Hamburg has been an industrial driving force in central Europe since the early 19th century. Over time the city has expanded to become the continent’s second largest port and is also widely known as Germany’s gateway to the world. Today, this commercial juggernaut is undergoing a cultural renaissance, with two areas in particular – Sternschanze and Karoviertal – becoming two of Germany’s most interesting shopping districts, filled with independent stores, bohemian bars and high-end restaurants.
Sternschanze is situated north west of the city centre, and has become one of Hamburg’s most vibrant, avant-garde areas. Since the 1980s Sternschanze has been seen as the city’s innovative hub, and its artistic credentials still hold true today, with a mix of independent boutiques, pop-up shops and fashionable bars and restaurants lining the streets. It has attracted some of Hamburg’s most creative types.
A cultural melting pot
Two such residents are Angelika Schulz and Peter Freese, who spent several years travelling across Asia and then returned to Hamburg in 2000 and opened Mala, one of Sternschanze’s most intriguing stores. Stocking a wide variety of imported homewear, jewellery and accessories, Mala is something of a local institution. ‘We opened the shop 15 years ago,’ Freese explains. ‘At that time Sternschanze was more of an area for people without much money, such as manual workers, students and artists.’ Since then, the district has evolved into a creative and cultural melting pot. ‘Sternschanze has a great mix of urban cultures,’ Freese continues. ‘It’s a party place, a good spot for food, a sightseeing area; it has a bit of everything.’
Another of Sternschanze’s hotspots is Altes Mädchen, one of the city’s most popular eateries. Translating as ‘old girl’, Altes Mädchen takes its name from a song about Hamburg by 1950s singer Freddy Quinn. While its name may nod to the past, the restaurant itself is centred on Germany’s emerging craft beer industry.
Founded by friends and neighbours Oliver Nordmann and Patrick Rüther, Altes Mädchen is in the renovated Schanzenhöfe market hall and aims to put beer at the heart of modern German gastronomy. ‘We opened Altes Mädchen in March 2013, and the Schanzenhöfe was the perfect place,’ says assistant manager Tina Küster. ‘The area’s very old. We opened the first restaurant here, Bullerei, five years ago, and with the Ratsherrn brewery next door as well, we were sure that we wanted to open on this site.’
Something new around every corner
Küster also cites the area’s eclectic atmosphere as a strong contributing factor: ‘Sternschanze is a lovely and very interesting area of Hamburg, with so many different people and cultures, different kinds of shops and restaurants. Every time you walk through the streets, you find something new, and every corner is different.’
To the east of Sternschanze is Karoviertel, a smaller, traditionally working-class residential district which has recently started to demonstrate the same creative spirit as its neighbour, fuelled by the city’s continuing artistic boom. Set between the city centre and the Hamburg fairground, the area – known locally as ‘Karo’ – has retained a distinctive, village-like feel. Today it is home to a collection of high-end dressmakers and ready-to-wear boutiques, marking it out as the most fashion-forward area of Hamburg.
A creative atmosphere
One of Karoviertel’s most prominent stores is Garment. Friends Kathrin Müller and Ullinca Schröder, a dressmaker and costume designer respectively, established Garment after meeting at AMD, Hamburg’s academy of fashion and design. The decision to open in Karoviertel was an easy one. ‘It has a really creative, relaxed, lively and open-minded atmosphere,’ explains Schröder. ‘Karoviertel is often called the little neighbourhood. It’s less crowded than Sternschanze, but far from quiet. The main attractions are unique clothes stores, many of them run by fashion designers themselves.’ Garment is a prime example, stocking both menswear and womenswear cut to classic silhouettes and printed with colourful and contemporary designs.
The combination of the old and new is a recurring theme throughout Karoviertel. While the area is filled with historic architecture, the new businesses that have been flocking here add a modern edge while cementing Karo’s newly fashionable status. Contemporary tailors Herr Von Eden and cult US brand American Apparel are just two of the stores that have recently opened in the area.
The spirit of creativity and inclusivity offered in both Sternschanze and Karoviertel, combined with their old-world charm, is helping Hamburg flourish as the new bohemian heart of Germany. The city has long been Germany’s gateway to the rest of the world, but with its new creative districts it’s become a place that’s well worth taking the time to explore rather than simply passing through.