10/20/2010 09:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Other Face of Hamburg (PHOTOS)


What comes to mind when someone mentions Hamburg?

A port city in the cold northern reaches of Germany with ubiquitous sex shops a short walk from the harbor?

That wouldn't be too far from the truth.

St. Pauli, considered Europe's largest amusement and red light district, offers all manner of enticements for people seeking carnal pleasures.

There's even a "Historische Hurentour" (Historical Whore's Tour) during which a female guide donning a 19th Century costume escorts visitors around the world of past and present prostitutes.

Funky exterior wall paintings of ships and pirates adorn buildings and hotels in that neighborhood, adding to its exotic flavor.

"On the tracks of the Beatles," a tour limited to 20 pre-registered participants at the conference I attended was, unfortunately, booked solid.

For this Beatles fan, it would have been fun to trace the places, people and events that brought the Beatles to fame following their first appearance in Hamburg in 1960.

But walking around, I came across an interesting array of landmarks, restaurants and pubs.

The first sign that struck me was a restaurant's price and size list: a 1.5-liter (0.39-gallon) pitcher of beer costing 9.50 Euros ($13.30).

Depending on one's gullet - and bladder - the house also offers a 3-liter (0.79-gallon) "tower" with the requisite faucet at the end, for a mere 19 Euros ($26.70).

But one shouldn't be misled by the X-rated abundance or stereotypical German manifestations.

There's another side to this city that was worth discovering while on a recent business trip.

Given the large Turkish community in Germany, it was inevitable to come across restaurants displaying Doner kebab super skewers in their windows, or bakeries offering delicious round "semeet" loaves with holes in the middle and covered in sesame seeds as well as countless sweet pastries.

But then again, in Germany one expects to have a juicy "bratwurst mit sauerkraut und kartoffelsalat."

Like other European cities, Hamburg has countless historical churches worth visiting.

St. Michaelis, built from 1751 to 1762, is one of the most noted Baroque churches in north Germany and its steeple is the Hanseatic city's landmark.

Hamburg is also known as the Venice of the North.

Its impressive network of canals may lack the gondolas of its Italian sister, but the view at dusk is pretty and romantic while standing on any number of foot paths and bridges dotting the city.

On one of our conference nights, the mayor welcomed 600 of us local and foreign guests at city hall.

Known officially as the Rathaus, the sandstone construction in neo-Renaissance style was built from 1886 to 1897.

It has 647 rooms - apparently six more than Buckingham Palace - boasts 20 large statues of emperors, and serves as the seat of the Hamburg Senate and city parliament.

Another evening was spent as guests of the Axel Springer Newspaper Division. Its Hamburger Abendblatt is the most widely read daily paper and the leading medium in and around Hamburg.

Its newsroom is considered the most modern in Europe.

Full circle to the water and its ever-present influence on the city's economy.

A fascinating half-day tour included a boat ride around Hamburg harbor, the largest German seaport, the second largest in Europe, and the second-largest container port in Europe.

With some 156,000 jobs directly and indirectly dependent on the port, it is the most important employer and main economic driver of the region.

There are plans to deepen the Elbe River that flows from Central Europe into the North Sea to enable even the new generations of containerships to call at Hamburg.

"Leben am Wasser" (living on the water) is one of Hamburg's most prestigious development projects, and a key component of any city is its culture centers.

Enter the new opera house being built on the waterfront.

Capping that day's sightseeing was an exclusive guided tour of Airbus Deutschland that included a briefing about the company and a visit to its hangars and facilities.

To say that a well traveled and slightly blasé passenger was impressed would be an understatement.

Seeing those giant birds being built was an education and is not to be missed.

But standing under an A380's engines and wings, which we were not allowed to photograph, was mind-boggling.

The plane can seat up to 500 passengers but is considered more ecology-oriented, environment-friendly and fuel-efficient than older models.

Germans have long been considered "green" and it was gratifying to see energy-generating wind towers perched 200 meters (656 feet) near a Hamburg highway.

The surprise came when I needed to replace batteries for my camera and discovered a choking 15 Euro ($20.84) price tag on a pack of four AA batteries.

I later discovered that the green pack meant they could be recharged and used many times over.