A short ride into history
Coming from a country rich in lively history and a city founded by the Romans, I have always wanted to know more about the lives and times behind Hamburg. Having grown from a tiny castle village of about five hundred people in 808AD the now thriving port city of Hamburg boasts a teeming population of nearly two million, and is regarded as the capital of northern Germany. How did this come to be? It was time to find out.
I decided to check out the Hafen City and was pleased to find an area clearly steeped in history. I found a captivating mix of buildings and warehouses new and old, revealing a picture of centuries of industry and prosperity. The countless bridges, canals, walk and water ways tell their own story of Hamburg's growth and importance as a port city, as well as the global influences Hamburg would have been exposed to over the years.
Having been told of the many museums and places to see in the Hafen City, I faced a dilemma of where to visit next. To one of the museums where I could learn of the importance of the harbour, smugglers, pirates and the colourful maritime history that accompanies any port city? Or perhaps a trip on a canal boat to visit some of the most picturesque places that the area has to offer? But what of the lives of these people? The truths, half-truths, myths, legends and downright lies handed down over the years? It was as I was happily wandering along the Mattentwiete bridge that I saw something else that piqued my interest; just in front of me was the Hamburg Dungeon. It was time to explore the darker side of Hamburg.
I paid the entrance fee and posed for the customary welcome photo with my head in the stocks (a medieval punishment device). The outcome was an overly happy looking girlfriend and translator holding a wicked looking axe just above my neck. We were then ushered through to a rickety old elevator by a witch replete with shrunken head on stick and a shrill, cackling (and slightly painful) laugh. It wasn't long until we were introduced to some of the inhabitants of the dungeon, namely the claw, the tongue tearer and the jaw breaker among others. These terrible instruments were used on luckless inhabitants of Hamburg throughout the middle ages.
With the tone set for more grisly times ahead, we advanced with just a little trepidation towards the Inquisition Court. Here, several members of our party were plucked away and forced to stand trial in front of the Roman Catholic Church for witchcraft, devil worshipping and other heinous crimes. No matter how well the accused pleaded their cases, all were sentenced to death by the ruthless (and well acted) judge. Minus several poor victims, we moved on to explore more of the dungeon. We learned more about some of the other events that have helped to shape Hamburg over the years; two great fires in 1284 and 1842 which almost razed the city to the ground, and several disastrous floods that ruined large areas of the hapless city. The great plague, or Black Death, also struck the city in 1350 and killed some sixty percent of the ill-fated citizens. We also learned of the tale of the infamous Klaus Störtebecker, a notorious 14th and 15th Century pirate. Evading capture for years, he was eventually caught off the German coast and sentenced to death. At his execution he made a macabre pact with his captors: However many of his crew that his headless body could walk past after being executed would be freed. The legend goes that eleven of his men were cut loose and saved.
Ninety minutes and innumerable myths and truths later, the dungeon shifted into a mini theme park. A short water ride depicted scenes from the fateful floods, and was followed by a freefall drop to experience the feeling of… hanging! What else would you expect from such a gory backdrop of history?
Emerging from the gloomy dungeons into the bright sunlight of modern day Hamburg, we quickly agreed that the Hamburg Dungeon was an informative and most entertaining afternoon out. So if you want to know more about the darker side of Hamburg's twelve hundred years of history in just ninety minutes, then I suggest you get yourself down to the Hafen City for a look around. Who knows what you might uncover?
Name: Dave Bell
Home city/country: Gloucester, England
Job: English trainer