Move over Paris Plage. Although media reports heap praise upon its strip of sun, Seine and sand, the North European city that has a better claim to be the spiritual home of the urban beach is Hamburg. Every April tens of thousands of tonnes of sand are imported as miniature seaside paradises appear in the heart of Germany’s second city. The doors open at the end of May and so begins another summer of beach bar hopping Hamburg-style.
Having spent their weekends on sandy strips beside the River Elbe since the late-1800s, Hamburg residents have long known about urban beach culture. But the reason why no other German city does the Stadtstrand (city beach) with such panache comes down to character. That Hamburg is simultaneously a sophisticated media metropolis and a rollicking port city produces a beach bar scene that ranges from glamour to grunge without sacrificing the key element – good times. Think sand, sausages and Strandkörbe (traditional wicker seats) to a soundtrack of funk and house beats. Ibiza it is not, but then nor is it trying to be.
Your flip-flops on, head to the river in port-turned-nightlife district St Pauli to begin at Strand Pauli (Hafenstr. 89). A year-round institution near the ferry port, it combines retro lampshades, castaway style and views of the ninth largest container port in the world – Hamburg in a nutshell. Next stop west on the beach bar crawl is slicker Hamburg City Beach Club (Grosse Elbstr. 279), all potted palms, day beds and aviator sunglasses, from where it’s a short walk to the former docks in Altona. Behind the beach volleyball pitch are relaxed Hamburg del Mar (Van-der-Smissen-Str. 4) and Lago Bay (same address), which aspires towards Ibiza but scores most for a small swimming pool. A tip wherever you go: sunset is popular, so arrive early, buy a drink and settle in.
Not that it’s all imported sand and urban chic. At the end of the road in Övelgönne further west still is Altona’s Strandperle (Schulberg 2). Sure it’s a glorified shack, but no one minds when it’s on a genuine river beach to make Paris Plage look like a glorified sandpit. Now, what was the German for “c’est magnifique”?