Visiting Germany’s most liveable city
Hamburg, is a major port city in Northern Germany, and most amusing for my 12 year son, Jeevan, the city folk of Hamburg are named Hamburgers.
We were lucky enough to spend a few days exploring this fascinating city. The key draw for us was the Elbphilharmonie, a unique concert venue which serves as a focal point at the interface of the city and the port. This spectacular landmark opened in 2017, it is 110 metres in height, and has a wave-like glass façade designed by renowned Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. They built it on top of the Kaispeicher, a historic red-brick base of the building structure. In the course of the first year, more than 4.5 million visitors enjoyed experiencing the wonders of this iconic building. And we were very much looking forward to attending a concert on our first evening in Hamburg.
We were not disappointed, the majority of the concerts are sold out, and tickets are like gold dust. In Hamburg, people attending the Elbphilharmonie get dressed up in their Sunday best, the majority of the men were in smart suits, and the ladies wore lovely evening clothes, they really make an effort.
The principle upon which the Elbphilharmonie is based is that it is a concert hall for everyone. A motto that it takes quite literally. Variety, quality and accessibility are primary criteria by which the Elbphilharmonie measures its musical profile.
Alan Gilbert, a renowned interpreter of Mahler was directing the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, and they played Mahler’s symphony No.3 an absolute joy to behold.
We were fortunate to be staying at the five star hotel, The Fontenay. It is located on the beautiful shores of the Alster Lake in the heart of the city. In 1816, Hamburg-based shipbroker John Fontenay acquired the site on which the hotel is situated. John was one of the most successful Hanseatic merchants of the early 19th century. His fortune is currently managed by the Fontenay Trust.
The architecture is the work of Jan Stormer, and his practice Stormer Murphy and Partners, he entitled his vision ‘Hotel in the Park’. The amorphous shape with its sculpted roofscape evolved from three intertwining circles. They blend seamlessly with the surroundings, creating a balance between nature and the urban sphere. The Fontenay is a reflection of modern Hamburg, cosmopolitan and exceptionally welcoming. The sculpture-like architecture mirrors the fluid lines of the lake and surrounding parkland, creating the perfect balance between nature and urbanity.
The circular theme continues throughout the building; the shape of the façade is either concave or convex, no wall is parallel to the other, only the guest rooms are separated by straight walls. The hotel was conceived with all the rooms facing outwards.
The room interiors are also inspired by circles, the trapezoid layout with its curved walls, the floor to ceiling windows all create liberating spaces flooded with light. The rooms are outfitted in warm, bright hues of soft turquoise, light blue and beige. They reflect the unique setting on the shores of Lake Alster in the midst of the park.
100 million Euros were invested to turn site into a hotel. There are 130 luxurious rooms and suites, an indoor and outdoor pool, a sun terrace, gym, spa, a rooftop dining and bar area, a gourmet restaurant and the Parkview Garden Restaurant.
The interior reveals two impressive open spaces: the landscaped patio and the 27-meter-high atrium with a subtle light installation as its centrepiece. Our favourite was the rooftop with its spectacular panoramic view and the rooftop swimming pool.
The Fontenay has been referred to as an “urban resort”. Thanks to the unique architecture the entire building is flooded with light; 14,000m of glass surfaces offer views across the Alster Lake, the hotel gardens and neighbouring areas.
We enjoyed delicious meals at the Parkview, the Fontenay’s relaxed garden restaurant. Executive Chef Stefan Wilke created culinary magic with the seasonal produce which is all locally sourced. His dishes are inspired from around the world, yet remain distinctly regional. He creates traditional dishes with a modern twist.
Jeevan is a keen pianist and was very excited that we had managed to secure an exclusive tour of the Hamburg Steinway Piano manufacturing plant. Every Steinway is made with decades’ worth of experience by passionate craftsman and craftswomen. They put the instrument together manually and breathe soul into it while continually incorporating new innovations and improvements.
With over 125 patents, Steinway is considered a pioneer of modern piano manufacturing, and the process is a lengthy one. The wood used must first be left to dry and mature over an average of two years until it can be used optimally, and afterwards almost another entire year is needed until the final Steinway is completed. Each Steinway consists of more than 12,000 individual pieces and possesses its own musical character, thereby making it as unique as the person playing it is.
For our last afternoon in Hamburg we were invited along for a special treat. We sneaked in to watch a stage rehearsal of “Illusions of Swan Lake”. The Hamburg Ballet is an internationally acclaimed ballet company. John Neumeier has been the Director and Chief Choreographer of the ballet since 1973 and the Ballet Intendant since 1996. His main focus has been on creating innovative, contemporary dance forms to expand and enrich the classical ballet tradition. And he was true to form, the performance at the Hamburg State Opera was mesmerizing, and the perfect ending to a fabulous trip.