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Hamburg’s historic label, ‘The gateway to the world’, might be a bold claim, but Germany’s second-largest city and biggest port has never been shy. Hamburg has engaged in business with the world ever since it joined the Hanseatic League back in the Middle Ages. Its role as a centre of international trade in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought it great wealth (and Unesco World Heritage recognition in 2015), a legacy that continues today: it’s one of Germany’s wealthiest cities.
The humble fish roll is a snack in which its appeal lies in its simplicity. The sandwich is typically made with pickled herring (bismarckhering) or soused herring (matjes), some onion, pickles and remoulade sauce. But the options are as varied as the food stands that offer them. You can have fried fish or fish patty, North Sea shrimp or crabmeat. The fischbrötchen tastes best if eaten while enjoying views of the River Elbe’s or the North Sea’s wind in your face.
This traditional fish dish is named after a district of Hamburg that was once a fishing village. Plaice (scholle) is baked or pan-fried with bacon, onions and shrimp from the North Sea. Plaice is one of the most commonly eaten fishes in Northern Germany, and used to be the key ingredient in fish and chips. These days, plaice has become scarce in several seas, but walk along the streets of Finkenwerder, and you will find many restaurants expertly cooking this superb fish meal.
Throughout the winter, kale – known in German as grünkohl – is served across North Germany in a manner unsuited to its fame as a healthy superfood. Kale is stewed for several hours and served with the sides of smoked pork, one or two types of sausage, as well as boiled or fried potatoes. The kale season begins after the first winter frost and is often celebrated by groups of friends or colleagues doing a ‘kohlfahrt’ – literally, a cabbage tour. In a nutshell, they walk for several hours playing drinking games, and finish the day in a restaurant by eating as much grünkohl as their bellies can hold and dancing until morning.
Although billed as the world’s largest model railway, Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland is really much more than simply a toy train layout. This stunning new attraction is the world’s largest model railway, boasting more than 12,000 meters of track and 890 trains. Built on a truly massive scale, it covers 1,150 square meters with more planned (it will be double this size when completed). Highlights include areas dedicated to the USA, Scandinavia, and Germany, as well as an airport with planes that actually take off, all of it illuminated by more than 300,000 lights and containing some 200,000 tiny (and unique) human figures. Avoid a long wait by reserving your ticket online.
The Port of Hamburg – the Hamburger Hafen – is home to a number of the city’s most important attractions. Encompassing 100 square kilometers, this large tidal harbor, known as the Gateway to Germany, is fun to explore by boat, with numerous tours departing from Landungsbrücken. A highlight of the area is the lovely pedestrian trail that takes in the old 19th-century Warehouse District with its continuous lines of tall brick buildings once used to store tobacco, coffee, dried fruit, and spices. Another landmark is the Köhlbrandbrücke, a 3.9-kilometer bridge that spans the harbor.
In three separate but connected buildings on the Glockengiesserwall, Kunsthalle Hamburg is one of Germany’s top art galleries. Highlights include numerous altarpieces, works by local artists of the 14th century, and Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. Also of note are its fine collections of 19th-century German and French paintings, plus substantial modern and contemporary art collections. Tours and fun programs for children are available. Another notable art collection is housed at the Deichtorhallen, one of the largest galleries of contemporary art and photography in Europe.