The ‘other’ side of the river
Not only are the names similar, Hamburg's Wilhelmsburg quarter has much in common with Brooklyn's Williamsburg (or, perhaps more accurately, Williamsburg before gentrification drove out New York's students, artists and diverse communities). Much like Williamsburg, Wilhelmsburg is on the ‘other’ side of the river. And like the Williamsburg of 2004, Wilhelmsburg is home to many different cultures, young people, artists and students, and is dominated more by old factories than fancy high-rises. Life in Wilhelmsburg is still relatively affordable (as was the Williamsburg of yore) and just a proverbial ‘bridge-or-tunnel’ away from the city centre. While tourist attractions are less obvious than north of the Elbe, they're nevertheless there. And last but not least, there’s a professional basketball team in Wilhelmsburg, and it just so happens that their logo resembles a certain team from Brooklyn.
Wilhelmsburg quarter is Hamburg’s largest quarter and has the sixth-highest number of 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. There's a lot to attract them to Wilhelmsburg, including the late 19th century Gründerzeit architecture, cozy pubs and bars, and unique riverside nature. Wilhelmsburg’s skyline is dominated by factory chimneys and cranes from the nearby harbour instead of splendid bell towers or fancy hotels. There is a certain change of perspective in Wilhelmsburg: people here are largely ‘on the outside looking in’ — and they like it that way. Living on this lively and multicultural island rather than in a 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 World War II bunker-turned-power plant, doesn’t just dispatch enough renewable energy to power large parts of Wilhelmsburg: at 30 metres in height, the bunker’s café also offers the best view over Wilhelmsburg.
History and nature reserves
Wilhelmsburg has much more to offer than you might first think: 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. Additionally, 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 nature reserve is a fully intact freshwater mudflat area. The forests and swamps are the most bio-diverse area in all of Hamburg and with a bit of luck, you can even spot eagles there. At Rhee nature reserve, beavers and kingfishers have found a home in Hamburg.
And then there are the Hamburg Towers, a relatively new professional basketball team that advanced to the first division in 2019. The squad brings high-flying dunks to the ever-packed Edeloptics.de arena in the heart of Wilhelmsburg.