Top cultural icons in Hamburg

by Adriana Stein
October 06, 2020

Although Berlin is widely known for its wide array of cultural icons, Hamburg has had a few major figures that are just as essential for understanding German culture as it is today. Btw…did you also know that Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg? More on this below!

8 of the most popular cultural icons in and from Hamburg

1. The Beatles

If there’s one artist that stands out in Hamburg, it has to be the Beatles. Yes, they’re not from Hamburg originally, but Hamburg was one of their major stomping grounds. John Lennon is actually quoted as saying “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg”. This makes sense when you learn that the Beatles played a whopping 281 concerts in the Reeperbahn district (the main party area) between 1960 and 1962. The Beatles are so crucial to understanding the party scene in Hamburg, there are many cultural tours based on the time the Beatles spent here, as well as a monument to them directly in the Reeperbahn.

2. Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel was born on July 17, 1954 in Hamburg Germany. Her parents, Horst and Herlind Kasner, also met in Hamburg, where her father studied theology and her mother taught Latin and English. When Merkel was a young child, the family moved to East Germany when her father started a new job. Although her time in Hamburg was short, it’s still pretty cool that the first female Chancellor of Germany, the most influential representative of German culture, and the de facto leader of Europe comes from Hamburg!

3. Klaus Störtebeker

Klaus Störtebeker may be more popular among Germans, but his story is too hilarious not to include. Legend has it that Störtebeker was a pirate that stole goods across the North and Baltic Seas in the 1400s. He terrorised Hamburg in particular, and one day was finally brought to justice. When he appeared in court for this trial, he cut a deal with the mayor: the number of men he could walk past after his head was cut off would be spared. Of course the mayor found this to be ridiculous, so he agreed. Crazily enough, Störtebeker managed to walk past eleven of his men before he collapsed and was pronounced dead. He’s so famous in Hamburg that there is a statue of him in the historic Speicherstadt (shipping storage area), as well as his own beer and numerous bars.

4. Deichkind

When it comes to German music, one of the most beloved bands is Deichkind. Good friends Philipp Grütering, Malte Pittner, and Bartosch Jeznach began their career together in music in 1997 in the Bergedorf area of Hamburg. The band quickly rose in fame due to their top 100 single “Remmidemmi” that kept its place for a record breaking 26 weeks. Nowadays, they’re considered one of the most popular German rap groups in history and are still creating awesome music that’s played all throughout Hamburg’s music scene. 

5. Johannes Oerding

Johannes Oerding is another German musician that became famous in Hamburg. His career skyrocketed when he met another singer-songwriter named Michy Reincke in Barmbek-Süd (northern Hamburg), who got him his first large-scale gig in 2006. Oerding is so beloved by the people of Hamburg that he represented the city in the 2013 Bundesvision Song Content, in which he placed second. His latest album “Alles brennt” also hit number three on the German Albums chart.

6. Albert Ballin

Nothing in Hamburg would be as it is without Albert Ballin. Between the years of 1857 and 1918, Ballin acted as “Der Reeder des Kaisers” (Ship Operator for the Kaiser), meaning that he was responsible for turning Germany into the international shipping port that it has become today. Furthermore, he also invented the concept of a pleasure cruise ship in 1891, which resulted in his obtaining immense wealth due to its success. When he worked as the head of Hapag, one of the largest international shipping companies in the world, he became so influential that there’s even a part of Hamburg named after him “Ballinstadt” as well as an entire museum that’s dedicated to his life. 

7. Barbarossa

Long before Albert Ballin, Hamburg was thanking Barbarossa, the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, for finally freeing them from their tax obligations to the crown. Hamburg began as a settlement of the Holy Roman Empire and lived as such for years, due to its crucial location for shipping. But as residents started to resent giving all their profits to the crown, their demands grew to free the city from taxes. Barbarossa eventually gave in and signed a treaty in 1189 that gave Hamburg an independent city status outside of the Holy Roman Empire. This allows the full influx of cash to go to Hamburg’s residents, which is largely why so many of Hamburg’s most established companies are from the shipping industry. Hamburg thanked Barbarossa for his generosity by adding his statue at the front and center of Hamburg’s town hall.

8. Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt is one of the most famous politicians from Hamburg. He served as a member of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982. Born and raised in a working class family in Barmbek (northern Hamburg) in 1918, Schmidt lived through both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the aftermath of the Nazi reign. Well-known for his thoughtful and calm reactions, he became one of the most beloved political members of Germany. He regularly contributed to one of Germany’s most influential news outlets based in Hamburg known as “Die Zeit”, which he continued up until his death in  2015. Due to his popularity, Hamburg’s airport is also named after him.

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