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A Cultural History
Matthew Jefferies

published 2011 5 x 8 • 229 pages
ISBN 9781566568463 • paperback • $15.00

A cultural guide to a colorful European destination that has been overlooked for too long, Hamburg has much to offer its 8 million annual visitors.

It is a popular misconception that Hamburg is a coastal city. In fact, despite possessing Europe’s second-busiest port, this “amphibious city” lies some 65 miles from the North Sea. Its long-standing image as a “city without culture” is also something of a myth. When the poet Heine remarked that in Hamburg “the customs are English,” he was referring to its no-nonsense mercantile ethos which dates back to the era of the Hanseatic League. Yet even in Heine’s day the “celebrated philistinism” of the city fathers was balanced by a tradition of private philanthropy: Hamburg has long been a city of culture as well as commerce.

Although the traumas of twentieth-century German history are never far from the surface, Hamburg has become an attractive city full of color and contrast. With a population of nearly two million it is one of the largest cities in the European Union not to enjoy the status of a national capital. Above all, as Germany’s “gateway to the world,” it is a cosmopolitan city, whose culture has been shaped by those passing through as much as by those who stayed.

Matthew Jefferies explores a city-state boasting the highest per capita GDP in Germany, but where ostentatious displays of wealth are shunned; a place synonymous with fast food and beer, in which fine dining and luxury shopping abound; a city without palaces, castles or cathedrals, yet bursting with monuments and memorials. With nearly eight million visitors each year, Hamburg is fast becoming one of Europe’s most popular city-break destinations: it is a city well worth getting to know.

• City of water and fire: the Elbe, the Alster, and more bridges (around 2,500) than Venice and Amsterdam combined; a city devastated by the “Great Fire” of 1842 and the Allied “firestorm” of July 1943, but twice rebuilt anew.

• City of brick and neon: the Speicherstadt “warehouse city”; Fritz Höger’s expressionist Chilehaus; and Fritz Schumacher’s vision of a “liveable metropolis”; St. Pauli, the Reeperbahn and the Beatles.

• The world city: Hamburg’s colonial past; embarkation point for millions of European migrants to the New World; and home to the “father of the modern zoo.”

Matthew Jefferies is Professor of German History at the University of Manchester. His books include Imperial Culture in Germany (2003) and Contesting the German Empire (2007). He has taught at the Northern Institute of Technology, Hamburg-Harburg, and been a student and visiting fellow at the University of Hamburg.

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