Its latest landmark, the Elbphilharmonie, dominates the waterfront but throughout this port city there is captivating art, architecture and music
I made my Hamburg discovery in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe. After a happy hour spent gazing at the cabinets of ceramics, glass and decorative treasures dating back to dynastic Egypt, I turned a corner and there it was: a vision of Austin-Powers grooviness. This was Danish designer Verner Panton’s canteen for Der Spiegel, lifted from the magazine’s Hamburg headquarters and transplanted, intact, to the museum of decorative arts. Like a time capsule, the flying saucer lights and violet upholstery capture the optimism of 1960s design.
As Germany’s largest port, prosperous Hamburg has always welcomed innovation. The typische Hamburger is, as our guide Nicola Janocha puts it: “Reserved, unflashy. We’re conservative socialists, but our mercantile past has made us open to change. We spend our money on things that benefit the city.” You can see this in Hamburg’s ever-evolving topography. Office blocks are being reinvented as boutique hotels, such as the Sir Nikolai; Gothic spires loom over contemporary architecture by David Chipperfield and Zaha Hadid. Although it was badly bombed during the second world war, whispers of old, Hanseatic Hamburg remain. One moment you might be in the shadows of a Brutalist block; turn a corner and you find a 17th-century street crossed by the low bridges and canals that give this maritime metropolis its surprisingly poetic charm.