8 Hamburg Festivals

May 1, 2012 by

Europe, Festivals & Events, Things to Do

Hamburg, Germany is a city of celebration! With destinations like the Saint Pauli Quarter and the Reeperbahn, one of Europe’s most infamous party districts, it’s no secret that locals know how to have a good time. No matter what time of year travelers visit, there is always an event to attend. Everything from welcoming the arrival of spring, to the first day the Alster River freezes is cause for a celebration according to Hamburg’s standards.

But it’s not just the traditional German dishes or the local beers that sets Hamburg festivals apart from the rest. It’s Hamburg’s eclectic culture, the stunning views and the rich seafaring history that keeps tourists from around the globe flocking to this harbor city.

Christopher Street Day Parade

Having fun at the Christopher Street Day Parade

1. Hamburg Harbor Birthday (Hafengeburtstag)

Held during the second weekend in May, the Hamburg Harbor Birthday commemorates the day Hamburg opened its shores to free trade and joined the Hanseatic League. It was through trading tea, coffee and other commodities with the league that Hamburg earned much of its wealth and became Europe’s second busiest shipping port. Now, after 823 years, the Hamburg Harbor Birthday celebration has become the world’s largest port festival, attracting as many as 1.5 million visitors each year to the Port of Hamburg.

World-renowned cruise ships, steamboats and frigates take to the high seas and parade through the harbor to create a spectacle for onlookers. Meanwhile, vendors in over 500 stands stretching from the Saint Pauli Landing Bridges to the warehouse district sell authentic Hamburg treats and handmade crafts. Throughout the three day event, Hamburg hosts a number of concerts for all to enjoy and gives visitors special discounts on museum visits and guided tours of the Port of Hamburg. The celebration comes to a close with a city funded fireworks display on the banks of the Elbe River.

2. Hamburg’s Dom

The Dom is a traveling carnival that makes its stop in Hamburg three times per year, transforming the Holy Spirit Field into an amusement park for an entire month. From March to April, July to August, and November to December, fairgoers can seek thrills on a variety of roller coasters, shop for authentic Hamburg goods and take in the sights from the top of the Ferris Wheel. Even an evening stroll through this neon maze can be as exciting as it is romantic.  Families attending on any Wednesday can enjoy discounted prices on most attractions.

3. Stuttgart Wine Village in Hamburg (Stuttgarter Weindorf)

For two weeks in August, the Hamburg Fish Market trades places with the Stuttgart Wine Village, one of Germany’s finest wine festivals. While Stuttgart gets to sample fish served in the Hamburg tradition, Hamburg gets the opportunity to experience fine wines of the Rhine region. The Wine Village transforms the square in front of Hamburg’s town hall into a South German wine garden, complete with large wooden barrels, white tents, and grapevines. Servers dressed in traditional South German attire serve wine, foods of the Rhineland region, and even play instruments to serenade guests. Visitors can sip wine while shopping for crafts, arts, and goods from the Stuttgart region, and are also welcome to relax in one of several wine gardens.

4. Christopher Street Day Parade

Christopher Street Day Parade

Christopher Street Day Parade

Throughout several cities in Europe, June’s Christopher Street Day Parade is held to spread awareness about issues in the gay community, and encourage individuals to be who they want to be. In Hamburg, participants march through the streets to the Alster, where waiting for them are stands serving food and beer, tents with games, as well as a dance floor for an outdoor disco.  The colorful display, panel discussions, film screenings, barbeques and other attractions bring about an eclectic crowd willing to shed light on, and sometimes find humor in, heavy political issues.

5. Alster Fair (Alstervergnügen)

One of Hamburg’s most important and famous waterways is the Alster River, flowing through the Inner Alster region. Taking place in late August into September, the Alster Fair is a festival that celebrates Hamburg’s Hanseatic spirit. The shores of the Alster River come to life with traditional dance, theater, concerts, and other cultural programs. The Alster Fair is also home to the International Fireworks Festival, one of the grandest displays of fireworks in the region, and the International Alster Run, hosting runners from all over the world.

6. Alster Ice Enjoyment (Alstereisvergnügen)

This is not an annual festival, but one to experience when this rare phenomenon hits Hamburg. When the weather conditions are frigid enough, and the Alster freezes to 20 centimeters thick, Hamburg declares an official Alster Ice Enjoyment festival, inviting all to partake in winter merriment on the Alster. Vendors come from all over the city to sell mulled wine (Glühwein), a traditional German beverage served warm to ward off the cold. The winter land escape is an amusement for kids and adults alike, inviting all to engage in sports, sledding and snowball fights.

Officials declare that the Alster is safe to walk on, but warn visitors that they enter at their own risk. However, this does not deter visitors who take advantage of this rare opportunity to visit Alster Lake and see Hamburg from a new perspective. The last official Alster Ice Enjoyment festival was held February 10th – 12th, 2012 where over 500,000 people set foot on the frozen river.

7. Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt)

Christmas Market

Christmas Market

The holiday season in Germany is marked by their iconic Christmas Markets that sprout up across the country. In Hamburg, there are seven markets in the city center, giving it the unofficial title of the Christmas Capital of the North. The largest and most popular of the seven is the market at town hall, which draws in thousands of visitors and over 100 vendors.

Dark, wooden stands selling holiday treats and handmade crafts appear in November and remain until after the Christmas season is over. During that time, visitors can enjoy the lights display, a ceramic boot filled with warm mulled wine and a large Christmas Pyramid in the center of the market. Children eagerly go to see Santa Claus, who flies over the market in his sleigh at 4p.m, 6p.m and 8p.m everyday.

8. Fish Market (Fischmarkt)

Every Sunday morning from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. along the harbor, theatrical street vendors stand from their streetcars, selling fish and produce while shouting out that day’s deals. Wheeling and dealing is a form of commerce, while bartering and haggling are strongly encouraged forms of business at the weekly Altona Fish Market. Some locals visit the market to purchase groceries for the coming week, but most brave the early morning harbor mist to be entertained by the boisterous fishmongers and farmers performing feats and public stunts to draw the attention of the crowd.

Kae Lani Kennedy

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