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Hamburg Facts: The Beautiful City and Germany's Busiest Port

Hamburg is a city and constituent state (Land) in northern Germany. Situated at the head of the Elbe estuary, 68 miles (109 km) from the North Sea, Hamburg is Germany's busiest port. It is the third largest container port in Europe and ranks 18th in the world.

The metropolitan area is coextensive with the state of Hamburg, which is bordered by Lower Saxony on the south and Schleswig-Holstein on the north. The city has strong traditional links with the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, although it now reaches out across the oceans to all the great ports of the world.

Hamburg has a population of around 1.8 million (2019).

Plan of the City

The nucleus of Hamburg is built around the Alster, a small stream cutting southward across plains of sandy glacial material to reach the Elbe. The damming of this stream produced the most original feature of Hamburg's urban landscape, the Alster lake, which extends from the boat landings and cafés of the fashionable Jungfernstieg, in the heart of the city, far out to the northern suburbs.

In the 17th century a half-circle of fortifications was constructed around the old city. These crossed the southwestern part of the lake, separating it into the smaller Inner Alster and the larger Outer Alster. The Inner Alster is lined with great hotels and shipping offices and is busy with ferryboats. The five great churches and the 19th-century German "Renaissance" city hall mark the core of old Hamburg. Few other old buildings survived the great fire of 1842 and the bombings in World War II.

The Mönckebergstrasse, one of the principal shopping streets, runs eastward from the financial district around the city hall to the main railroad station. The department stores and lively sidewalk traders in the area compete vigorously with new shopping centers rising on the fringe of the city.

Hamburg's extensive harbor facilities lie just to the south of the old city. Formerly part of the port area is a new residential and business quarter on the Elbe island of Grasbrook, the HafenCity. It is the site of the Elbphilharmonie, a modernistic concert hall that opened in 2017. Nearby is the historic warehouse district called Speicherstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The city also spreads southwest, across the Elbe channels and harbor area, to include Harburg, formerly a separate Prussian town. To the west of the old city, in the St. Pauli district, is the Reeperbahn, internationally famous for its bars and night life.

A landmark of the St. Pauli district and the city as a whole is the 916-foot (279-meter) Heinrich Hertz Tower, a television mast built in the mid-1960s. The latter is the tallest structure in the city. The Reeperbahn leads toward Altona, a Danish town until 1866. Altona contains the wealthy residential district of Blankenese, on a wooded slope above the Elbe.

Exclusive villas surround the Outer Alster, north of the old city. The northwestern district of Eimsbüttel is home to Hamburg University (Universität Hamburg), the Hamburg School of Music and Theater (HMfT), and Hamburg's zoo, Tierpark Hagenbeck. The northernmost district is Hamburg-Nord, known for its pleasant residential areas and many parks.

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Hamburg Airport–Helmut Schmidt, Germany's oldest commercial airport, is located there, in the Fuhlsbüttel quarter. To the northeast is Wandsbek, another residential area housing a quarter of the city's residents but also well supplied with green areas.

The Port

Hamburg lies 88 miles (140 km) from the beginning of the Elbe approach channel. Its port handled 136.5 million tons of cargo in 2017, which included 90.3 million in containers. The almost 300 ship births handle ships of all sizes, but especially large containerships and bulk cargo freighters, oil and chemical tankers, roll-on/roll-off (automobile) carriers, and inland waterway vessels. Cruise ships dock at HafenCity and Altona.

The Economy

The port is the most important sector of the city's economy. Freight handling doubled in the years since the reunification of Germany. Related industries include shipbuilding, metal manufacturing, and oil refining.

The city also has a significant aerospace industry. Because of the importance of international trade, many countries have consulates in Hamburg. Its banking, commerce, and insurance business also reflect the size of the port. Hamburg's stock exchange is the oldest in Germany.

The city is also a major media center, the home of various radio and television stations, many newspapers and magazines, and several of the country's largest publishing companies. Tourism is also a vital part of the economy; Hamburg is the third most popular destination (after Berlin and Munich) in Germany.


The city originated in the early 9th century as a Carolingian religious and military outpost against the heathen Saxons, Scandinavians, and Slavs. Medieval Hamburg took advantage of its location at the western end of the trade routes linking the Baltic with the North Sea across the base of the Schleswig-Holstein peninsula to become one of the greatest trading ports of the Hanseatic league. By 1510 it had received recognition as an imperial free city.

Hamburg continued to grow as a result of its role as an intermediary in the trade between the newly discovered lands across the oceans and the Baltic and Scandinavian areas. Its half circle of elaborate 17th-century fortifications enabled the Protestant city to retain its independence through the Thirty Years' War.

The association of the musicians Telemann and C. P. E. Bach and the dramatist Lessing with Hamburg testifies to the wealth and cultural importance of the city in the 18th century. In 1888, full entry into the German customs union (Zollverein), with the valuable privileges of a free harbor, initiated the final rise of the port to world status.

The present urban area was created in 1937, when the former Prussian towns of Harburg, Wandsbek, and Altona were incorporated into the city. This brought the whole harbor area under a single administration.

In 1943-1944 during World War II, relentless air raids laid half the city in ruins, destroyed three-quarters of the port installations, and cost the lives of 55,000 people. However, the city government triumphantly overcame the enormous problems of economic and physical reconstruction after the war.

The lost dwellings were more than replaced, a vigorous attack was made on the remaining slums, and new urban highways and subway extensions were constructed in order to combat congestion. Hamburg's present provisions for social welfare and education are models of their kind.

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