Hamburg: Beyond the Green Capital

January 12, 2017



Christmas tree on the Inner Alster Lake (Binnenalster)

IMAGE: / Jörg Modrow

In 2011, Hamburg became the second city to receive the European Green Capital award by the EU Commission; beating 34 other European cities to win the title. Five years on, and the Green Capital is still very much in the mainstream of Hamburg life. One of the reasons for that is the way in which the city capitalised on the award and advertised itself extensively as a European Green Capital. It set up an Info Pavilion, which was visited not only by tourists, but also by locals, who could get information about events and learn more about the Green Capital projects. Further information points were also installed throughout the wider region.


Hamburg’s residents subsequently became very aware of what the Green Capital Award meant and were generally very supportive of the city’s endeavours to forge a sustainable future for itself. Hamburg’s citizens continue to see themselves as active participants in the city’s quest to go green. For instance, every year there is a spring-cleaning campaign called “Hamburg Cleans Up.” During its tenure as European Green Capital, more than 850 action groups involving 53,000 people took part in the campaign. Today there are 1,105 action groups involving 65,000 people.





Taking a stroll through HafenCity

IMAGE: / Roberto Kai Hegeler

Hamburg also worked with other European cities in The Train of Ideas. This was quite literally a train of 7 carriages that went across 10 countries to 17 different cities, including Zürich, Barcelona, Marseilles, Paris, Vienna, Oslo and Antwerp. Representatives from Hamburg opened the exhibition in each city, which focused on how European cities can further their sustainable, environmentally-friendly policies. It received an impressive 70,000 visitors on its travels.


Hamburg now enjoys close connections with Copenhagen, Stockholm, Nantes and Bristol, and other European Green Capital winners. There are frequent visits between these cities to discuss the common challenges they all face. Having these close connections means they are also at an advantage when it comes to funding, and many applications for projects involving Green Capitals have been successfully awarded.




Hahnheide near Trittau

IMAGE: / Ottmar Heinze

Grassroots sustainability


As well as developing the urban areas of the city, Hamburg is also investing in grassroots ecological improvements through the auspices of the Elbe Habitat Foundation. The Foundation aims to permanently enhance the ecological status of the Elbe estuary. Typical projects include shore restorations, enhancement of dyke forelands and aquatic areas; ultimately aiming to preserve the valuable habitat for animals and plants that belong to the Elbe region. The Elbe Habitat Foundation was set up in 2011, and within the last 5 years it has set up 40 projects, proving the success of the stakeholders’ cooperation.



Hamburg is colloquially known as the Green Metropolis on the Waterfront, and is making every effort to maintain that status. The city is defined by the Elbe, the port, and its multitude of canals and waterways. However, these also pose problems because of the potential threat of flood and associated hazards. Thankfully, flood control is one of the key ways in which Hamburg is advancing its sustainability journey. Over the next 20 to 25 years, dykes will be built to protect against storms, as Hamburg is bracing itself for the realities of climate change. By the time Hamburg won the Green Capital award, it had already reinforced 98% of the entire flood defence line. It is expected that this project will be completed by the end of 2016.


The StadtRAD city bike provides a healthy and eco-friendly way to get around Hamburg

IMAGE: / Cornelius Kalk

Sustainable tourism


As well as being a city attractive to investors, and an outstanding example to Europe in how to utilise sustainable energy sources, Hamburg is also a cultural hub and an appealing tourist destination. Home to 300 cultural institutions, including 60 museums and 45 theatres, Hamburg offers a broad cultural landscape. As a culturally diverse city it attracts a wide variety of people of all ages; from families to couples to individuals to business visitors; there is something for everyone in Hamburg. These range from the Miniatur Wunderland, to the breath-taking Church of St Michael, to the good old bedrock of international tourism; the Hamburg Zoo. Hamburg even has a selection of beaches perfect for sunbathing on a lazy summer afternoon, whilst tourists can also experience world-class food later on in the evening at the three-star Michelin restaurant, ‘The Table’. And of course, during the wintertime, Hamburg’s Christmas markets are second to none.


The beautiful Christmas Market

IMAGE: / Christian O. Bruch

For those who enjoy some retail therapy, Hamburg has a number of shopping centres that will suit every budget. You can stroll along Hamburg’s boulevards and browse around designer stores such as Chanel and Prada. For Christmas-lovers who missed the Christmas Markets, Weihnachten on Mundsburger Damm is a store that stocks Christmas articles throughout the year.


Exhibition stand at MIPIM

IMAGE: / Stefan Groenveld

It is interesting to note, however, that tourism in Hamburg has increased since it won the title of European Green Capital. Over the last 5 years, the number of foreign tourists staying overnight in Hamburg has increased by over 24%. This is largely because of the range of activities and attractions on offer in the city. Of course, a further boost to tourism comes from the fact that the high quality of life that Hamburg has to offer.  This is partly down to the economic prosperity that environmental projects have brought to the city. Though tourism was not a specific aim of the bid for European Green Capital, it is certainly a positive outcome, and serves as a good reminder to the rest of the world that you can do the right thing by the environment and make money at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

In a world where climate change can no longer be ignored, Hamburg is a city which is carving a dynamic new future for itself based on sustainable values. The Green Capital award in 2011 did a lot to bring that to peoples’ attention. Five years on, it is abundantly clear that Hamburg is still in the vanguard of international environmental protection, and is a city which has a major influence on what it truly means to go green.






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