Forty-four years after the Great Fire of 1842 razed the Altstadt, city fathers began work on their morale-booster, a monument to inspire Hamburg’s citizens and embody her phoenix-like revival. If the neo-Renaissance Rathaus oozes civic self-confidence today, it must have positively swaggered when the final stone was laid in 1897. It isn’t shy about boasting either: above a parade of German emperors are statues of the tradesmen who won the city’s prosperity; protectress Hammonia casts an imperial gaze from above the balcony; and triumphant classical figures and wreaths of plenty adorn the bases of two flagpoles crowned with gold ships. Hard to believe, then, that only four thousand oak poles prevent this bombastic pile from subsiding into the sandbank beneath. The senate and city government still dictate policy from the Rathaus’s 647 rooms, a taste of whose opulence can be seen on 45-minute guided tours. With a coffered ceiling and oversized murals of the city’s founding, the Great Hall is a knockout. At the back of the Rathaus, on Adolphsplatz, you’ll find the Börse, the current incarnation of Germany’s first stock market (1558), and a revealing symbol of mercantile priorities at the heart of government.

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