“Is Hannover the most boring city in Germany?” news weekly magazine Der Spiegel once asked. In a word, no, although the capital of Lower Saxony can appear every bit a faceless modern metropolis. When five of the world’s ten largest trade fairs roll into town, up to 800,000 businesspeople wheel, deal, then disappear, the majority probably unaware that they had been in a state capital which, from 1815 to 1866, ruled a kingdom in its own right. Eighty-eight air raids reduced the city from elegant aristocrat to war-torn widow and, with ninety percent of the centre reduced to rubble, the city patched up where possible, but largely wiped clean the slate.
It was some past to write off, too. The seventeenth-century dukes of Calenburg revitalized the former Hanseatic League member, and Ernst August ushered in a golden age for his royal capital in the late 1600s. Court academic Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz wowed Europe with his mathematical and philosophical theories and the arts blossomed, as did a Baroque garden seeded by the regent’s wife, Sophia; Hannover’s prize, it ranks among the finest in Europe. More significantly for British history, Sophia’s parentage as granddaughter of James I of England saw her son, plain old Georg Ludwig, metamorphose into George I of Great Britain in 1714 to begin the House of Hannover’s 120-year stint on the British throne.
Even if the city’s EXPO2000 exhibition turned out to be something of a damp squib – it attracted less than half the forty million people hoped for – that it happened at all sums up a vigorous, ambitious city. It’s a place with the bottle to reinvent itself through street art, from the Nanas at Hohen Ufer to the wacky bus- and tramstops commissioned to cheer up drab streets before EXPO. Similarly, there are some vibrant art museums and a bar and nightlife scene that is anything but boring. What it lacks is a landmark. Wartime destruction, then postwar planning, conspired to erase the coherence of Hannover’s core. Instead, the city may be at its best outside the centre: around the Maschsee lake for its art galleries or in the celebrated gardens, to the northwest. And it’s at its most fun in outlying neighbourhoods: in gentrifying restaurant and residential quarter List, seedy bar strip, Steintor, or in multicultural hipsters’ quarter, Linden-Nord. It’s a fair bet Der Spiegel didn’t visit.