Completed in 1897, the vastly-impressive Neo-Renaissance Hamburg Rathaus, dominating the city center, is the prime symbol of Hamburg’s wealth and autonomy. The City Hall is the seat of Hamburg’s Senate, Hamburg’s Parliament and The Municipal Government Of The Free And Hanseatic City Of Hamburg.
The present Rathaus is the sixth erected on the spot. The longest-lasting Rathaus was erected in 1290 and stood for 552 years, finally succumbing to The Great Fire Of 1842. After its destruction, it took the Hamburg government over 40 years to agree on proposed designs for the current Rathaus.
The Rathaus’s elaborate and ornate 111-meter façade is dominated by a huge 112-meter clock tower. The sandstone exterior is decorated with 20 bronze statues of German Emperors, as well as other sculpture and artwork. Construction of the building required eleven years. Due to the weight of the building, 4,000 oak columns were driven into the ground before construction commenced, a necessity to support the massive weight of the building.
The interior contains 647 different rooms of different styles—Renaissance, Baroque, Classical—and many are of the utmost magnificence. The Burgersaal, the Kaisersaal and the Turmsaal are considered to be the most opulent. The fantastic Grosse Festsaal, with its bronze and marble décor, is still used for official celebrations. This grand banquet hall is 46 meters long, 18 meters wide and 15 meters high. The room is illuminated by three chandeliers, each weighing 1500 kilos and each requiring 278 bulbs. Five enormous paintings depicting the history of Hamburg from 800 to 1900 line the walls. Coats of arms from the 62 cities of the ancient Hanseatic League further adorn the walls.
Much of the interior is open to the public via a one-hour guided tour. The sheer opulence of the interior is astonishing.
To most citizens of Hamburg, this large building is the symbolic heart of the city. As a city-state—an independent city and simultaneously one of the 16 Federal States of modern Germany—Hamburg has both a city council and a state government, both of which have their administrative headquarters in the Rathaus. The building dictates political decorum in the city. To this day, the Mayor Of Hamburg never greets visiting VIP’s at the foot of the central staircase, but always awaits them at the very top, whether the visitor is the Chancellor Of Germany or the Queen Of England.
Above the main entrance door is the inscription, in Latin, “May the descendants seek to uphold the freedom won by our forefathers”.
The Rathaus was entirely restored from 1987 to 1997.
My mother, my brother, and Josh and I took an English-language tour of the interior of the Rathaus. It was pretty disappointing, because the tour guide rushed us through the interiors like the place was on fire. We had no time to absorb or enjoy what we were seeing. Our visit was akin to getting a fleeting glimpse of the Sistine Chapel while running the 400-yard dash. Alas, there is no way to explore the Rathaus interiors other than through official guided tours.
The front exterior of the Rathaus lies on Rathausmarkt, which may be seen in this view from the spire of nearby Saint-Petri-Kirche.
The market square, laid out after the 1842 fire, has been the center of the city since the current Rathaus opened. Its inspiration was Piazza San Marco in Venice.
On one side of Rathausmarkt is the Binnenalster, one of the Alster Lakes situated in the very center of Hamburg, on the other side of which are the picturesque Alster Arcades (“Alsterarkaden”). This 1930 postcard shows the Rathaus from the Alster Arcades.
Two gold-plated masts form the centerpiece of the square. There is a modern Heinrich Heine memorial in the square as well as the Ehrenmal, a memorial dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. The Ehrenmal, a stele of the greatest simplicity and dignity, is at the very edge of the water.
The rear exterior of the Rathaus is connected, in part, to Hamburg’s Stock Exchange (“Borse”).