My First Time in Hamburg

Enjoying my first-ever visit to Hamburg, I thought of great “second cities”: Marseille, Glasgow, Porto, Barcelona. Hamburg has a real feel and edgy charm, and an honest grip on where it came from and where it’s going. I can hardly wait to return with my TV crew.

Hamburg — with its important port — was hit hard in World War II. But today, about the only reminder I saw of the war was this bunker in a park. Too thick to bother tearing down, it has been painted and converted into a climbing wall.

The most impressive sightseeing experience of my entire trip so far has been this harbor cruise, with a jaw-dropping look at Hamburg’s mighty port.

The old warehouse district of Hamburg gives a strong sense of the vastness of what was Germany’s only major seaport in the early Industrial Age.

Hamburg’s former docklands — like London’s, Barcelona’s, Oslo’s, and so many others — is being gentrified. As the city reclaims what was once a wasteland in Europe’s biggest urban development project, HafenCity, it’ll become 40 percent bigger. And the centerpiece of the development: the Elbphilharmonie concert hall.

Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, its tawdry red light sailors’ quarter, is shrinking in a rising tide of affluence. So many people know the city for this zone (and for the fact that the Beatles got their start here). The Beatlemania Museum closed just last month. And the red light district feels barricaded within one small block, defined by the metal modesty walls erected during Hitler’s rule. Back then, German society didn’t admit to having such districts, but an exception was made for its hardworking and heroic (if horny) sailors on shore leave.