Tourism in Hamburg — sustainably different! | DW Travel | DW | 11.07.2019
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Tourism in Hamburg — sustainably different!

The Hanseatic city wants to be a trailblazer in developing tourism of the future. It's to be environmentally aware, as climate-neutral as possible and enable authentic travel experiences. But is it all just a nice idea?

It's hot in Hamburg, 34 degrees (93° F) in the shade. The order of the day is to move slowly and drink a lot. Water bottle out and ... someone says "Cheers — is that a Korn?" Meaning Korn, the clear schnapps from northern Germany. The lighthearted question comes from a man who is taking a little break in front of his shoe shop — on a comfortable garden bench at the edge of a green sidewalk. "Got to have a laugh," he says, so we both chortle and strike up a conversation. We talk about the district, which for a long time was a grey working-class area, with factories and small apartments, and which is now quite hip and a bit alternative: lots young families, lots of bicycles, organic bakers and vegan restaurants, small workshops, second-hand shops, sustainable fashion stores, carefully restored houses, and cultural meeting centers in former industrial wastelands.

Creative, ecological, social

Hamburg's Altona district is not traditionally one of the areas that visitors to the Hanseatic city want to explore. The fact that this is changing has a lot to do with a new tourism concept that Sascha Albertsen and his team have developed for Hamburg Tourismus GmbH.

"Experience Hamburg Sustainably" is the motto and pursues the goal of "creating a sustainable balance between growth and prosperity on the one hand and ecological compatibility, social responsibility and cultural sensitivity on the other". In concrete terms, this means that Hamburg is focusing on growth in the tourism sector, but also takes responsibility for the developments that go hand in hand with it. The aim is to be climate-friendly and to promote cooperation between Hamburg`s citizens and its visitors.

Roof of a former water reservoir, now a hotel, in Hamburg, Germany (DW/S. Bartlick)

Sustainable overnight stays: Hotel in a former water reservoir

Visitors are to be accommodated, and the quality of life in the city is to be enhanced. But the space and resources in the city are limited. That's why, according to the slogan, you have to be creative and sustainable with what you have. Sounds good. But can it succeed? Suggestions for a practical test can be found on their website or in the convenient brochure "Our green Hamburg".

The site recommends traveling to Hamburg by train, which uses 100 percent green electricity. The journey could then continue with the S-Bahn suburban train, which is also powered by green electricity, or a particularly low-emission environmental taxi, a vehicle from a Car-Sharing provider, an electric scooter or a rental bicycle. In Hamburg, you can actually find these at almost every corner, and throughout the city you will never be far from one of the 350 rental stations. 

Sustainable accommodation

Those who like me are just visiting for the day, tend to embark on a discovery tour immediately, while those staying longer can even spend the night in a sustainable accommodation that is consciously committed to the environment and nature. There is a whole range of them in Hamburg. They advertise with climate-friendly construction, organic food and regional products, their own environmental management or even a bee colony on the roof.

Some of the houses also support social projects, are equipped for people with disabilities and emphasize the special esteem in which employees are held. Sustainable hotels can be found in almost all parts of the city. Hamburg Tourism does not want guests to be concentrated in the inner city, but rather to be distributed and directed to different parts of the city.

Baskets with materials and shop dolls wearing sustainable fashion outside a boutique in Altona, Hamburg, Germany (DW/S. Bartlick)

Sustainable fashion in Hamburg Altona

Our team here at Hamburg Tourismus, says Sascha Albertsen, is made up of networkers who work together with city planners, local district offices and business development agencies to create the decentralized infrastructure necessary for this. And they are inventive advertisers who know how to awaken guests' curiosity — for "green" excursions, shopping tours or exploring districts that reveal all kinds of green and sustainable aspects. In Altona, for example, these include Hamburg's first package-free shop "Stückgut" or the "Hafenholz" timber workshop, which is known for its regional upcycling: new furniture and accessories are created from wood waste produced in the port.

A few streets further on you can find natural textiles, organic herbal teas and organic delicatessen. In the shoe shop whose nice owner regaled me with tales of the development of his Altona district, there are rubber flip-flops with cork bases. And in the historic halls of the Heise former ship propeller factory a cinema, a media company and a bookshop have moved in.

Sustainability as a process

Obviously, this is all just a start — because Hamburg is still a city of cars. And a port city with a large cruise terminal. And of course, there are hardly any buildings that are completely climate-neutral. But, says Sascha Albertsen, sustainability is a process. They want to promote this in Hamburg and sensitize the city's visitors to the topic. The sustainability pavilion "Osaka 9" in Hafen-City is a particularly vivid example of this. 

Kindergarten in the new city development Hafencity in Hamburg, Germany (DW/S. Bartlick)

Sustainable development: Schoolyard on the roof

Hamburg's newest district, as can be seen here in a small exhibition, meets the highest sustainability requirements in a wide variety of areas: this ranges from the conversion of the former port and industrial area to mixed-use, efficient energy supply and environmentally-friendly buildings. The headquarters of the news magazine Der Spiegel, for example, does not require any heating or air conditioning. Energy consumption has been significantly reduced thanks to a mix of triple-glazed windows, geothermal energy and photovoltaics.

Visitors who set out to explore the "green" Hamburg will discover the city in a completely new light because there is indeed a lot happening here. And it's really fun!

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