Hamburg is harbor and city. A harbor 130 kilometers from the sea along the Elbe, which through a network of canals reaches all of inland Europe, linking it to overseas trade. And a city Free and Hanseatic, as its official name states, asserting the trading-port identity of a city-state formed by streets and canals, dominated by water.
Hamburg joins a series of books on cities which analyze the construction and character of each on the basis of its natural, territorial, and strategic particularities. It starts with the sea, because maritime matters have guided the course of Hamburg’s history and the shipping companies of powerful bourgeois families have governed its construction. The harbor has pushed the city’s growth for centuries, and still does. Hamburg is differentiated from cities that lost their ports as they grew, such as London, and compared to other great harbors in tidal rivers, such as Rotterdam.
Hamburg’s port was its gateway to the world, but also the seed of its calamities. Its worst floods were caused by tides rising upriver, the 1842 fire started at the harbor, the 1892 cholera plague spread through the canals, and the 1943 bombings to raze the port leveled the whole city. But Hamburg turns disasters into opportunities, as its latest big projects show: HafenCity, which expands the city center southward, and the Elbphilharmonie, which puts a glass concert hall on old warehouses, and offers its undulating silhouette of reflections and transparencies as a new symbol. Hamburg, city and port, is worth a visit.