Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Birthday, Hamburg Harbor!

Every year Hamburg celebrates its Hafengeburstag--Harbor Birthday--with hundreds of ships visiting from other countries. This year the harbor turns 827!

How does a harbor have a birthday? On May 7, 1189 Emperor Frederick Barbarossa issued a charter to allow Hamburg to sail ships up the Elbe to the North Sea without having to pay customs duties. 

And since the harbor is the lifeblood of the city, only the biggest harbor celebration in the world will do!

The promenade area was 3+ km of food, drinks, jewelry,
and souvenirs, with everything from carnival carts to
more elaborate pop-ups, like this bar made to look like a ship. 
It felt like half the population
of Europe was crammed into the harbor!

The one thing I wanted to see during the four-day celebration was the Schlepperballett--the tugboat ballet. So I made my way through the throngs of people yesterday to explore a harbor full of ships and enjoy the welcome 75° F day!

I went aboard this massive Russian ship and staked out a spot to see the tugboat ballet.

The "ballet" featured four tugboats initially showing off their maneuverability before they moved into some synchronized movements, do-si-dos, and close-quarters sailing. Over the course of the 45-minute performance, the background music alternated between classical, pop, and rock.

The tugboats are in a line and perform an about-face.

The tugboats are moving in a line,  rocking from side to side. You can barely hear it, 
but the background music for this is "Purple Rain."

The tugboats bid farewell, and the ships that moved out of this part of the river 
during the performance greet them as they come back in.

Ships? Sun? All smiles!
I'm less a fanatic about boats than I am a big fan of being on the water, but it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement. And some of the ships are truly sailing works of art. 

I would call Hamburg's Hafengeburtstag a definite bucket-list item for ship enthusiasts, and a great way for everyone else to see how proud this city is of its harbor heritage!

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