Hidden behind the bustling streets and red brick warehouses of one the largest ports in Europe is a network of secret hideaways. With a little insider knowledge, you can explore these hidden secrets in Hamburg’s Hidden Harbour. Located just 20 minutes from the city center, this area is only accessible during low tide. There are no signposts or markers leading you to this hidden gem; you have to know where it is beforehand and risk getting stuck when the water rises again after high tide, or stay until nightfall and follow the moonlight to find your way back. Either way, it’s worth checking out. During the day, shipping trucks whiz by as trains depart with their cargo; but at night it’s almost entirely deserted. These industrial secrets are home to hidden bars, restaurants, and small hotels that open up just for locals who know where they are.
Hamburg’s Hidden Harbour
Hamburg’s Hidden Harbour was formed over a century ago when the city decided to build a container port at the mouth of the Elbe River. The resulting silting of the river mouth made it more difficult for ships to navigate the river to Hamburg, and as a result the Port of Hamburg was constructed in the 1920s to improve river traffic. This new port was constructed south of the river mouth, and was given the name ‘neu Hansa’ (New Hanseatic Port). However, due to the high cost of constructing the new port, a decision was made to also construct a harbour beside the river mouth. This became known as the ‘alte Hansa’ (Old Hanseatic Port) or ‘alte Hafen’ (Old Harbour).
Where is Hamburg’s Hidden Harbour?
The old harbour is located near the mouth of the River Elbe in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district. It is only accessible during low tide, and can be reached by taking the train to Landungsbrücken station. From here, you can walk over a bridge, towards the water to the old harbour. The easiest way to find the harbour is to walk towards the water and look out for a sign that says, “Ausgang” (exit). This will lead you to a bridge that crosses the water and into the old harbour.
St. Paul’s Rocks
Just a ten-minute walk from the old harbour is a rocky outcrop that has been given the name St. Paul’s Rocks. Legend has it that St. Paul himself used these rocks as his pulpit while he was in Hamburg, preaching Christianity. These rocky outcrops are also home to a colony of grey seals. These seals are used to human contact and are often found lounging in the sun on the rocks. The rocks are also home to a small community of cormorants, which are protected by law.
The Deserted Pier
The deserted pier is a place that has been taken over by local artists and creatives. During the day, the pier is filled with the sounds of creative work, with artists painting and sculpting their next piece. At night, the rooftop transforms into a bar, with a DJ spinning and drinks being served by multilingual bartenders. The pier was built in 1908 and was used as a coal and ore loading dock until the 1960s. In 2004, it was renovated and became a creative hub for artists and creative workers.
Hidden behind the half-dilapidated walls of a shipping container lies the Neptune Bistro. The container has been transformed into a rustic and charming restaurant, serving up delicious seafood with a German twist. The menu changes daily, according to what the chef finds at the market. The interior of the container is kept dimly lit, with candles and low-wattage bulbs filling the space with a warm glow. Stepping into the container feels like entering a secret garden; a quiet oasis in the middle of the busy and industrial old port.
The Dark Room Cafe and Bar
The Dark Room Cafe and Bar was one of the first places to open up in the old port area. The name is taken from the fact that the walls are almost completely black, with only a small lamp illuminating the space. Hanging from the ceiling are carpets from around the world, brought back by the owner, who has travelled and worked in Hamburg for decades. The cafe serves up delicious coffees, teas, and cocktails with a menu that changes daily. The drinks are made by bartenders who have worked in some of the best bars in the world, while the food is sourced from the nearby fish market.
Hotel Port Hamburg
The hotel port was built in the early 1900s as a residential home for a wealthy Hamburg family. It was then transformed into a hotel in the 1990s, when one of the owners noticed that the old piles and timber in the water were perfect for boat mooring. The owners of the hotel then converted their building into a hotel, with the boat moorings as the hotel rooms. The hotel is set on a pier in the old port, with the guest rooms being the old mooring posts. The hotel has nine rooms, each with a different theme, from the Asia Room to the Classic Room.
The old harbour is a magical place to visit at any time of year. The secret hideaways and creative spaces are open for anyone to visit, with the only requirement being that you show up during low tide. Hamburg’s old harbour is truly one of the city’s best-kept secrets. The sailing, shipbuilding, and trading traditions of the past are preserved in this idyllic corner of the city. If you’re ever in Hamburg, make sure you find your way to this unique and historic place.