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Living and Breathing Landmarks The Alster Swans

The swans on the Alster lakes have a special meaning for Hamburg — so don’t you dare to insult them.

The Alster Swans in Hamburg, Germany

The Alster Swans - Legendary Living and Breathing Landmarks

Hamburg has about 120 living and breathing landmarks. Everywhere on the Alster lakes and the canals of the city, majestic swans can be encountered from up-close. 

Each and every autumn, the precious swans on the Alster lakes are effortfully brought to their winter quarters in Eppendorf. This well-known ritual bears witness to the reputation that the beautiful aquatic birds enjoy in the city. One by one the 120 animals are picked up by boats and brought to Eppendorfer Mühlenteich. This pond north of the Alster offers everything a swan could ask for — from additional food to a set of underwater pumps to prevent the water from freezing over. In this way, the survival of these living and breathing Hamburg landmarks is secured. Swans live up to 24 years and spend their days in monogamous relationships with their partners. 

The Alster swans: a long tradition 

Hamburg without the swans seems hard to imagine. The close connection between the city and the animals has a long tradition. There’s even an old legend stating that Hamburg will remain free and economically-viable as long as there are still swans circling on the Alster lakes, and records show that there were regular publicly-funded payments for swan fodder as early as the 16th Century. 

In 1664 the swans received special protection through the Hamburg Senate. It has been prohibited by law to harm, to kill, or even to insult the birds ever since. 

Additionally, it has been a tradition to present swans to other cities or countries that have a special connection with the city of Hamburg, making the swans animal ambassadors of their home city.

Schwanenwesen - A department for the swans 

Since the 16th Century, the city of Hamburg has also been employing a special ranger whose sole task is to takes care of the swans. If a bird is abandoned, sick or injured, the ranger nurses the animal back to health. There is even a special Schwanenwesen (lit. ‘swan affairs’) department for this person — the only one of its kind in Germany. The job, which also involves the maintenance of the swans’ natural habitats, is often passed on from one generation to the next.

Alster Swans