Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg
Some Important Dates and Milestones
Although settlement in Hamburg goes back as far as the ninth century, when Charlemagne set out to convert the Saxons, Hamburg first became a significant European metropolis in the Middle Ages, when it was granted the status of an Imperial Free City by the Holy Roman Emperor. This guaranteed various rights, such as tax-free access to the Lower Elbe up to the North Sea and contributed substantially to its development as a major center of trade.
In 1241, the Hanseatic League, of which Hamburg was a founding city, was jointly established with the City of Lübeck. Hamburg became the most important North Sea port, turning over grains, furs, herring, spices, wood and metals. By the mid-fourteenth century, a new currency, the Mark, had been introduced, the population had grown to 14,000 and Hamburg had become a major exporter of a) hamburgers, b) beer, or c) T-shirts printed with "I went all the way to Hamburg and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." B, of course, would be the correct answer and you can still enjoy the beverage after a night of theater.
Hamburg's first constitution was established in 1410. Just 100 years later, Hamburg was officially deemed a "Free City." Soon thereafter, the population grew to 20,000 and in the years following the discovery of America as well as the water route to Asia, Hamburg became one of Europe's most important harbors.
In 1529, the city officially embraced Lutheranism. By the middle of the century, Hamburg had founded a stock market and invited English traders to settle in the city.
The seventeenth century saw the influx of Sephardic Jews, fleeing Portugal, and the founding of a Portuguese Jewish community. Although Lutheran preachers did not take especially kindly to them, calling synagogues "schools of Satan," the senate ultimately decreed that Jews should be tolerated as strangers and a synagogue was finally built in 1660.
From 1806 to 1814, Hamburg was annexed by Napoleon's forces.
Like many other great cities, such as London or Chicago, Hamburg was also the victim of a devastating large-scale fire. The Great Fire of 1842 swept through the city and destroyed most of the "old part" of Hamburg. Twenty-thousand Hamburg residents were made homeless by the fire and the city hall was so badly damaged that it had to be razed entirely. The destruction did, however, have one advantage, which is that the city was entirely rebuilt and modernized.
In 1860, Hamburg adopted a democratic constitution, and in 1871, it became a member of the German Empire and retained its self-ruling status through the end of the Weimar Republic.
Political progress was ineffectual, however, in preventing a major outbreak of cholera in 1892. The epidemic was poorly handled by government authorities, who refused to admit that the water supply from the Elbe did not meet modern hygienic standards. It ultimately killed 8,600 people, and was the largest German epidemic of the late nineteenth century and the last major cholera epidemic in a major Western city.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Hamburg-America line, headed by Albert Ballin, became the world's largest transatlantic shipping company. Hamburg was also home to companies serving South America, Africa, India, and East Asia. It was at this point that Hamburg became a truly cosmopolitan metropolis and center of international trade. It was only after World War I, when Germany lost many of its colonies, that Hamburg also lost many of its profitable trade routes.
After a long evolution as a liberal, international and open city, Hamburg, like the rest of Germany, was taken over by the National Socialists and lost its status as a free city. During World War II, the city suffered devastating air raids and firebombing which ultimately killed 42,000 people. By May 1945, half a million people had fled. Due to the extensive damage, Hamburg also lost much of its historical architectural character.
Following the War, Hamburg was occupied by the British until 1949.
But for a major flood in 1962, which caused the Elbe to rise to an all-time high and which killed over 300 people, the city has continued to flourish and is now vying to become one of the region's largest deep-sea ports for container shipping.
Today, Hamburg is the most populous European Union city which is not a national capital. It has approximately 1.8 million inhabitants, including large Turkish and Polish populations. Its Afghan community is the largest in Europe. There are also roughly 4,000 people from the UK and 4,300 from the United States.
Hamburg is currently involved in a major urban development project focused on the HafenCity or Harbor City, the largest project of its kind in Europe and well worth a visit. At its center is the controversial and costly Elbe Philharmonia surrounded by a growing dockland residential and commercial district, including designs by leading architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano. A state of the art new underground line, the U4, has also recently been opened. The HafenCity also incorporates the Speicherstadt, a district of imposing 19th century warehouses, some which are still used to store imports such as coffee, tea and oriental carpets. Other buildings have been converted into museums, such as the International Maritime Museum, or a must-see, the Miniatur Wunderland, the world's largest model railway museum.
Hamburg remains a liberal and cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural landscape that includes music, theater, a world-renowned ballet run by the American John Neumeier and, of course, The Hamburg Players, your FEATS host.