Felicity Long
Felicity Long

InsightThe city of Hamburg took a beating over the holidays as riots broke out in the streets over refugee rights. It was some of the worst unrest seen in the country in years, so much so that the U.S. Embassy in Berlin issued the following warning on Jan. 7: “U.S. Embassy Berlin informs U.S. citizens that as a result of violent protests in December, the Hamburg police have established a 24/7 restricted zone covering a large area of the city of Hamburg, including the city’s nightlife area.”

The restricted zone, which has since been lifted, limited access to the red light district of the Reeperbahn, the Old Town, St. Pauli and Altona Nord, including the Sternschanzen area or Rote Flora district, and required travelers to carry their passports with them or risk being detained or even searched by German police.

FelicityLongThe Twitter-verse immediately exploded with comments that ranged from skepticism about the need for police restrictions to queries about the lack of international media attention about the riots, especially in comparison to recent demonstrations in Greece and Turkey.

However, according to Guido Neumann of the Hamburg Tourist Board, “The situation has quieted down considerably. The attraction of Hamburg remains as strong as ever. We have not seen any cancellations or decrease in visitor arrivals due to the unrests. Scheduled events and tourism activities have at no time been affected, and we would like to assure our guests that Hamburg is a perfectly safe place to visit.”

Ricarda Lindner, regional manager of the German National Tourist Office, USA, agreed, adding: “The … protests [that took] place in Hamburg have not deterred or caused any cancellations or other issues for North American travelers at this time.”

Hamburg City HallAmid those assurances, the Hamburg Tourist Board launched an online Travel Agent Training Program on Jan. 7, the first program of its kind in Germany. The German port city was selected in response to an increase in visitors from North America. Specifically, from January to September 2013, U.S. overnights in the city rose by 15.4% over the previous year.

The new, interactive e-learning tool comprises four courses that focus on the city’s neighborhoods, as well as its culture, lifestyle and excursions.

Agents who complete the free, on-demand course receive a Hamburg Specialist certification, and those who do so this year are enrolled in a contest to win a five-day trip for two to Hamburg. The Hamburg Tourist Board expects to reach up to 1,000 agents during the first year.

So what is on tap in 2014 for American visitors to Germany’s second-largest city?

One draw is the BallinStadt Emigration Museum, which is mounting an exhibition about the HAPAG cruise company on the 100th anniversary of the Imperator ocean liner, once the largest ship in the world.

Also new is a permanent documentation center at the WWII Memorial at ruins of St. Nikolai church. Slated to open Sept. 1, the center will offer explanations in English as well as in German.

As to accommodations, Hamburg’s occupancy rate is the second highest in Germany. Since last year, the city marked the opening of 11 hotels, the most recent of which include the centrally located Henri Hotel Hamburg Downtown located in a historical building and the budget Bedpark Stellingen hotel.

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