Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Tue July 21 2015

Hamburg Builds Around its Harbor

Destination & Tourism | MSC Cruises | James Ruggia | July 21, 2015

Hamburg Builds Around its Harbor

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

In May, the MSC Splendida made its maiden call in Hamburg as the largest ship ever to homeport there. The arrival was marked by a ceremonial crest exchange between the ship’s captain and the harbormaster as MSC Cruises Executive Chairman, Pierfrancesco Vago and an attending crowd looked on. Consider it a test run for this Sept. 15, when the city hosts the first Hamburg Cruise Week festival and Seatrade Europe, the continent’s leading cruise industry convention in tandem. Cruise is the essential element in Hamburg’s transformation into a major European destination for tourists as well as business travelers.

That transformation includes the coming of the new Philharmonic Hall, the marketing of other dimensions in the city and the ongoing developments in the HafenCity project. After 198 days of construction, Hamburg’s third and largest cruise terminal opened on June 9 in Steinwerder. Up to 8,000 passengers at a time can now be moved through the new $70 million terminal making it significantly larger than the two existing terminals in Altona and HafenCity. The terminal adds yet another chip to the port city’s bid to win the Olympics in 2024.

About 590,000 passengers and 189 ships called in Hamburg in 2014; more than both the ports of Rostock and Kiel, making Hamburg the top German cruise destination. If you don’t associate Germany with cruising, think again. Last year some 1.77 million ocean-going German cruise passengers (+5 percent), allowed Germany to overtake Great Britain as Europe’s largest cruise market and the second largest in the world after the U.S. This year, some 2 million Germans are expected to take an ocean cruise; a number that is expected to grow to 3 million by 2020.

Strong cruise ports need strong supportive domestic markets, and the growth of the German cruise market is inspiring Hamburg to be the country’s cruise capital, much as Miami is in the U.S. German cruise lines such as AIDA Cruises, TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd are now using Hamburg as are signature European cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Costa and Cunard Line.

The Splendida will make 13 sailings around northern Europe this summer. “MSC Cruises has already brought around 350,000 vacationers through Hamburg,” said Vago. “And this summer MSC Splendida will make 13 sailings, adding more than 100,000 to that total. Our decision to bring MSC Splendida here is rooted in a concrete commitment to this world-class destination.”

If Hamburg wins the Olympic bid when it’s announced in 2017, Hamburg promises to build the Olympic City, with an Olympic Park and Village, on an industrial site in the port, close to the flourishing HafenCity district. After the Olympic Games, the quarter would be converted into an inner-city residential area with 3,000 apartments. The Olympic Hall would be transformed into a cruise terminal. The majority of competition venues would be within easy reach within a radius of 10 kilometers, making the bicycle the major means of transportation during the Olympics.

With 1.8 million inhabitants, Hamburg is Germany’s second biggest city after Berlin. The city has a long tradition as an economic powerhouse based on the success of its port going all the way back to when it was a Hanseatic hub. Today, Hamburg is also Germany's media capital and the world's third largest center for civil aviation. In recent years, Hamburg has also emerged as Europe’s wind energy capital.

Hamburg has been undergoing a shift in its market profile that has perhaps been a result of its recent efforts to joint market with Berlin, which is just a two-hour train ride away. Like Berlin, Hamburg’s Bohemian traditions rival its more conservative business (or in Berlin’s case, political) culture.

The Hamburg that the young Beatles played in still survives on the edge of its famous St. Pauli red light district and night-life scene along the waterfront. This is not the sort of nasty Red Light District of say the old Times Square, it’s more like Bourbon Street in spirit. Stefanie Hempel is offering a series of tours that explore this side of the city including a Beatles Tour, an Alternative Scene Tour, A Taste of Hamburg Tour and others.

For Hamburg, all of these developments are just the latest unfolding phases in the city’s long term vision, HafenCity, the largest inner city development project in Europe, scheduled for completion by 2025. The project is deploying a radical urban plan that has its industrial port playing as much a part in the city’s culture as it plays in its economy. Harbor cruises from Hamburg’s Landungsbruecken dock explore the massive dry docks and cranes that work the modern galleons of international trade, the container cargo ship. When it’s all said and done, HafenCity will introduce new apartments, cultural venues, restaurants and shopping into the area directly across the Elbe from the port.

The icon of this massive project is the Hamburg Elbe Philharmonic Hall. The Hall’s Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, created an homage to the Hanseatic spirit of the city with a building that combines a warehouse below and glass waves above. Hamburg’s warehouse district, the Speicherstadt, was just granted UNESCO status. It’s a great area to wander in as it’s built on islands (connected by bridges) just off shore. The area features long rows of spectral warehouses built in the 1880s by Neo-Gothic architects using red brick, the favorite material of buildings in the Hanseatic cities. The Speicherstadt Museum tells the full story. 


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