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Seven maps that explain the German city of Hamburg

Rebecca Spiess
Rebecca Spiess - [email protected]
Seven maps that explain the German city of Hamburg
Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany and is also its own state. Photo: Depositphotos/Bigandt

Hamburg has a long and tumultuous history; the city has been raided, plundered, set aflame and bombed. Here are some maps to explain the city's fiery past, as well as where it is today.


Hamburg, with a population of around 1.8 million, is Germany's second largest city. The region is also an independent state, similar to Berlin or Bremen. The official name of the Bundesland is  Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg), paying homage to its Hanseatic League roots. 

Today, the city is still home to the important international European port formed by the Elbe and also houses the headquarters of many influential German publications like Die Zeit and Der Spiegel

Let's begin with geography. 

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Location in Germany

Hamburg is located in northern Germany, surrounded by Schleswig-Holstein to the north and Lower Saxony to the south. The city is centered at the mouth of the Elbe river, where Elbe's tributaries Alster and Bille come together.

Hamburg also encompasses other land masses; The islands of Nigehörn and Scharhörn are uninhabited bird sanctuaries in the North Sea that are considered official parts of the city.

Neuwerk, another island with around 30 inhabitants, is also administratively included in the city (the Hamburg-Mitte district, to be exact). This is all despite the fact that the islands are over 100 kilometers away from the city centre. 

Source: Depositphotos/Toenne


The map below shows the city around 1320. The city had already existed for several centuries by this time, originally named after the castle built by Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808. It had already been destroyed several times as well: by a fleet a Vikings, by Polish and Danish kings, and through numerous fires.

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Additionally, only three decades after the time period depicted in this map, over half the city was wiped out by the Black Plague.  

Hamburg remained independent for the vast majority of its history, through the period the Holy Roman Empire, the Hanseatic League, and all the way up to the Weimar Republic. This independence was only disrupted when the city was briefly annexed by Napoleon Bonaparte. However, the city was freed again by 1814. 

After World War II, in which the city suffered immense damage by air raids and fire, the region fell under British occupation as part of West Germany. In 1949, the city became an official part of modern Germany. 

Source:  C. F. Gaedechens via Wikimedia

Modern districts

Hamburg today is divided into seven districts: Hamburg-Mitte, Hamburg-Nord, Wandsbek, Altona, Elmsbüttel, Bergedor and Harburg. 

Hamburg-Mitte covers most of the city centre and dense urban area, and, as mentioned above, includes the island of Neuwerk. 

Source: Depositphotos/ingomenhard


The city is nestled between the Alster, Bille and Elbe rivers. The Alster forms two lakes that are landmarks of the inner city, called the Außenalster (outer Alster) and Binnen Alster (inner Alster). Hamburg is also known for the swans that inhabit the city's waterways. 

Photo: Copernicus Sentinel-2, ESA via Wikimedia 


Hamburg has been destroyed and rebuilt many times during its history. One of the most notable instances was the Great Fire of Hamburg in 1842.

The map below, published in a book written about the disaster in 1843, shows the extent of the fire's damage. The fire raged from early on May 5th until May 8th, destroying one third of the Altstadt and killing 51 people. Half of the population, 70,000 people, also fled the city. 


The brightly colored lines on the map show where the fire spread by six-hour intervals, beginning with the orange/salmon color on the left side of the map and ending at the yellow color on the right.  The buildings labelled in black were blown up in an effort to stop the fire, while the buildings marked with red were those that survived. 

Source: Dr. H. Schleiden via Wikimedia

However, despite these devastating setbacks, Hamburg remains a prosperous and culturally significant city for all of Germany as well as Europe. 

Happiness level

Hamburg is the third happiest region in Germany, according to Deutsche Post's so-called “Happiness Atlas” project.

Out of 10 the city received 7.27 points, just behind neighbouring state Schleswig-Holstein (which snagged the top spot) and Hesse. Perhaps living near the water with access to all the Fishbrötchen in the world makes Hamburg residents very satisfied?

Map: Statista for The Local

Modern Hamburg

We loved this illustrated map that shows the character of the centre of the city, from the seagulls and yellow raincoats (which are said to be very popular in this rainy city) to the Franzbrötchen, a sweet pastry that you'll find locals munching on.



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