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Hamburg - a pearl on the banks of the Alster

By Maike Mintelowsky

Hamburg has a reputation for being one of Germany's most attractive cities. Its happy location between the Alster lakes and the River Elbe, as well as its proximity to both the North and Baltic Seas makes this city a major international trading centre. It is also provides a very high quality of life for its many residents who take full advantage of its location among some of the most beautiful inner-city green spaces in Germany and also some of the best shopping streets you could hope to find. Business and academia flourish here in the north of Germany making it one of the most popular destinations for international visitors.

© Deutsche WelleHamburg features a lot of water and green space right in the heart of the city

Hamburg as a research location

Hamburg has 20 higher education institutions and more than 75,000 students. The University of Hamburg is one of 35 universities to have been successful in the nationwide German Universities Excellence Initiative meaning it has received extra funding to promote research.

Hamburg is also home to a large number of major research institutes. The Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the Max Planck Research Unit for Structural Molecular Biology, the Academy of Sciences, the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, as well as various Leibniz institutes such as the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and the Heinrich Pette Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology are all played host to in the city. There are, however, many opportunities outside science provided by bodies like the Berufsakademie Hamburg and the Hamburg Media School.

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding body which focusses on collaborative reaearch between scientists and academics from different fields and different parts of the world. Projects supported by the foundation range from the humanities to particle physics and everywhere inbetween.


The city's beginnings date back to the 4th century AD, although the first written reference to 'Hammaburg' was in 832 as a fortress to protect the Holy Roman Emprire against the heathens in the north. A few hundred years later in the 13th century Hamburg became a member of the Hanseatic League, an economic alliance between cities and their guilds designed to strengthen commercial interests and secure trading routes. This would be definitive for the future of the town. By the 18th century, the city of Hamburg operated its own overseas trade and shipping free of tax, a privilege afforded to few other towns. Hamburg has been called a Free and Hanseatic City since 1806, a title which underlines this privileged position as a town free to trade without external intervention. During the second half of the 19th century, a new and more efficient port was built which significantly drove Hamburg's economy. Infrastructure also grew, despite a number of disastrous fires, and the constructing of the railway and the first tunnel under the Elbe encouraged continual economic growth.

After the Second World War, in which Hamburg experienced severe bombing, newspapers such as Die Zeit, Die Welt and the Hamburger Abendblatt established themselves in Hamburg sealing its status as a media centre.

Today, Hamburg is still an important European centre for trade mainly thanks to its port which is the ninth busiest in the world. Europe's biggest urban development project, the HafenCity, which will almost double the size of the city centre, sees Hamburg setting new standards in town development. Once finished, it will be a benchmark for all new developments in Europe not just due to its groundbreaking architecture but the scope of the project which includes new flats, offices, retail outlets, leisure facilities, restaurants and cultural institutions.

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Hamburg Hamburg Hamburg

Living in Hamburg

With 1.8 million inhabitants, Germany's second largest city is a popular place to live. It may, therefore come as no suprise that there is a lot of competition for flats and houses, pushing the rental prices up. This difficulty is, however, made up for in the quality of life Hamburg has to offer.

Hamburg's cityscape is characterized by many beautiful old buildings in particular the red-brick warehouses on the banks the Elbe. It is also, however, a thoroughly modern city which means it retains its character while providing everything you want from city living.

Hamburg is also unique in the number of parks and lakes that appear in the heart of the city itself. Lots of towns have lovely surrounding countryside, but here there is no need to search far and wide for a nice patch of grass. Of course this means there is no shortage of potential for outdoor activities, the parks offer a wide variety of sport clubs and if you are living in Hamburg, having a go at sailing on the Alster is a must.

When it comes to the cultural scene, Hamburg also has a great deal to offer. From the renowned theatres, the Thalia, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus or the Ohnsorg, to ballet, opera, all types of music concerts and 45 museums. There is definitely no shortage of things to see and do here.

What Hamburg is known for

When people think of Hamburg, the infamous red-light district, the Reeperbahn, is usually the first place to come to mind. It is, however, now a hugely popular tourist destination and there is a great number of bars and clubs that cater to all tastes. If you can face waking up at five o'clock the Fish Market is also famous and offers live music and great food. Hamburg is surrounded by water and is crisscrossed by canals, called 'Fleet', which were previously used for transportation, as well as to dispose of sewage and waste. This means that Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined. One of the most pleasant spots to sit and relax in the town is on the banks of the Alster where you can watch the famous swans, which have graced the city's emblem for 400 years, while maybe sampling an 'Alsterwasser', a mixture of beer and lemonade that you can buy at almost every pub.

Natives of Hamburg speak 'Plattdeutsch', a dialect spoken in different forms in parts of northern Germany. Although tricky to understand for other Germans, it does actually bare a greater resemblance to English than other dialects so may be perfect for foreign visitors.

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academics :: April 2011