Harbouring architecture in Hamburg

Hamburg’s HafenCity is one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the world. Sally McGrane tagged along on a walking tour looking at the new architecture on the Elbe.

Harbouring architecture in Hamburg
Photo: HafenCity

On a recent sunny evening, a group of about thirty people have gathered near Hamburg’s port to explore the new HafenCity district, which will nearly double the size of downtown when finished.

With construction about halfway completed after starting in 2003, there is already plenty to see, including the spectacular Elbe Philharmonic rising steadily atop an old brick warehouse. Horrendously over budget, it is expected to become the northern German city’s new landmark when done in 2012.

For the tour we’re each given an earpiece, so we can listen in as Gerwin Zohlen, an architecture critic from Berlin, and Enrico Santifaller, an architecture journalist and author, both wearing gray suits and proceeding at a stroll while conducting a leisurely conversation about the results, thus far.

“This glass,” says Zohlen, gesturing at a glass-fronted fishbowl residential tower. “Isn’t it an invitation to indecency?”

“Ja,” says Santifaller. With a damning shrug: “It’s design.”

The HafenCity tours, in which two experts lead an hour and half walking tour through the development, with pretzels, wine and a discussion afterwards, began in 2006. There have been between five and seven tours a year since then, and this year’s tour leaders include Tamo Kunz, the set designer for filmmaker Fatih Akin.

They are, say regular attendees, varied, and always interesting. The tours have proven immensely popular, with up to 80 people paying the €8-price of admission. Tonight, the group leaders seem to be mostly in agreement: “Is it pure conservatism to say: I expect a building to have walls?”

“The building gives the impression that it’s floating. The question is: Do I want to live in a house that floats?”

We come to a stop in front of a completed building that draws less ire.

“There’s nothing here to truly criticize…”

“Still, it’s pretty boring.”

A conversation about the drawbacks of commercial real estate leads to a slight difference of opinion. “You can see it in the architecture—the investors have cut all the details,” says Zohlen.

“Ach, I can’t stand all this ‘evil investor’ talk,” says Santifaller. “These architects walk around, saying, ‘I designed the most beautiful building, but they ruined it.’ Architects know what the limitations are, and they should plan for them.”

Zohlen rolls a cigarette and begins to smoke it.

At one of the main squares, with steps leading down to the water, we stop again. “I find the square and the steps good–ok, a little too big, it could be more intimate,” says Zohlen.

“These lamps are supposed to be cranes,” says Santifaller.

“Oh god, oh god, oh god,”

“Why can’t you just have a normal, nice lamp? That would have been fine, instead of these funny design ones.”

The thoroughly enjoyable banter continues as they group passes through a construction area and almost gets run over by a bus. “This graphic—if you turn them a little, it looks a swastika…”

“The windows look like they’re from Baumarkt…”

“Look at this! The stone façade doesn’t reach the ground”

“Ah! A gap! That’s very embarrassing.”

“The sandstone is nice,”

“But paper thin”

“The public will swallow anything…”

“It’s not the nicest specimen”

“I don’t like this glass façade: I like to touch things and this I don’t want to touch. I know my soul will slide right off.”

“Why can’t you make a building out of wood?”

“I agree.”

As the sun sets and we come to the end of the walk (“You can see right into that bedroom,” “I don’t want people to see into my bedroom!”), the two men wrap up the discussion. “In conclusion,” says Zohlen, “I think HafenCity is, on the whole, very successful.”

“Yes,” agrees Santifaller, as the light on the Elbe turns pink. “It’s comforting to know that we are capable of producing a successful urban space, today.”

More information: The remaining 2010 walks will take place July 14, August 18, August 25, September 1, and September 15. Meet at 6:30 pm at HafenCity InfoCenter im Kesselhaus, Am Sandtorkai 30. Reserve by email at: [email protected]

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Five German drinks to try this summer

There’s nothing quite like a cold drink on a hot summer’s day and the Germans know it well. That’s why they’ve got a variety of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to cool them down in the hottest months. Here are five you should try.

Five German drinks to try this summer

Summertime in Germany can get pretty hot, but thankfully there are plenty of popular drinks which can help you cool down, as well as tickle the tastebuds.

In Germany, fizzy water is wildly popular, so it’s not surprising that Sprudel is a key ingredient in most of the drinks on this list.


A Hugo cocktail. Photo: Greta Farnedi/Unsplash

The Hugo is a cocktail made of Prosecco, elderflower syrup, mint leaves, a shot of mineral water and a slice of lime.

This refreshing alcoholic drink was invented by Roland Gruber, a bartender in South Tyrol, the mainly German-speaking region of northern Italy in 2005.

Though the drink wasn’t invented in Germany, it quickly spread across the borders of northern Italy and gained popularity here. Nowadays, you’ll be able to order a Hugo in pretty much any bar in the country.


A woman holds a pint of Radler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

One of the best-known and most popular mixed beer drinks is the Radler: a concoction of beer and lemonade, a bit like a British shandy. In some areas of Germany – particularly in the south – the mixture is called Alster.

Usually, the ratio is 60 percent beer and 40 percent lemonade, but there are also some interesting variants. In some regions of Germany, a distinction is made between sweet (with lemonade) and sour (with water) Radler. Some foolhardy drinkers even mix their beer with cola (called a diesel).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions producing the most important beer ingredient


A woman pours apple spritz into plastic cups. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Soeren Stache

Apfelschorle is an absolute German classic.

The traditional mix of apple juice and fizzy water is a 1:1 ratio, but if you’re making the drink at home you can adjust the measurements to your liking. 

The concept of Saftschorle (fruit spritzer) has moved way beyond the plain old apple in Germany though. On Supermarket shelves, you’ll find major drinks chains offering a wide variety of fizzy fruit beverages, including  Rhabarbe-Schorle (Rhubarb spritz), Schwarze Johannisbeer-Schorle (Black currant spritz) and Holunderschorle (elderberry spritz).

Berliner Weiße mit Schuss

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin.

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

The Berliner Weiße (or Weisse) is an old, German beer, brewed with barley and wheat malt.

As the name suggests, it originates from the German capital, where it was extremely popular in the 19th century and was celebrated as the “Champagne of the North”.

But by the end of the 19th century, sour beer styles, including this one, became increasingly unpopular and they almost died out completely. 

READ ALSO: Five German foods that aren’t what you think they are

So people started mixing the drink with sweet syrup. This gave rise to the trend of drinking Berliner Weissbier with a shot (Schuss) of raspberry or woodruff syrup, which is still widely enjoyed today. Some breweries even ferment fruits such as raspberries or strawberries.

The drink is so well-known in Germany, that there was even a TV series named after it which ran for 10 years 1984 to 1995.


Water and wine in equal parts and both well chilled – a light summer drink. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | DWI

Another fizzy-water-based German classic is the white wine spritz. 

A wine spritzer is a refreshing drink on warm summer days which has the advantage of not going to your head as quickly as a regular glass of wine. With equal parts fizzy water and wine, the drink has only about 5-6 percent alcohol, compared to glass of pure white wine, which has about 9-14 percent. 

For optimum German-ness when making this drink at home, choose a German white wine such as Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Riesling.

Enjoy and drink responsibly!