The ‘other’ side of the river
Not only do the names resemble each other closely: Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Hamburg’s Wilhelmsburg quarter have many more things in common. Much like Williamsburg, Wilhelmsburg is on the ‘other’ side of the river. Both are home to many different cultures, young people and students. Both are dominated more by old factories than fancy high-rises. It is in Wilhelmsburg and Williamsburg, where life is still relatively affordable and from where the city centre is reached via the proverbial ‘bridges-and-tunnels’. Tourist attractions are less obviously found but nevertheless there. And last but not least, there’s a new professional basketball team in Wilhelmsburg, and it just so happened that their logo resembles a certain team from Brooklyn.
Wilhelmsburg quarter is Hamburg’s largest quarter and has the sixth-most inhabitants. It is built into the Elbe river, on Germany’s largest river island. 50,000 islanders live here with one quarter of them younger than 25 years old. It is this young urban lifestyle that also recalls the more affordable parts of New York City. In Williamsburg on New York’s East river of course, many young hipsters have settled down and today roam record stores, bars and art exhibitions. In Wilhelmsburg on the other hand, people came for the late 19th century Gründerzeit architecture, cozy pubs and bars and a unique riverside nature. Wilhelmsburg’s skyline is dominated by cranes from the nearby harbour and factory chimneys, instead of splendid bell towers or fancy hotels. There is a certain change of perspective in Wilhelmsburg: Much like in Brooklyn, people are ‘on the outside looking in’ - And they like it that way: living in the lively and multicultural rather than chic part of the city is a question of choice in many cases. And it isn’t like the city is far away. A 12 minute ferry ride will carry you over to Landungsbrücken in the heart of St. Pauli quarter. Other possible ways to cross the river are the bridges and tunnels, most notably the Old Elbe Tunnel landmark with its beautiful tiled walls. For tours around Wilhelmsburg, the bus line 13 is the best choice. It earned the nickname ‘Wilde 13’ and it carries you to all the major sights in the quarter: The market on Stübenplatz square takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is worth a visit. The ‘Energiebunker’, a former WWII bunker-turned-power plant, doesn’t only dispatch enough renewable energy to power large parts of Wilhelmsburg: At 30 metres in height, the bunker’s Cafe <Vju> also offers the best view over Wilhelmsburg.
History and natural reserves
There are some aspects in which Wilhelmsburg has even more to offer than its New York namesake: its history, for one. The windmill ‘Johanna’ from 1875 and the Elbinsel Wilhelmsburg museum, housed in an old guildhall from 1724, represent old Wilhelmsburg in impressive fashion. Secondly, Wilhelmsburg has many green areas. There is the ‘Inselpark’, formerly used as grounds for the international garden exhibition. Sheep graze on the green dykes that line the riverbanks. Heuckenlock natural reserve is a fully intact freshwater mudflat area. The forests and swamplands are the most biodiverse area in all of Hamburg and with a bit of luck, you can even spot eagles there. At Rhee natural reserve, beavers and kingfishers have found a home in Hamburg.
And then there are the Hamburg Towers, a newly-established second division professional basketball team that brings high-flying dunks to the Inselparkhalle arena, in the heart of Wilhelmsburg. The arena is always packed and it is only a matter of time until the Towers will advance to the first division. It is hardly surprising that the Towers’ simple black-and-white logo strongly resembles the functional design of the Brooklyn Nets, who, again, play their home games only a few blocks south of Williamsburg.