When it comes to live music and culture, Hamburg has a great history. After all, this is the city in which The Beatles managed to kickstart their career in the early 60s. Half a century later, the city's music culture thrives on inner-city festivals and fantastic venues, such as the Molotow Club, located directly on the famous Reeperbahn – and The Beatles are remembered by a statue in their honour.
But the northern German city doesn't only have music on offer: it is also home to a big art scene.
When it comes to international recognition, however, Hamburg is often overlooked due to a media fixation on Berlin, located a mere three hours away. In reality, though, Hamburg lacks nothing vís-a-vís the German capital. In fact, the opposite is the case. Our latest destination boasts an asset which gives it a unique atmosphere. The river Elbe. Most cities have rivers flowing through them, but hardly any can claim the same importance as the Elbe. Connecting Hamburg to the North Sea, the river is the reason for the city's long maritime history, continuing to the present day. One of the world's biggest harbours firmly places Hamburg on the trade and shipping map of the world.
It is precisely this harbour - the second largest in Europe - which has such a large impact on the city's vibe: The river and the enormous container ships churning up the water give Hamburg a sea-side feel. This city, located next to a river, could easily be mistaken for having the wide and wild Atlantic Ocean on its doorstep.
So it didn't come as a surprise to us that much of Hamburg's creative scene uses the water of the Elbe as a source of inspiration – when seeing all the international and weatherbeaten ships come into port, one can't hold back a sudden surge of wanderlust. The thought of jumping upon such a container ship and subsequently sailing the world provides an urge which is very hard to resist.
Fortunately we didn't have to leave Hamburg to quench our love for the sea and travel. All it needed was a short walk down to the newly developed “HafenCity” next to the famous brick-wall “Speicherstadt”. The name HafenCity gives away its location: Hafen is the German word for harbour. The HafenCity's urban feel is complimented by the industrial scenery just across the water. It is this part of town's close proximity to the Elbe which helps set the scene for the maritime-inspired “25hours Hotel HafenCity”.
It isn't only the photos of old sailors which grace the walls of the hotel -the whole building is draped in a design-concept embracing Hamburg's close ties to the sea and other shipping trade hubs. While celebrating the northern German city's maritime history, the 25hours HafenCity manages to portray the urban vibe that Hamburg holds today. Whether it's the free Minis to explore the city for the day, or a room full of vinyls and record players: it's the small things and the eye for detail which make the stay inside the 25hours HafenCity worthwhile.
Located approximately 15 minutes by train from the HafenCity lies the industrial Wilhelmsburg district, the home of Hamburg's biggest music festival.
MS Dockville festival brings some of the most exciting bands and solo artists from Germany and the rest of the world to Wilhelmsburg in the south of the city.
This year's lineup included bands such as UK rock-giants Foals, crazy Crystal Fighters and German sensation Milky Chance on the headline stage and saw equally impressive newcomers perform. The bands all took to the stage against the backdrop of the impressive and giant Wilhemsburg industrial sites on the other side of the canal.
The imposing setting of the festival was further complimented by interesting features throughout the area. A small forest, a circus tent and music played directly from a small, old van: Dockville proved that it is a truly extraordinary festival.
The festival's unique location is far from randomly chosen. In fact, MS Dockville has stayed loyal to the surroundings it started in. Ten years ago the "Lüttville e.V." hosted the first festival - a one day summer party. The "Verein", or group in English, aims to provide working class children from the industrial Wilhelmsburg area of Hamburg with the possibility to be creative and get into art, theatre and music. Although they still have this goal, hosting 20,000 Dockville visitors is another ambitious project. Combining the two in a fantastic fashion the Lüttville project saw young refugees - who were participants in their week-long summer camp prior to MS Dockville - from Wilhelmsburg take to the stage to spit some rhymes before German rapper Megaloh's set and perform their own choreography on stage with the band Frittenbude which translates as "chip shop".
Although many of the performing bands were from Germany, Dockville's international performers proved to be a great hit.
My personal highlight of the weekend was Foals' night-time set. Dedicating their performance to "FC St. Pauli", a Hamburg alternative and left-wing football club playing in the second German division, Dockville's tenth anniversary, the EU and "any left-wing people in the crowd", their frontman Yannis Philippakis managed to get the crowd on his side early on. What followed was a rendition of Foals' entire creative history with older songs complimenting tracks from their latest (and incredible) album "What Went Down".
As the dark night firmly took hold of Hamburg, we made use of Dockville's shuttle service to get back to our home port: The 25hours Hotel. Waking up to early morning Hamburg, breakfast and a walk around the port was our far-from-standard standard program before heading back to the festival.
The festival has changed a lot in the past ten years - many more people in front of many more stages watching many more artists perform. And yet, Dockville has stayed true to itself, still having that eye for detail, still calling Wilhelmsburg its home and still supporting projects in the community.
Put into context, this is exactly what the city of Hamburg is going through. Adapting to the new world around it and still trying to stay loyal to its roots. With new buildings rising from the ground everywhere, Hamburg still needs to keep space for its enormous alternative and political scene. To stay a great and interesting place Hamburg will need to ensure that it remembers its roots and doesn't get entirely caught up in the world around it.
If you're planning on travelling to a European city soon, make sure it's Hamburg! You won't regret it!
You can find Benjamin at festivals all over Europe or at www.itsallindie.com
All photos are by Benjamin Brown and Svenja Boll