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The history of the city

The imposing brick edifice was designed by architect Fritz Schumacher and opened in 1922. Today the building boasts the largest city history exhibition in Germany. Numerous exhibits and installations as well as architectural relics from the Middle Ages and Modern Era offer a historical journey from the birth of Hamburg around 800 up until the present. Here you will find everything worth knowing about Hammaburg, 14th and 15th century pirates, and Hamburg’s evolution into one of the largest and most important harbour cities in Northern Europe.

In the 20th Century Hamburg exhibition, we also inform you about the most recent past. You will encounter artifacts from historical events in your lifetime. The presentation on Jewish life in Hamburg from the end of the 16th- to the 20th century is also particularly worth seeing.

The collection was supplemented and its presentation concept innovated continuously over the past century. Topics like urban development, the harbour, everyday life and culture are presented comprehensively and illustrated by elaborate models, large installations and a wide range of historical objects as well as pictorial and text documents.

Since the first of January 2008 the Museum for Hamburg History and its off-site facility Kramer Widow’s Apartment (Kramer-Witwen-Wohnung) belong to the Stiftung Historische Museen Hamburg.

The Millerntor Guard House and the Museum for Hamburg History 1945, just after the end of the world war.
The Millerntor Guard House and the Museum for Hamburg History 1945, just after the end of the world war.
Kramer Widow’s Apartment
Kramer Widow’s Apartment. Photo: Michael Zapf/Hamburg Museum

History of the museum

The Museum for Hamburg History was founded in 1908. In 1922, it moved to its present building, designed and built between 1914 and 1922 by the leading Hamburg architect and municipal planning director, Fritz Schumacher. The museum was erected on the site of the former Bastion Henricus, a section of the baroque fortifications which had been built between 1616 and 1625 by the Dutchman Jan van Valckenborgh to render the city impregnable.

When building the museum, the facades were decorated with preserved architectural fragments of Hamburg townhouses and with the statues of German emperors from Hamburg’s old town hall. Fragments of buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of 1842 or by development projects like the erection of Speicherstadt were also incorporated in the structures of the courtyard and exhibition halls. These fragments were the original holdings in the collection of the Hamburg History Association and formed the museum‘s founding stock.

The Hamburg History Association was founded in 1839 and built up the “Collection of Hamburg Antiquities” which, along with architectural fragments, also included arms, armour, flags, uniforms and guild artefacts. The aim of the association was to promote awareness of the city’s history among the people of Hamburg. The association’s collection was nationalised in 1849 and on show in the basement of the Academic Gymnasium provisionally until the museum was opened.
It was already decided in 1906 to build the Museum of Hamburg History, and its first director, Otto Lauffer, was appointed in 1908. He remained in office until 1946 and was followed by the directors Walter Hävernick (1946), Jörgen Bracker (1976), Gisela Jaacks (2001) und Lisa Kosok (2008).

Exhibition collection of Hamburg antiquities. Figurine.
Exhibition collection of Hamburg antiquities. Figurine. Photo: Hans B. Hamburgmuseum
Exhibition collection of  Hamburg antiquities. Weapons.
Exhibition collection of Hamburg antiquities. Weapons. Photo: Hans B. Hamburgmuseum

Architectural elements and decorations

Since the Great Fire of 1842, elements from public and private buildings were saved from the rubble after events of this kind. More items were added in the course of the different demolition activities in the city centre. The collection therefore includes remnants of the main medieval churches, the oldest existing elements of timbered houses dating from 1524 and items from modern residential buildings.

Figurine at the Museum for Hamburg History in the 1950s.
Figurine at the Museum for Hamburg History in the 1950s.

Permanent exhibitions