Museum Hopping in Hamburg

Museum Hopping in Hamburg photo

In many ways, Hamburg is far off the trodden European tourist path. Perhaps it's northernly location sets it apart from its more visited cousins. But with one of the most important harbors in Europe, the city takes great pride in its mercantile past — a past that has increased the city's wealth over the centuries, making it one of the richest in Europe. The combination of city pride and riches has enabled Hamburg to offer some of the most intriguing museums of any city its size.

Hamburg publishes a thick, detailed booklet of local museums called Museemswelt Hamburg. You'll find it at the information desk at any of the city's museums.

Begin your museum ramble at the Hamburg Museum, close to the St. Pauli underground station. Here, you'll learn about the city's history, beginning with its association with the Hanseatic League, a medieval trade monopoly across Northern Europe, to the emigration of millions of people headed for America through Hamburg Harbor. This is the museum of city history, bringing the past to life with models showing the development of the harbor and the city. If you're a model railroad fan, you'll enjoy the large 40-year old scale model railroad display.

The BallinStadt Auswanderwelt Hamburg traces the history of emigration. Originally built in 1892 under the guidance of Albert Ballin as a facility to provide medical care and accommodation to those emigrating to the United States on his company's ships, the complex eventually became a museum, though its original design and layout aren't the same because of destruction during bombing raids during World War II. Dedicated to the 5 million Europeans who emigrated via Hamburg, it recreates their life-changing journeys. You can visit the original emigration halls, and the extensive interactive exhibition it has computer terminals where you can look up information about your emigrant ancestors. Intended for German families, its display texts are mostly in German. However, if you've visited museums like Ellis Island in New York, you'll find the content similar.

The International Maritime Museum is a privately owned museum housing a collection of 26,000 ship models, 50,000 construction plans, 5,000 paintings and graphics, uniforms and photographs on 10 floors of the oldest preserved warehouse in Hamburg, dating from 1879. A related but separate museum is the Rickmer Rickmers, a three-masted bark sailing ship from 1896 moored at the port of Hamburg. Yet a third museum, the Museumshafen Oevelgönne, displays historical boats.

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, housed in an 18th-century palace with its original ceilings and roofs southeast of the railway station, contains collections of fine work from Europe and the Middle and the Far East, spanning all epochs from the Ancient World to the present. They also have many activities and concerts.

Kunsthalle Glockengießerwall, located north of the railway station, houses an important collection of paintings from the 19th century with works from Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, Philipp Otto Runge, Caspar David Friedrich, and Adolf Menzel. It rises on both sides of a paved court. The Baroque building on one side holds the older works. One of the most outstanding is the Grabow Altarpiece, painted for the St. Petri-Kirche in 1379. The museum also contains the altar of St. Thomas of Canterbury from 1424, with the first illustration of the murder in the cathedral, by Master Francke. You'll also find a collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings. The areas under the courtyard and the opposite contemporary building house an extensive collection of modern art, including notable works by French Impressionists, and 20th-century artists, including Picasso, Chagall, Klee, and Kandinsky, plus sculptures by Calder, Moore, Rodin, Segal, and others.

Hamburg's Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe or Museum for Applied Arts has exhibits of fine, applied and decorative arts from antiquity to present day. Founded in 1874 and following the example of London's famous Victoria and Albert Museum, it features masterpieces from design, photography, fashion, furniture, musical instruments, and more.

Spicey's Gewürzmuseum or Spice Museum, located in the Speicherstadt, claims to be the world's only spice museum. Among the many goods that arrive here daily are spices from all around the world. So it's only fitting that Hamburg has a great spice museum. Set in an old storehouse close to the harbor, you can see, smell, and taste your way through 500 years of exotic spices while learning about their cultivation, processing, and packaging.

You may want to plan your trip to Hamburg during April when the city hosts the Night of Museums. Over 50 places take part and are open until 2 A.M. While admission isn't free, a single ticket for all museums costs just 12 EUR.