker described as looking like “an avant-garde ocean liner.” The concert hall officially opened just a year ago, in January 2017, to great fanfare. For all of its flamboyant flair, the hall remains controversial, as its originally estimated cost of 250 million euros swelled to almost 900 million euros by the time the project was complete. I tried to see if I could see a concert inside but all of the tickets were sold out. More advance planning required for the next return visit.
Downstream from the concert hall there is a pedestrian tunnel that runs under the Elbe River, as shown in the first picture below. The tunnel was built in the early 20th century so that workmen on the city side of the river could more easily reach the dockyards and industrial areas on the river’s far side. The tunnel’s entrances are a little worse for wear and one of the tunnel’s two shaft is closed for repair. Still, the tunnel is a pleasant way to get to the far side of the river. It takes about 10-12 minutes to walk across, and a platform on the south side affords views back toward the city.
When I am visiting a city, I usually prefer to be outside and walking around, seeing people and looking at things. Visiting museums is usually not a priority for me, although that is not always the case. In fact, on this trip I made a point of visiting the Kunsthalle Hamburg, the city’s main art museum, which was just steps away from my hotel.
The museum has a nice collection, particularly of 20th century European art. However, the main reason I wanted to go to the museum was to see a particular 19th century painting, “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich (pictured below). I have always admired this painting. Unfortunately, the picture has been appropriated and misappropriated a few too many times, which robs the image of some of its power. I was glad to have a chance to see the original. In my eyes, the picture is a work of conception, composition, and control – and yet it is also a mystery. The figure at the painting’s center has his back to us, which has the effect of drawing us into his perspective, inviting us to contemplate the world with him. He sees, and we see with him, a world of subtle, inscrutable beauty. There is much more to say about the painting. Buy me a glass of wine sometime and we can discuss this transcendent painting’s many-layered meanings.
On Sunday, I took a day trip to Lübeck, once Hamburg’s partner city within the Hanseatic League. Lübeck is to the Baltic Sea as Hamburg is to the North Sea. Lübeck is a very pleasant 45-minute train ride from Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof (central train station). The train arrives at Lübeck’s Hauptbahnhof, which is just a short walk from the old city. The city’s main entrance is the Holstentor gate (first picture below), one of the few remaining relics of Lübeck’s medieval past. Much of the city was destroyed in World War II but many of its historic buildings have been really beautifully restored. One of my main purposes for visiting the city was to see Buddenbrooks House (second picture below), the actual house in which Lübeck native Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks is set. The house and its decorations really brought to life the story and the characters in the book.
I also wound up doing a lot of walking in Lübeck (that’s OK, that’s what I like to do when I travel.) The city is built on an island in the Trave River. It is possible to walk around the entire island on a footpath runs along the riverside – so, of course, I walked around the entire island. I was very fortunate that the predicted rain held off the entire time I was circumnavigating the city. I felt very fortunate to have a late January afternoon just clement enough to make walking enjoyable, albeit brisk. This is the kind of walking I enjoy most, with a changing series of interesting buildings and views providing a glimpse into the past and present life of an historic and interesting place.
Perhaps because I had a chance for an entirely satisfactory amount of walking, I made some time to visit a museum while in Lübeck. The city has a brand new museum about the history of the Hanseatic League, the trading confederation of merchants and towns that for 400 years was the preeminent commercial trading power in the Baltic and North Seas. Lübeck itself was one of the most important trading centers in the League; for a brief time it was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. The city was ultimately done in by globalization, as the shift of trade to the New World, and by sea to Asia, caused a decline in the Baltic trade on which Lübeck was so reliant. The museum is excellent, creatively using modern technology to display maps, documents, and artifacts to explain the interesting history of the League. The museum does an excellent job explaining how the League members were able to solve problems of navigation, safety, credit and exchange, dispute resolution, different weight measurement conventions, and differences of language and currency. I have to say I really enjoyed visiting the museum.
While I enjoyed the opportunity to stroll through Hamburg and Lübeck, the main reason for my visit to Germany was to participate in the Euroforum Haftpflicht Konferenz (Liability Conference) in Hamburg this past Monday and Tuesday. I was the event keynote speaker on Tuesday afternoon. The conference was entirely in German, but fortunately I was invited to deliver my presentation in English. It was a well-run and well-attended conference; I would say there were over 300 people in attendance. I enjoyed meeting everyone, seeing some old friends, and making some new friends as well. I was very pleased to learn how many of the German industry professionals follow my blog.
More Pictures of Hamburg
More Pictures of Lübeck