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  • Writer's pictureLily Carlson

Hamburg Port Anniversary: A Birthday Bash Unlike any Other

This past month, I had the pleasure and honour of attending the Hamburg Port Anniversary in Hamburg, Germany. The weird thing was, up until I went, I had actually never heard of it…

Wandering Hamburg’s canals

As the second biggest city in Germany, one would think that a city like Hamburg would get a lot more international attention — especially when it comes to travel and tourism. So, let me just start off by saying, point blank, Hamburg totally doesn’t get enough credit. Diverse, open-minded, and friendly, the city really knows how to make visitors feel welcome. The city is simply a melting pot for culture and the arts, where people are completely free to be whoever they are. Every individual I met during my time there was so proud of the diversity, inclusivity, and progressive way of life that is found in Hamburg today. While it hasn’t always been this way, today Hamburg is known for being the greatest contributor to German music, art, and fashion, fostering world-renowned artists in all areas.

Fun Fact

Did you know that Hamburg is also known as “The City of Bridges”? This is because it has more bridges than any other city in the world. It also has more canals than Amsterdam and Venice COMBINED!

A Little History…

How has the city come to be this way? Well, a significant reason for this is the city’s harbour. While you can read about the history here, essentially, way back in 1189, Hamburg’s port was declared a “custom-free zone”, with the emperor granting a tax exemption on trade in the area, creating a massive turning point in Hamburg’s rise to power. Hamburg would go on to become one of Europe’s most important port cities for trade and, in the 19th Century, Central Europe’s main hub for transatlantic passenger and freight travel.

The Hamburg Harbour is Germany’s largest port and has been named the country’s “Gateway to the World”. This gateway brought 150,000 jobs and independence to the area, creating a massive shift in both power and culture – And so, it is no wonder it is still celebrated today, 830 years later!

Ships in the Hamburg Harbour at night

This leads me to the core of this blog post – the Hamburg Port Anniversary.

What to Expect

Every year in May, captains, ships, and visitors from around the world flock to the shores of the River Elbe to partake in a weekend-long celebration for Hamburg’s Hafengeburtstag (AKA ‘harbour birthday’). The 3 days are filled with a variety of German food and drink, as well as live music and other performances across a number of stages. With over 300 vessels and over 1 million visitors to the area, looking to enjoy over 200 programs, The Hamburg Port Anniversary is the largest port party in the world. Some of the highlights of these programs include The Opening Parade of sailing ships and other watercraft, the Hamburg Tug Ballet (something I never thought I would see in my lifetime), and, of course, the fantastic display of fireworks Saturday night!

Watching the Tug Ballet

With so many vessels present for the celebrations, the Port Anniversary is an excellent opportunity to check out some of the ships that have anchored for the weekend, some of which open their doors to the public. Ships that have done so in the past include the Russian KruzenshternSedov, and Mir and the German three-masted sailer Alexander von Humboldt II. Other watercraft including tugboats, frigates, fire ships, and some modern cruise ships sometimes grant visitors a look below their decks as well!

Wandering German food stalls at the Hamburg Port Anniversary

In addition to the many culinary experiences and musical performances found down by the waterfront, you will also find fairground rides, flea markets, and art exhibitions scattered about. Some main areas to check out during the festivities include the waterfront area between Baumwall and St. Pauli, HafenCity, the Fish Market, and Oevelgönne Museum Harbour.

Boarded the Rickmer Rickmers ship to celebrate the Hamburg Port Anniversary

Party Hardy

Looking to carry your celebrations through the night and into the early hours of the morning? Hamburg is filled with alternative quarters boasting trendy bars, restaurants, and clubs!

Tip: Head to the Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel quarters to get a serious taste of the boutique bar and creative industry scene I’ve been talking about! What used to be a working-class district is now a bustling hot spot for all things hipster. You’ll find old industrial buildings repurposed as media agencies, freelance workspaces for creatives, or venues for music and other performances like slam poetry. You’ll even find a WWII bunker repurposed as a rock climbing wall in one of the many green spaces (Hamburg has 120 parks… just so you know!). On Marktstrasse (the main boulevard of Karolinenviertel), you will also find the studios and boutiques of local fashion designers, showcasing their work which includes everything from the exclusive and elegant to the fair and sustainable.

Hamburg Port Anniversary fireworks

Finish your celebrations at the famous Fish Market which takes place every Sunday morning on the St. Pauli Fischmarkt square from 5 am – 9:30 am. And yes, you read that right – don’t be fooled! This is not just a fish market. Here, you will find everything from clothing to fruits and veggies, to flowers and electronics, and my favourite part – the unexpected Auction Hall. The Auction Hall is where you will find live music, beer stalls, and all those looking to keep the party from Saturday night going well into Sunday morning — This was an experience I’ll never forget!


I was blown away by all that Hamburg had to offer. A weekend adventure was enough time to realize what a gem the city is in Europe, but not long enough to explore everything I wanted to — there is simply SO much to see and do here. And the Hamburg Port Anniversary?  Definitely a bucket list item that should be on anyone’s list who loves watercraft, history, a good celebration, or anything German! It was truly a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget and I would totally recommend making the trip to Hamburg, if not for the Port Anniversary, then to simply explore the amazing city itself.

Have you ever been to Hamburg?

Save the Date for next year’s Port Anniversary Party: May 8th - 10th, 2020

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Note: All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. Although this trip was in partnership with Germany Tourism, all opinions are my own.


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