Germany's second city, and Europe's largest "non-capital" city, Hamburg started life as Hammaburg - a fortress built on the River Elbe during the 9th century. However, the development of the city as an important trading centre dates from 1189, the year the Emperor Friedrich I (Barbarossa) was persuaded to allow Hamburg to function as a port city with free trading rights. As a full trading member of the dominant Hanseatic League from 1321, Hamburg was exempt from customs duties and throughout the Middle Ages developed into a rich and powerful commercial centre. A Great Fire destroyed a significant part of the city in 1842, and two world wars did even greater damage to its fabric. Nevertheless, Hamburg's maritime supremacy has been restored in modern times and its vast media industries compete and contribute globally in sectors such as publishing, advertising, film, radio, TV and music. Hamburg's Altstadt (old town) has some fine historic buildings including the 14th-century St. Jacobi Kirche with its ornate interior, the Baroque St. Michaelis Kirche where a solo trumpeter plays from the tower (with a full ensemble performing during festival events), and the impressive Rathaus which has more rooms than Buckingham Palace.
Culture seekers will find Hamburg's Kunsthalle has an enormous collection of art from the medieval period through to contemporary works, and also holds special events and exhibitions. The Deichtorhallen houses modern art and photography, whilst the Maritime Museum traces Hamburg's nautical history and development as a trading centre. Meanwhile, the Miniatur Wunderland offers a unique opportunity to view the world's largest model railway, alongside several complete model cities and an airport. At Hamburg's atmospheric fish market, visitors can watch as catches are unloaded and browse the fish stalls, or visit the city's exquisite Alster Lakes where it's possible to swim or perhaps take a boat tour. The Hagenbeck Zoo has an aquarium and houses around 200 different species, and with 13 percent of city space devoted to parkland and 6 percent to nature reserves, Hamburg has plenty of access to open green spaces for outdoor pursuits. Besides the attractions of the River Elbe itself, Hamburg also has an extensive network of canals and waterways. That's why the city has around 2,300 bridges (more than both Amsterdam and Venice) which offer plenty of opportunities for sight-seeing.
Widely known as the "Tor zu Welt" (Gateway to the World), Hamburg is a modern cosmopolitan city which has a vibrant immigrant population of around 20 percent. And as Europe's richest city, it's no surprise to find that Hamburg is also home to about 1,500 millionaires. Nevertheless, there are also plenty of shopping venues for those with more modest ambitions, such as the Jungfernstieg near the Inner Astler Lake, with well-known global brands and a host of local boutiques. Hamburg can also offer a rich variety of hotels, restaurants and entertainment to suit every taste and budget. Menus include everything from traditional fare featuring locally-sourced ingredients to sushi restaurants and other exotic cuisines, plus bakeries selling Franzbrötchen pastries and snack bars where you can buy Fischbrötchen (fish rolls). The Reeperbahn area, well-known to every keen Beatles fan, has numerous clubs and bars where revellers can party till late, while more sedate forms of entertainment (for those who want to be back at their hotel in good time) include classical music venues such as the Laeiszhalle.