Hafengeburtstag: celebrating a harbour’s birthday

How old is the Hamburg harbour? A history buff may be wont to ask. It turned 821 years old last weekend, and it had a grand party. It was a birthday party-cum-city-revelry that lasted not just for a day, but three days of merry-making in honour of the harbour that breathes life to Hamburg. It’s a party the city- or the port that built the city- well deserves.

A percussions group entertaining passers-by

Last weekend’s weather was overcast, but it’s not a meteorological omen. In my country, we  believe it’s a blessing from the heavens if it rains on a special occasion. The drizzle poured on and off. It didn’t seem to affect the turn out of visitors. On the average, the Hafengeburtstag (literally ‘harbour birthday’) attracts at least a million visitors during its three-day run. Hotels are fully-booked. A long stretch of Vorsetzen, the main road next to the River Elbe, is barricaded. Instead of cars, the street and the walkway overlooking the river are lined with food booths offering fish, Wursts, and crepes. Of course, not to forget the stalls selling golden beers (3.50 Euros a glass plus 1 Euro for the plastic glass deposit).

Rocking it hard in Hamburg

The three-day program is full: open ship visits, tugboat ballet, and the perfunctory fireworks. The last seems to be a revered tradition. The DJ on the stage declared a ‘break’ yet still with music playing on the background for the audience to take in the lights. A rock band soon started playing covers of popular German and English songs of past and present. I was lost to the beat of the music and while taking photos of the band and the crowd, when the security guy tapped my arm. For a split second, I thought I’m getting to close to the barrier, which is after all right in front of me. Or I’ve been taking a little too many photos. He then pointed to my back and when I turned around saw the latest guest to the party- an enormous ship slowly closing in to the harbour. A fitting birthday guest to the celebrant. With its imposing size, Queen Mary 2 awkwardly inched its way to Landungsbruecken, dwarfing other ships that are permanent fixtures to the harbour.

The Queen Mary 2 docking at the harbour

It must be the grandest party I’ve seen, or attended. One of the largest cruise ships in the world and over a million guests honoured the harbour, with which the city has become what it is today.  It certainly deserves a birthday party, and one that lasts three days.

Port of call: Landungsbruecken
A classic ship exits the River Elbe as hot air balloons lift off from the southern harbour.

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