The Elbphilarmonie – lovingly nicknamed ‘Elphi’ by locals – is one of the most unique concert halls in the world, both architecturally and acoustically. Nowhere in Germany can you experience large classical music concerts in such an intimate manner as in Elphi’s Grand Hall, where nobody in the audience sits further than 30 meters from the stage. The elegant Recital Hall is smaller and more classic in design, but no less exquisite in its acoustics and selection of performers.
Underneath the glittering glass facade of the Elbphilharmonie, in the bowels of the historic warehouse that serves as its base, hide the seven Kaistudios. The biggest of the studios serves as Elphilharmonie’s third (and smallest) concert hall, a special venue for listening to contemporary and experimental music. The remaining six studios are used for music education and rehearsals and are home to a very special museum – the World of Instruments – where kids and adults alike can try playing a tune.
Hamburg is the third biggest city for musicals in the world, beaten only by New York and London. Current shows include The Lion King, which has been delighting audiences young and old for over 15 years in a theatre on the bank of the River Elbe. A theatre next door houses a brand new addition to the city’s musical scene: the Broadway musical Mary Poppins. These and other musicals attract thousands of visitors every year, but be warned: the performances are exclusively in German.
Every year, Hamburg hosts several music festivals. The season kicks off with the Elbjazz Festival on the first weekend of June. Other highlights include the MS Dockville – an alternative festival of music and art taking place in August – and the Reeperbahn Festival in September, which is Germany’s biggest club festival and a place for music and digital industries to collaborate and showcase their work.
While Reeperbahn Festival is the biggest live-music event in the city’s club scene, Hamburg’s clubs and bars offer excellent live performances all year round. The most popular destination is the St. Pauli district, home to iconic locations such as the Gruenspan and the Grosse Freiheit 36, with the adjacent Kaiserkeller. Nearby, in the more alternative and indie Sternschanze district, you’ll find popular concert locations such as the Kulturhaus 73 and the cult underground venue Astra Stube.
Hamburg has a long love affair with jazz music, and venues across the city hold weekly jam sessions. The oldest jazz club – The Cotton Club – will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019, and continues to host world-famous musicians. The Birdland is best known for its Thursday jam sessions and Speakeasy Wednesdays. A multitude of other clubs, bars, and event locations host regular live jazz concerts, keeping the city’s spirit scatting.
Some of the city’s best live music can be listened to outdoors while enjoying a cold drink in the bright sunshine. The biggest outdoor venue, the legendary Stadtpark Open Air, has been hosting live concerts for over a hundred years in the middle of Hamburg’s best-loved park. Open-air concerts are also an integral part of the numerous street festivals that take place from the end of April to early September.
It should come as no surprise that one of Europe’s biggest ports is also the perfect place to enjoy live music on the water. Two of the most exciting places to experience a floating concert are the MS Stubnitz, a ship rebuilt as an alternative music, art, and performance space and the Feuerschiff, a former lightship transformed into a restaurant, hotel and a jazz club.
While the main attraction of Hamburg’s classical music scene is the Elbphilharmonie, the city has more to offer those who appreciate live music of the more orchestral or classical variety. The beautiful Laeiszhalle, built in 1908, is counted among the best concert halls in Europe, and regularly welcomes internationally renowned artists. Or check out the Kampnagel, Europe’s largest production centre for contemporary performing arts, which is known for its more experimental and modern approach to classical music performances.
If you fancy something more mainstream, the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg regularly hosts Grammy-award-winning artists such as Shakira, Justin Timberlake or U2. With a capacity of up to 16,000 people, this stadium experience is available almost every night of the week.
Unknown to some, Hamburg is famous as the birthplace of the Beatles’ fame. Allegedly, between 1960 and 1962, the young Beatles played more live music hours in the clubs of Hamburg than anywhere else in the world throughout their entire career. John Lennon once said: ‘I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.’ Today the city is known for fostering musical talent and is home to up-and-coming performers such as Nena and Jan Delay, as well as bands like Scooter, Boy, and Tocotronic.