When the Beatles arrived in Hamburg in August 1960 for their first foreign tour, they agreed to a 48-night gig at the tiny Indra Club in the St. Pauli neighborhood. At the time, some city buildings still showed damage from World War II, and St. Pauli was known as a rowdy red-light district. The warehouses and sailor bars near the harbor were rough-and-tumble places to be avoided.
Today, a small red-light district still exists along with many music clubs, and several Beatles-themed tours take groups to the band’s former haunts, but St. Pauli and neighboring Schanzen boom with design studios, boutique hotels, outdoor cafés and restaurants. The new Ratsherrn Brewery offers group tours, excellent lunch and dinner menus and an outdoor beer garden.
In the past decade much of Hamburg, one of Germany’s most prosperous cities, has revitalized. New hotels and office buildings gentrified the former gritty riverside warehouse districts, and HafenCity remains Europe’s largest and most innovative urban redevelopment site. Nearby lies the restored Speicherstadt area, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron designed the Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall), a stunning 12-story glass structure set on top of a former brick warehouse overlooking the Elbe River on the western tip of HafenCity.
The Elbphilharmonie, whose 1,100 curved glass panels reflect the sky, the water and surrounding buildings, is opening in stages, with a full grand opening expected in January 2017. Hamburg’s most photographed landmark will surely become a focus for MICE groups. The Grand Hall will seat 2,100; and the NDR Symphony Orchestra will occupy space in the middle of the hall, with the audience rising up around it. A separate Recital Hall features 550 seats, and the 150-seat Kaistudio, in the former warehouse below, will host experimental music, lectures and workshops.
The 244-room Westin Hamburg, to open in November 2016, will include 8,900 square feet of high-tech meeting space in seven meeting rooms and a ballroom, all within the Elbphilharmonie’s soaring blue-gray panes of glass. The Plaza, a magnificent space between the warehouse and the glass structure, will open one month later and contain the hotel lobby, a bistro and an information desk. Accessed by a curved, illuminated, tunnel-like escalator 246 feet long, the Plaza will offer a 360-degree view over city and harbor.
Construction started in 2001 on HafenCity, an ambitious $14 billion urban redevelopment project conceived in 1997, and it should be fully completed in 2025. The area already houses glittering corporate headquarters, new hotels, restaurants, residential apartment buildings, a university and a new metro stop.
The world’s top architects, including Richard Meier, David Chipperfield and Rem Koolhaas, designed structures in HafenCity, and the project increased the size of Hamburg’s downtown by 40 percent. With its riverside location, bridges over narrow waterways, a nearby cruise ship terminal and exciting architecture, HafenCity transformed into one of the city’s most popular leisure and business districts, and more than 12,000 residents will eventually live here.
Hamburg offers numerous MICE properties throughout. The 5-star Reichshof Hamburg re-opened in May after a $34 million restoration. Built in 1910, the property — now part of the Curio Collection by Hilton — was exquisitely restored to its early grandeur, retaining its original Carrara marble columns and tile flooring, Art Deco gilt chandeliers and handcrafted walnut paneling in the Slowman restaurant and nine meeting rooms. All 278 guestrooms and suites, just a five-minute walk to the central rail station, are large and include complimentary WiFi.
The 5-star, 157-room historic Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten on the western side of the Outer Alster, the larger of two freshwater downtown lakes, offers 6,700 square feet of function space and four excellent restaurants, including the Michelin 2-star Haerlin. The nicely designed, 192-room Ameron Hotel Speicherstadt opened in 2014 in the restored coffee exchange building within the Speicherstadt UNESCO Heritage site. A full-service restaurant overlooks a waterway, and a glass-covered walking bridge connects second-floor meeting rooms to the main hotel building. The 252-room Park Hyatt occupies the top seven floors of a restored Art Deco warehouse, within walking distance of shops and cultural venues, and features nine multifunctional conference rooms and a private corporate dining room.
The downtown Le Méridien Hamburg offers 284 guestrooms with artwork, high-tech amenities and 13 meeting rooms. The Scandic Hamburg Emporio, part of the fast-growing Swedish hotel chain, features Scandinavian design with floor-to-ceiling windows and oak floors in all guestrooms, plus an excellent fitness center with women-only and mixed saunas. H20 is a full-service lobby restaurant, and eight high-tech meeting rooms occupy the top floor.
In 2016, the deluxe Grand Hotel Fontenay will open with 130 suites in a nine-story building overlooking the lake. The glazed surfaces and white ceramic façade make this one of the city’s most modern hotels; its upscale restaurant, infinity pool and unobstructed lake view will attract high-end seminars and conferences.
Off-site meeting venues include the International Maritime Museum in a restored 1878 warehouse in HafenCity, offering the world’s largest private collection of maritime memorabilia, including 1,000 large ship models; 36,000 handcrafted miniature ships; and a cargo ship simulator allowing guests to steer a 1,500-foot supertanker through a busy harbor.
Nord Event offers a wide range of Hamburg venues, including the Panorama Deck, one of the highest event spaces in the city, with more than 15,000 square feet and great views from the glass-enclosed 23rd floor of centrally located Emporio Tower. The beautiful Hamburg & Germania Rowing Club, the oldest rowing club in Europe, provides catering and meeting space overlooking Alster Lake. And at the unique VLET Kochschule, groups of up to 50 can cook and eat nouvelle German cuisine with Hamburg’s top chefs.
MICE-related travel to Hamburg accounts for about 2.5 million overnights per year, and the Hamburg Convention Bureau notes the majority of MICE events are related to the financial services, medicine and medical technology, IT and communications, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, media and publishing, and logistics and transportation industries.
Congress Center Hamburg will close from the end of 2016 to mid-2019 for a major renovation and expansion, reopening with 129,000 square feet of exhibition space; 129,000 square feet of multifunctional foyer space; and room for 12,000 seats in up to 50 halls. The CCH is physically connected to the 556-room Radisson Blu hotel, a good accommodations option for MICE events using the Congress Center.
While the CCH is closed, large MICE events take place at Hamburg Messe, a sprawling trade fair site comprising 23 conference rooms seating 12,500 people, with 1.1 million square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibition space. It is located just 10 minutes’ walk (two minutes by taxi) from CCH.
The Hamburg Convention Bureau assists MICE planners with finding the right contacts for events, including assistance with procuring hotel room blocks and finding unique sites for incentive groups and qualified partners for green meetings and local touring.
Hamburg’s application to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games compares favorably to the other contenders, including Paris, Rome, Budapest and Los Angeles. “We believe that Hamburg’s sustainability — in the environment, socially and economically — gives us a decisive edge in the selection,” said Jens Kerstan, Hamburg’s senator for environment and energy. The Olympic Committee will make its decision in 2017. With an international airport 6.5 miles from downtown, an extensive public transport system, funds to support the effort and a harbor island just south of downtown designated for Olympic development, Hamburgers are optimistic their city will host the 2024 Olympics.
United Airlines’ environmentally friendly efforts lessen the impact on local U.S. communities.
Experience a big-city hotel stay that doesn’t feel like your typical urban visit at Chicago’s Claridge House, nestled in the sought-after Gold Coast neighborhood. The hotel’s sophisticated décor and serene residential ambience foster the atmosphere of an oasis amid the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolis.
The addition of 50 high-end Explorer Cabins upped Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite’s game in the rustic-luxury market by attracting those who want upscale amenities but desire an outdoorsy mountain experience — “cabineering,” as Tenaya calls it, or roughing it in the woods without the rough part.
The Boeing 737 MAX cancellations will continue through the new year and at least one airline is keeping them grounded even longer to avoid disruptions down the line.
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Holland America’s Club Orange premium amenities program is available on all ships as of this month. Previously only available on nine, Club Orange provides guests with stateroom upgrades, access to onboard events and extra privileges such as a dedicated concierge hotline. Newly available through Club Orange is the upgrade guests receive to the best available stateroom at the time of purchase. Guests also now enjoy a surprise event during the cruise, ranging from a behind-the-scenes tour to a private meet-and-greet with onboard entertainers.