Hamburg Port Anniversary

What would Hamburg be without its port? For more than a hundred years, the port has welcomed ships from the whole world and has been the mainstay of Hamburg's economy. So it is no wonder that the city has a big festival every year to mark the port’s anniversary. Every year, tourists from the whole world and local people flock to the city on the shores of the Elbe River for the Port Anniversary.

by Florian Schubert

Ships at the harbour © DAAD/Florian Schubert
Hamburg Port . © DAAD/Florian Schubert

Hamburg's port: “gateway to the world”

When you come to Hamburg, you can hardly miss seeing the city’s port. If you take the train to the main railway station, you will see many cranes and containers; and if you take motorway 7, you will drive into the city through the container port. You can admire the whole port from the “Landungsbrücken”, and ships entering the port are welcomed at the “Willkomm Höft” restaurant, which plays the national anthem of the country where they are registered. The port and shipping have always been very important for Hamburg's economy, and traces of the old Hanseatic and commercial town can still be seen throughout the city. Salt and spices were traded here from early on, thus making the city of Hamburg rich and important. Today the port is one of the largest in Europe.  There are not only containers that arrive on enormous ships, but large cruise ships also call in at the port. All in all, ships from more than 170 countries enter the city via the Elbe, giving the city a special international flair and making it a “gateway to the world”. Any coffee you buy in Germany certainly passed through the port of Hamburg!

Harbour © DAAD/Florian Schubert
Hamburg Port . © DAAD/Florian Schubert

The port was officially founded on 7 May 1189, which makes it very old! In the early days, only small ships called in, but over the course of time the port became larger and larger, as did the city of Hamburg. From around the 14th century, Hamburg has been a member of the Hanseatic League (Hanse). The Hanse was a confederation of trading towns that won special rights due to the politics of the day. These towns had their own consulate in other countries and trading stations in partner towns. Other Hanse towns in addition to Hamburg include Bremen, Rostock and Lübeck and some small towns.

The first Port Anniversary was celebrated in 1977. Since then, there have been three-day anniversary celebrations every year at the beginning of May.


What happens at the Port Anniversary?

The Port Anniversary lasts one weekend, beginning on either Thursday or Friday with the “Grand Arrival Parade”. Many ships call in at the port, arriving on this day. They are welcomed at the Landungsbrücken by the visitors, and the national anthem of each ship’s country of origin is played. The parades are also shown live on television. If you are interested in particular ships, you will find a list of all the ships taking part on the Internet. Some regular visitors are there every year, but new ships from all around the world are also invited.

Old sailing-ship © DAAD/Florian Schubert
Old sailing-ship . © DAAD/Florian Schubert

The Harbour Mile is then open! Alongside the harbour, you will find many stalls and shops selling typical food from Germany and Hamburg. You really must try the fish sandwiches, a speciality from Hamburg! What is more, you can try out many typical funfair games, such as throwing a ball at a pyramid of cans. There are bands playing on large stages and small stages. They play either very well-known international songs or typical old North German sea shanties still known in Hamburg.

The tugboat ballet always takes place on Saturday. This cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, only in Hamburg. Tugboats are the little boats that pull the large container ships into the port and help them manoeuvre without bumping into anything in the narrow port area. They are highly manoeuvrable and thus capable of dancing a ballet! Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? If you are standing right at the front, you may get a little wet. There is usually a big fireworks display in the evening.

The Grand Departure Parade takes place on Sunday. This is like the Grand Arrival Parade in reverse. The visiting ships take their leave and sail back to their home ports.

You will find the current programme and many photos of port anniversaries in past years on the Internet!

Interview with Risa from Japan

Portrait of a girl from Japan © DAAD/Florian Schubert
Risa from Japan . © DAAD/Florian Schubert

Risa Yoshizumi (22 years old) is currently at Hamburg University as an exchange student. She is studying German language and literature and has been in Hamburg since April. Here she tells of her visit to the biggest port anniversary in the world.

When I came to Hamburg, I was told that the weather here is often not very good. But when we went to the Port Anniversary, we had a clear blue sky! I went with two friends I met during my exchange semester, and we had a lot of fun.

When we arrived, the Grand Departure Parade was just beginning. All the ships that had visited the port for the anniversary were setting off home again. There were many beautiful sailing ships and some very big cruise ships. It was very impressive! The national anthem was played for each ship, and a master of ceremonies said a few words about the history of each ship and its crew.

boat tour © DAAD/Florian Schubert
boat tour . © DAAD/Florian Schubert

The festival reminded me a little of Japan. There we always have lots of stalls for food and drink, too. In Germany, of course, there are a lot of sausages and fish sandwiches! There was even candy floss, which we also have in Japan. But it’s made differently in Hamburg, and you get it in a bag and not on a stick.

I really liked the stalls because they were creatively decorated and they all looked very different. There was a very good atmosphere, and we met many people who spoke a different language: it was very international. I’ve heard that Hamburg is called the “gateway to the world”, and now I know why. During the Port Anniversary, I noticed the influences from many different countries here. At my university in Japan, I’m a member of a photography club. That’s why I had great fun taking photos of the ships and the stalls. There were many super subjects for photos, and I’m looking forward to going to the Port Anniversary again next year.

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