Hamburg, Germany's most British city

    Hamburg Skyline
    © querbeet/

    From the top deck of the ferry, I can see Britain: a white palace with lawns that stretch down to the water. Only this is no ocean. It’s the Elbe, the river connecting Hamburg to the North Sea and to a history rich in trade. Germany’s second city and one of the 16 federal states, Hamburg is widely considered the nation’s most Anglophile metropolis. Its links to Britain are many, its love of the British way of life intense.


    Britannia rules — with flair

    Nowhere is the locals’ love of Britain on livelier display than at the Hamburger Polo Club during summertime’s British Flair. Formerly the “British Days”, the three-day event organized by Friends of Britain comes complete with fish and chips, Cornish pasty (UK)Pastete, Teigtaschepasties, a London bus cafe and a bar pouring Pimm’s. The playing fields in the suburb Klein Flottbek host a show arena, a shopping mile and tents for Anglophile organizations.

    Between the tents and arena is where I saw a row of classic automobiles, among them, a shiny 51-year-old Morris Minor. Its owner, Andreas Grübe, organizer of the British Flair motor rally, told me he fell in love with British cars when he lived for four years in Durham, in England’s north.

    “I think Hamburg is more British than Britain,” Grübe said. “There is a longstanding tradition of contact with the north-east [of England] — Sunderland, Newcastle, the shipbuilding part — which was very dominant in Hamburg as well in the 1950s and 60s. The Hamburg way of life, preferring understatement, is very English. There’s a strong connection between London and Hamburg [because of trade] ... so there is a strong link to the British, and British lifestyle.” 

    I think Hamburg is more British than Britain. ... The Hamburg way of life, preferring understatement, is very English

    Anke Redhead, Grübe’s partner, used to be married to a Brit, which explains her surname, she said. She has “a nice patchwork” of British family, and visits the London area once or twice a year. Talk turned briefly to divorce — Brexit, that is. “I to recall sth.sich erinnern an etw.recall the interview with [British politician] Boris Johnson right after the vote,” Grübe said. “You could see in his face that he really didn’t to count on etw. rechnencount on leaving the EU.” 

    We said goodbye, and I walked towards the arena. There, Highland Games to be in full swingin vollem Gang seinwere in full swing: big men in kilts were performing the caber toss (Scot.)Baumstammwerfencaber toss, in which a man attempts to to hurlschleudernhurl a long logHolzblock, hier: -stammlog into the air so that it to flipsich drehenflips end over end. On my way to watch them, I passed the welly (UK, ifml.)Gummistiefelwelly tossWurftoss organized by Hamburg’s Caledonian Society. A boy tried throwing a rubber wellington boot down the field and on to a pikeSpießpike. Instead, the boot hit his mother — behind him. Then a man in a T-shirt that read “Born to ride” gave it a go, but he, it seems, was not born to throw. 


    Next, I met two men in kilts. “Good afternoon, gent (ifml.)Herrgents,” I said, expecting a very British response. Instead, I got shy smiles and a Teutonic Hallo: the bagpipers were from Germany’s north. We chatted a bit before I moved on. In the arena, the Parson Jack Russell race was about to begin.

    Once released from their lead (UK)Hundeleineleads, the high-energy terriers took off after a “rabbitKaninchenrabbit” made of packing tapePackbandpacking tape that raced at high speed round the field, thanks to a bicycle-powered contraptionVorrichtungcontraption. It was eccentric. It was chaotic. It was — dare I say? — typically British. “Look at the puppyWelpepuppy, Mummy,” said an English girl in the crowd. “Valentin, sofort hierher!” said another mother to her non-British subjectZielpersonsubject. Behind me, boys watched a man doing a cricket demonstration, their smiles wider than the English Channel.


    Typically British: the three-day British Flair event takes place each summer at the Hamburger Polo Club


    Getting into the spirit 

    As a member of the Hanseatic League, Hamburg became a major trading power in the Middle Ages. By 1475, the Hanseatic cities had established their enormous “Steelyard” warehouseLagerhauswarehouses on the north bankhier: Uferbank of the Thames. Britain, of course, had built a global empire on the high seas. Sitting in a pewKirchenbankpew in the English Church — the Anglican Church of St Thomas ­Becket on the Zeughausmarkt in the centre of Hamburg — I asked Reverend Canon ­Dr Leslie Nathaniel if the maritime connection explains the city’s Anglophilia.

    “If one is a Londoner and wishes to move to a city on the continent, then one would certainly feel at home in this city. It’s sort of a ‘mini-London’, if you wish — that’s Hamburg,” he said. “It is not necessarily only the sea. It is also the life built around that. There are cricket clubs and a rugby club, and there is a lot of love for British culture here. All sorts of connections still exist between Hamburg and parts of Britain, and that, I think, is crucialausschlaggebendcrucial. Yes, the trade… But there is also a sense of cultural links and belonging.”

    If one is a Londoner and wishes to move to a city on the continent, then one would certainly feel at home in this city

    He mentioned Sir Jeffrey Tate, former chief conductorDirigent(in)conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, who recently to pass awayversterbenpassed away. “You will have seen [on a plaqueGedenktafelplaque] in front that Prince Charles and Diana were here at the church,” he added with a smile.

    Father Leslie leads a congregationGemeindecongregation of 130 members. As the former international ecumenicalökumenischecumenical secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he sees his church in a cultural role, too, hosting podium discussions on Brexit and seminars on Europe. The global view has a long tradition in this particular church, one that began 400 years ago: that’s when the Company of merchant adventurerÜberseespekulant(in)Merchant Adventurers of London, a cloth-tradingTuchhandel-cloth-trading outfit, became the first organization in Hamburg to be given the right to hold non-Lutheran servicehier: Gottesdienstservices — and to do so in English, and in the tradition of the Church of England.

    Father Leslie says many members of the British community, even those who are not religious, will attend services on special occasions such as Remembrance Sunday (UK)Gedenktag zum Ende des 1. WeltkriegsRemembrance Sunday — then “the church is packedbrechend vollpacked” — which strengthens the community effect. 

    “It is a welcoming, active and inclusive church. If one thinks of one’s identity in our church in terms of circles, then one circle is the British society,” Father Leslie said. “But there are other circles as well, of about 15 nationalities worshipping. What holds us all together is a further circle, which is a kind of deeper spirituality, but also a place where you can meet people you would never have met before in your own circles.”


    Englische Kirche in Hamburg
    Welcoming: the English Church on Hamburg’s Zeughausmarkt


    Later, I meet Sue Coorey downtown on Gänsemarkt. In her opinion, a sense of togetherness inspires the city’s British Club, too. The actress, who travels often between England and Hamburg, is events manager for the 100-member organization. To her, the proms concert at the end of British Flair is a moving example.

    “The orchestra and the singers, they were superb, very rousingmitreißendrousing,” she said. “And I found it incredible that we were all standing, waving flags, singing [such beloved British songs as] ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Jerusalem’ in Hamburg, with as many German people singing the same thing with us.” 

    She drank her coffee, and continued: “It made me quite emotional. I thought, how marvellous. … That has to humble sb.jmdn. bescheiden werden lassenhumbled me to how progressive the German people are.”


    Related articles

    Explore this topic further with our piecehier: Artikelpiece on British communities in Berlin, or take a look at the selection of articles in our US & UK in Germany section.

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