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Exploring Altona – Best things to do in Hamburg’s iconic district
Hamburg-Altona is a colourful, edgy, diverse and easygoing neighbourhood. It’s small enough for everyone to know each other, yet big enough to still get lost in its quirky streets, full of life and laughter. On cold winter days this welcoming atmosphere doesn’t change, and the unique attitude remains intact as Altona’s inhabitants continue to visit the weekly outdoor markets. Not even the northern breeze can deter the locals as they flock down to the legendary Strandperle beach bar on the banks of the Elbe for a glass of wine, accompanied by one of Hamburg’s best Matjes fish rolls. History is written into the many corners that link Altona’s flourishing present to its complex past. Get going and discover the forces and people that are pushing the evolution of a once abandoned and neglected district into one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Hamburg.
Situated in the most western part of Hamburg, Altona’s many renovated buildings, independent shops, unique social hang-out spots, its magical harbour side and proximity to the town centre make it the new hot-spot address in Hamburg.
The district’s past reveals a sense of individualism. Altona came under the administration of the Danish monarchy in 1640 and this lasted for almost two centuries. Indeed, it was not integrated into the city of Hamburg until 1938. Right in the heart of Altona, in Ottensen, you can experience this sense of independence for yourself. Particularly on the street called Zeißstrasse, this history is reflected in the architecture of the little three-door Danish-style houses. Take a look at these heritage listed buildings before the next crucial stop awaits you around the corner: Torrefaktum Kaffeerösterei (Bahrenfelder Str. 237), a local coffee roaster that provides an incredible range of specialty coffee. Expect balanced, chocolaty, full flavours, varying of course according to the blend of the day. Sweets, homemade treats, other beverages and a cosy atmosphere are good reasons to spend your morning here.
Once you’re sufficiently caffeinated, continue and stroll back to central Altona and drift down the smaller side streets, perhaps even stumbling upon a cosy and very inviting Italian focacceria called Bonassola (Große Rainstraße 20). The enticing smell of freshly made focaccia will lure you down the steps, where the very hospitable staff serve authentic delicious food, just as mouth-watering and delicious as in the Ligurian region of Italy. Around the corner you’ll find a number of Altona’s specialty shops, including Kopf und Kragen (Stangestraße 3), an independent and customized store specializing in premium headwear and sneakers. A short walk away you can find FKIDS (Ottenser Hauptstraße 37), yet another independent shop with a vintage, boho, gypsy-style style selection of women’s clothes and accessories.
When walking around the streets, it’s clear that Altona is home to a diverse range of occupants, as the locals have no clearly definable characteristics other than a sense of freedom to be themselves. A strong sense of acceptance and liberation among its people has allowed Altona to grow into a multicultural melting-pot where they can feel at ease, with no need to adhere to any social pressures.
‘Altona has a very open sense of style, from fashionistas to alternative, it’s all mixed’, says Adriano dos Anjos, a Brazilian-born stylist who runs his own salon in central Altona. ‘The shops and cafés on every corner have a different story to tell. In Altona people don’t want to fit in. When you’re here you become part of it with your own style. There are no rules.’
As an aspiring singer and successful hair and make-up stylist, Adriano runs his salon within Hamburg’s legendary stage school, close to Altona’s main station. Having witnessed the borough’s increasing popularity over the past years, its rapid transformation and the greater attention paid to it has never ceased to surprise him. ‘A lot changed in the last 7 years…’ says Adriano, as he reflects back on his time since moving to Hamburg. ‘Altona used to be a kind of neglected place where not many people would want to live. Now it’s becoming a more cool spot to be.’
Among Altona’s many charms is its strong sense of community. This can be seen at any of the weekly markets held at Spritzenplatz, where locals and tourists alike come to eat and buy regional food and produce all year round. The surrounding central streets are narrow with hardly any traffic, leaving plenty of room for pedestrians to wander around freely. As the nightlife is generally not considered its strong point, Altona’s heart lies in these weekly markets, as well as its smaller cafés and bars. These welcoming venues are embraced by locals, who often sprawl out onto the streets to socialize while enjoying their beverages. One of the most popular such venues is Aurel (Bahrenfelder Str. 157). For a fantastic drink, check out the beautiful Rehbar (Ottenser Hauptstrasse 52) and don’t miss the Familien Eck (Friedensallee 2-4), a vibrant pub that serves Astra, gin and plays good music. Although the nightlife in Altona can’t compare to the neighbouring Reeperbahn district, check out Fabrik (Barnerstraße 36) for its diverse range of events, live music and indoor markets.
As Altona’s future is guaranteed to see ever-increasing popularity and rising rental prices, Adriano hopes that regardless of this change its quirky charm and sense of openness can continue to flourish. For those looking to make the most of their time in Altona, he believes it’s best to go in with an open mind and just take everything as it comes. ‘The best way to experience Altona is to really just be here and free yourself from stereotypes. Getting lost in Altona is the best way to discover it.’
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