In the mid-19th century, one admiring Glaswegian treasurer described Hamburg as the world’s ‘most mercantile city’. That commercial character was forged early in the city’s history, in 1189, when local noble Count Adolf III persuaded Emperor Friedrich I (Barbarossa) to grant the city free trading rights and an exemption from customs duties. It was this step that turned the former missionary settlement and 9th-century moated fortress of Hammaburg into an important port and member of the Hanseatic League.
The city prospered for centuries on the banks of the Elbe before suffering a major setback in 1842, when the Great Fire destroyed one-third of its buildings. While it managed to recover in time to join the German Reich in 1871, this saw it involved in two world wars even less kind than the Great Fire. After WWI, most of Hamburg’s merchant shipping fleet (almost 1500 ships) was forfeited to the Allies as reparation. During WWII, more than half of Hamburg’s housing, 80% of its port and 40% of its industry were left as rubble, and tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
In the postwar years, Hamburg showed its usual resilience to participate in Germany’s economic miracle or Wirtschaftswunder. Its harbour and media industries are now the backbone of its wealth. More than 6200 companies in the fields of publishing, advertising, film, radio, TV and music are based in the city. The print media are especially prolific: 15 out of 20 of the largest German publications are produced here, including news magazines Stern and Der Spiegel and the newspaper Die Zeit.
The city is also a major Airbus base, manufacturing parts of the now much delayed A380 super-jumbo.
About 15% to 20% of the population are immigrants, giving the city an exciting, international flavour.