Hamburg's nightlife is legendary, and rightly so. Elite cocktail bars, nonstop nightclubs and world-class DJs are all part of a mix that rocks and rolls with energy and innovation. Hamburg is renowned for its electro-punk sound, which started in the 1980s and has evolved and morphed endlessly. Clubkombinat (www.clubkombinat.de) has club listings.
Hamburg nights can be long and loud, filled as they are by an endless soundtrack of music being enjoyed by a happy crowd. There's so much going on that it's not only restricted to Friday and Saturday nights – there are places where you can sip a cocktail, sample the many beers on offer or dance until you drop (and sometimes all three) at just about any hour of the day. The main pillars of Hamburg's drinking and nightlife scene are:
- Bars & pubs The mainstay of Hamburg's drinking culture, this catch-all category includes the rough-and-tumble neighbourhood pubs of St Pauli and the quietly sophisticated bars of Altona. Most open around 5pm during the week, earlier on weekends, and stay open until the last customer staggers out the door.
- Cafe-bars The line between cafes and bars is often blurred in Hamburg. What that means is that many cafes are terrific places to eat and then stay around for a drink or three. If they have outdoor tables and the weather's fine, even better. Cafes open in the morning and close either late afternoon or early evening.
- Cocktail bars Hamburg's cocktail bars are a step up in sophistication, although not all are aimed at a well-heeled crowd. Most open early evening and stay open late.
- Music bars Opening to a similar timetable to bars, music bars often double as live-music venues – some nights it's the latter, at other nights the music comes from a DJ, even if there's no dance floor.
- Brewery bars Old-style beer cellars or other traditional drinking houses where the beer used to be (and sometimes still is) brewed on the premises. Craft beers are pushing their way into this scene.
- Nightclubs Don't even think of visiting a Hamburg nightclub before midnight. Some don't even get going until after 2am, and some of these only open on Friday and Saturday nights. Some Hamburg nightclubs have cover charges, and those that don't play catch-up with expensive drinks. Touring and resident DJs are usually world class.
Free Entry in St Pauli?
Beware of the sex clubs and table-dancing venues on and near St Pauli's Grosse Freiheit offering 'free' entry; doorstaff try to lure in the passing crowd with bargain shows, leaving customers to discover the mandatory drink minimum (usually at least €25) once inside. Ask at the bar how much drinks cost; you can easily spend €100 for a couple of watery cocktails.
Hamburg’s Unlikely Beach Bars
When it comes to city beaches, you have to salute Hamburgers for their can-do spirit. Undeterred either by the working harbour or by their renowned Schmuddelwetter (drizzly weather), they’ve built their own little sandy enclaves on the banks of the Elbe, where they can enjoy a beer on the sand, no matter what the weather.
Few things are as deeply ingrained in the German psyche as the love of beer. 'Hopfen und Malz – Gott erhalt's!' (Hops and malt are in God's hands) goes the saying, which is fitting, given the almost religious intensity with which beer is brewed, consumed and celebrated. Brewing here goes back to Germanic tribes, and later monks, so it follows a hallowed tradition.
The 'secret' of the country's golden nectar dates back to the 1516 Reinheitsgebot (purity law) passed in Bavaria, demanding breweries use just four ingredients – malt, yeast, hops and water. Though it stopped being a legal requirement in 1987, when the EU struck it down as uncompetitive, many German brewers still conform to it anyway, seeing it as a good marketing tool against mass-market, chemical-happy competitors. Even many of the growing coterie of craft beers follow these ancient rules.
'The Germans', wrote Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad (1880), 'are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall, slender bottles, and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them from vinegar by the label'. He was not alone in his sentiments.
For decades the name of German wine was sullied by the cloyingly sweet Liebfraumilch and the naff image of Blue Nun. What a difference a decade makes. Thanks to rebranding campaigns, a new generation of wine growers, and an overall rise in quality, German wine is staging a 21st-century comeback. In 2014, some 63 different medals were awarded to German wines, including to Horst Sauer, who received two Gold Outstandings at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, for his Escherndorfer Lump Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese and Escherndorfer Lump Silvaner.