St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg, in detail

St. Michael’s Church

I would say that Hamburg reminds me of a careless multimillionaire who, after an extra drink, begins to remember how he once lost everything.

And the more he drinks, the more sad details from his past life begin to surface. I found Hamburg flooded with Christmas lights, with mile-long boulevards busy with fair processions, at an hour when the whole city was hushed in anticipation of the holiday. December 25 – my wife and I decided to stop for three days in a huge port city of millions with stores and eateries not working on Christmas Eve. The lack of temptation to spend the whole day in one of the chic malls, which in Hamburg is still worth making time for, prompted us to find the strength to walk around the city for many hours. After Cologne I was mentally prepared to see another German city, raised from the ruins, in which only selectively restored from modern building materials cathedrals, the atmosphere of which evaporated in a hellish heat of World War II fires, as well as the will of the whole people, who built them so carefully, remind of its thousand-year history.

The first cathedral confirmed my fears. St. Michael’s Church certainly deserves the attention of travelers: there are hypertrophied dials of the largest tower clock in Germany and a massive nave, which fits into the frame only from the opposite side of the street, but all these impressions are forgotten with the first mug of beer in the absence of an emotional core. “Micah, one of the symbols of Hamburg, suffered less in the bombings than other cathedrals because it was destroyed by fire and without raids and acquired a reinforced concrete bell tower long before the war. Later we will find more than one similar building that has lost its historical appearance: the Church of St. James, the Church of St. Paul, the Church of Christuskirche.

Of these churches after the operation Gomorrah remained only the foundation, and the original masonry was so damaged that it was impossible to reassemble the entire structure from it, new bricks were added. It is somewhat even embarrassing to photograph these churches, like a cripple who was taken out by doctors to live again and bring joy to his loved ones as a church parishioner, not to gawkers for the amusement. But then on Willy-Brandt-Strasse, like a light at the end of the tunnel, like a mirage, something that leaves an indelible mark on the soul. It is a very long street, so there is time not to believe your eyes at first, then to think of a justification of this phenomenon and then, coming up close again to lose touch with reality. St. Nicholas Cathedral.

Among the modern buildings, these brutal ruins look anomalous, as if someone has made a collage of eras on this street. From afar, when the 147-meter tall spire first comes into view, interest is immediately diluted by bewilderment. Why can you see the sky through the tower? If it is a cathedral, where are the nave and the transept? Walking around, you can’t believe your eyes. For a tourist unprepared for information, it is a sight filled with inner dissonance and curiosity! The tower of the cathedral, once the tallest building in the world, dominates over the surrounding buildings, both now and in past centuries, but here the tower has remained, and the cathedral itself is no more. Having wandered around the ruins like an archaeologist and having read the signs, you understand the essence of what is happening.

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Overnight, one of the largest cathedrals was transformed into the largest monument to World War II, a memorial to the consequences of unbridled ambition, discrimination, and tyranny. Nothing tells us more clearly about the Germans’ attitude toward the results of the war than the St. Nicholas Memorial, the name the cathedral was “renamed” by British bombers: mourning the dead, not by enemy bullets, but by their own mistakes, by mass blindness and collective cowardice. On the ruins cleared of debris are heartwarming sculptures of the spire, nibbled by shrapnel, in whose empty eyeholes stained glass windows were once filled with light. A closer look at the Memorial seems to extend its boundaries one floor up and one floor down: in 2005, an elevator was installed in the bell tower, which takes you up to one of the city’s best vantage points at the 75-meter summit. Remember this sight, you’ll need it to compare it with the footage you’ll see in the basement of the cathedral.

Right under the ground, in the basement, there was a museum dedicated to the history of the cathedral, or rather the history of its destruction, which began with the first meetings of the Nazis in Germany. In the museum you can see things that were mangled in the flames, personal protective equipment, sometimes of a highly original design, fire diaries, a variety of interesting finds from around the cathedral and even unexploded bombs. At the exit from the Memorial you understand the wisdom of the decision not to restore the Cathedral for the edification of posterity, the ruins make an indelible impression. This is what war looks like. Given that most of Hamburg’s sights are located near or directly on Willy Brandt Strasse, the remains of the Cathedral will make you stand still and raise your head more than once.

For the rest of the days we visited similar museums in Hamburg – the Hamburg History Museum and the International Maritime Museum. Both museums show tourists amazingly detailed models of ships and everything related to them, which is not surprising since Hamburg is Germany’s main port! Modern Hamburg is beautiful and photogenic: the House of Chile, a variety of boardwalks and bridges, of which there are over 2,000 in the city will provide you with a promenade after lunch in one of the city’s fashionable restaurants, while at the same time affordable.

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You can even dine on the stucco and sculptures of the City Hall itself! When the weather is fine, visit Hamburg Zoo, which recreates the natural habitat of animals, walk through jungles and deserts, among mountains and hills. Finally, on your way to Berlin, take one last look around the Memorial’s dingy tower. Hamburg is taken – Berlin is ahead!

St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg (Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis)

St. Michael's Church in Hamburg (Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis)

St. Michael’s Church, officially called the main church of St. Michael (Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis) is the main evangelical church in Hamburg. It is located in the center of modern Hamburg, in the Neustadt (Neusta dt) district, in northern Germany.

Located on a hill, St. Michael’s Church has long served as a landmark for ships arriving in the city on the Elbe River. The present-day St. Michael’s Church is already the third building on the site.

In 1600, then still outside the city walls, a small chapel, the so-called “Kleine Michel” (“Little Michel”) was built. As the city grew, the old church building became too small for the growing number of parishioners.

From 1647 to 1669, a new church was built, designed by Peter Marquardt and Christoph Corbinus. Since 1685, St. Michael is officially Hamburg’s fifth main church, along with St. Peter, St. James, St. Nicholas, and St. Katharina.

Video of St. Michaelis Kirche

The wooden bell tower of the church was struck by lightning in 1750. When the resulting fire was noticed, it was no longer extinguished. The church was completely destroyed by fire. The following year, in 1751, the first stone was laid for the foundation of the second Mihel. The new church building, designed by Johann Leonard Prei and Ernst Georg Sonnin, was completed only 17 years later. Again the bell tower was made of wood, this time clad in copper.

From 1806 to 1814 Hamburg was conquered by Napoleon’s army. A stable for 500 horses was built in St. Michael’s Church during these years.

In 1906, during repair work on the roof, a fire broke out and the church burned down again completely. The restoration of St. Michael’s Church, which began in 1907, was intended to preserve the original architectural monument. This time, however, it was decided to replace the wooden structure of the bell tower with one made of steel and concrete. In 1912, the grand opening of the St. Michael’s Church, which by that time had already become the city’s “trademark”, took place.

But this was not the end of Michel’s ordeal. The bombings of 1941-1945 destroyed almost the entire city of Hamburg. The church of St. Michael did not escape the same fate. Reconstruction work continued until 1957.

View of St. Michael's church

Architecture of the church

The St. Michael’s Church is built of red brick, a typical building material of northern Germany. However, the architectural style in which it is built, Baroque, is quite atypical of the region. At the west end of the church rises a monumental tower, 132 meters high.

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The modern church building is considered a restored version from 1762. The church of St. Michael is the youngest and largest church in Hamburg. Its walls can accommodate 2,500 visitors.

The main entrance to the church has a carved door, which is crowned by a distinctive bronze sculpture depicting the Archangel Michael striking the Devil with his spear.

What to see

The interior of St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg is in the shape of a cross. A marble altar forms the center of the space. Due to the large number of windows, the church is always filled with light.

The first rows of pews, designed for representatives of the city parliament and distinguished guests, are noticeably wider and more comfortable than the others and are richly decorated.

The twenty-meter marble altar was made in 1910, as part of the restoration work. The altarpiece depicts the risen Jesus Christ surrounded by the archangels, as well as Roman soldiers. Crowning the altar is a sculptural depiction of a crucifix and a golden nimbus of the Holy Spirit. The altar table is decorated with a bronze relief depicting the Last Supper.

The marble pulpit with Baroque and Art Nouveau elements was made by Dresden sculptor Otto Lessing. The multicoloured marble pulpit was installed in 1910 as part of the restoration work carried out in the church following the great fire.

Sculptural composition above the entrance to St. Michael's Church.

Church organs

There are five organs in the church of St. Michael. Each of them has its own focus.

The central organ, the largest, is intended for the performance of works by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The concert organ, located on the choirs on the north side of the nave, is used to perform classical works of higher registers.

Another instrument, the Fernwerk, is located under the roof of the church. Its sound reaches the listener through a latticed, gilded skylight in the ceiling of the Church of St Michael.

In 2010, following restoration work in the crypt, the church added another organ for chamber works by Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.

Crypt of St Michael’s Church

The underground chamber of St. Michael’s Church was laid out during the construction of the second building specifically to carry out burials. Today, we know of 2,425 names of citizens of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg who were buried here. Among them are the architect of the Sonnin church, as well as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, composer and musician, son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach.

During World War II, the crypt was used as a bomb shelter.

In 2000, the crypt room was restored. A carved stone altar depicting the 12 apostles was installed there. The altar stone consists of fragments brought from the most important Christian cities – Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome and Wittenberg.

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Today, the crypt houses an exhibition on the history of St. Michael’s Church with models of the church. Concerts and lectures are also held in the crypt.

Especially for tourists has been developed a mobile application, which tells about the history of St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg and the main attractions. The app is free and is available in German and English.

St. Michael’s Bell Tower

The bell tower of “Michel,” as the citizens affectionately call the church, is 132 meters high. Each of its four sides has a clock face, which is the biggest in Germany. The clock of St. Michael’s Church has a diameter of 8 meters. Each hand of the clock weighs 130 kilograms and, like the numerals, is covered with gold leaf.

The characteristic silhouette of the bell tower of St. Michael’s Church can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and is one of Hamburg’s most famous “trademarks”. At 82 meters high, the observation deck is one of the best in the city, offering a beautiful view of Hamburg, the port and the shipyards.

The observation deck can be reached on foot by climbing 452 steps or from the opposite side up to the second floor and then by elevator.

The entrance to the bell tower is directly connected to the main entrance of the church. Here one can admire the beautiful stained glass windows as well as the fine carvings. On the right-hand side are the cashiers and souvenirs, on the left are the stairs down to the crypt, and on the right are the stairs and elevator to the observation deck. If you go straight ahead, you will enter the main church room.

Evening visit to the observation deck

In addition to a normal daytime ascent to the observation deck, a special night-time offer is available after the church has closed. In the evening, Hamburg is transformed by a sea of lights at night. The price includes a historical elevator ride, 1 soft drink, watching a film about Michele, and musical entertainment. Tickets can be purchased on a special website or, subject to availability, at the evening box office – this is entrance number 2, to the right of the main entrance.

In front of the entrance to St. Michael’s Church, on the left side, is a monument to Martin Luther.

Every year, on the first Advent, Hamburg’s first Christmas market takes place outside the church walls.

The interior of the Church of St. Michael

Opening hours

The St. Michael’s Church, the observation deck and the crypt are open daily, seven days a week.

  • Between November and March from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The last admission is at 5.30 pm.
  • April and October – daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The last admission for visitors – at 18.30.
  • From May to September – daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The last admission for visitors – at 19.30.
  • Visit “Night Michele” – 2 hours after the last visitor’s pass.
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View of the town and St. Nicholas church from the observation deck.

The church of St. Michael in Hamburg is an active evangelical church. The entrance to the church is free for all visitors.

In St. Michael’s you can buy tickets for the observation deck, the crypt or a combination ticket.

  • Adult ticket (age 16 and over) – 6 euros.
  • Discount ticket – for pupils, students with an international student card, pensioners, Hamburg Card holders, groups of 10 people and family groups of 4 people – 5 euros per person.
  • Children ticket (age up to 15 years) – 4 euros.
  • Adult ticket – 11,50 euro,
  • Discounted tickets: EUR 10.50,
  • For children €9.50.
  • Adult ticket (age 16 and higher): EUR 5.
  • Discount ticket 4 euros.
  • For children 3 euros.

Combined ticket – observation deck and crypt

  • Adult ticket – €8.
  • Discount ticket- 7 euro.
  • Children ticket- 5 euro.

Music at St. Michael’s Church

In addition to the daily services in the church of St. Michael there are regular musical concerts.

Every Sunday at 18:00. – There is a free concert of organ music.

Throughout the year, several music festivals are held in the church.

St. Michael's Church in Hamburg (Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis)

How to get there

The church of St. Michael is located in the center of Hamburg. It is easily accessible by any means of transport.

By public transport

St. Michael’s Church can be reached by city train, subway or bus.

  • On the city train (S-Bahn): Lines S3, S2, S1 to the stop Stadthausbrücke (Stadthausbrücke), exit towards Michaelisstraße (Michaelisstraße), then about 10 minutes on foot.
  • By subway (U-Bahn): Line U3 to the stops Rödingsmarkt, then have to walk about 11 minutes, Baumwall, then about 7 minutes on foot, or to the stop St. Pauli and then along Ludwig Erhard Strasse about 8 minutes.
  • By bus (Bus): Routes 36, 37, 112 to the St. Pauli stop, or Routes 17, 37, 641 to the Michaeliskirche stop – this is directly opposite the church.

By car

The church of St. Michael is conveniently reached by car.

  • From Berlin: Take the A24 and A111, then exit at Sievekingsallee. Then take Bürgerweide, Spaldingstraße and the B4 towards Englische Planke.
  • From Dresden: Motorways A14,A2 and A7, then the A255 in the direction of HH-Centrum/HH-Veddel/HH-Georgswerder towards Englische Planke.
  • From Dortmund: Take the A1 or A2 towards Veddeler Brückenstraße, then the B4 and B75 (Hamburg).

In the area of St. Michael’s Church there are several possibilities to park, all for a fee.

Underground garage Sprinkenhof Michel-Garage at Schaarmarkt 1 Neustadt.

  • Mon-Fri. 07:00 – 01:00,
  • Fri. 07:00 – 02:00,
  • Sat 09:30 – 02:00, Sat 09:30 – 02:00,
  • Fri 09:30 – 01:00.
  • Every 30 minutes – 2 euros.
  • All day – 20 euros.

Zeughausmarkt Hamburg

  • Mon-Sat. 09:00 – 00:00
  • The rest of the time is free of charge.
  • 1 hour – 2,5 euro,
  • Maximal time of parking – 3 hours.

By a cab

St. Michael’s Church is conveniently reached by Uber cab, or Mytaxi, by ordering through a mobile app.

View from the observation deck of St. Michael’s Church on Google Panorama

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