As a seaport, Hamburg has always embraced the outside world with open arms, welcoming a wild mélange of different people and influences. Thanks to its unique character, the city hosts a tight network of young creatives – and appears to brim with plenty of surprises. High time for a visit – and a peek behind the scenes.
Tan, surfer hair, bouncy walk: Dirk Wilberg may be part of the digital creative scene, yet you get the feeling he is most comfortable outside the walls of his office. His anchor tattoo doesn’t diminish his authenticity. Originally from East Frisia, the editor of online city mag Mit Vergnügen Hamburg made this city his home six years ago. Now, he knows the crowd and the score, tirelessly combing the city for new cultural gems. Just a few steps away from many of Hamburg’s sizzling hotspots, his editorial team has found a home and hub in the buzzing Schanze district, but for our trip, we’re aiming a little further. On this balmy summer’s day, we venture out in a smart fortwo to explore the riverside delights found between Oberhafen, St. Pauli, and Ottensen to meet the people that move the city.
Hi, Dirk. You seem like you have Hamburg in your veins.
Dirk Wilberg: Yep, that’s right (laughs). Hamburg is the first city I truly picked for myself – my heart and home.
You’re sporting a tattoo with an anchor and a heart – not worried about clichés?
Dirk Wilberg: No. If you think about it, clichés are always a little bit true. While it’s a cliché that Hamburgers always hang out at the harbor or the Alster, there’s definitely a grain of truth to it. Driving through the city, I always notice just how beautiful Hamburg really is. I love this blend of big city and harbor. Someone once said that Hamburg is a last stop – in a positive sense. Like a railway terminus. People come here to stay.
You seem to have a lot of love for the city.
Dirk Wilberg: That happens very quickly here. At the same time, you can’t be too forceful or serious about your local patriotism; your enthusiasm always has to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek. While Hamburgers are very proud of their city and like to show it, they make sure that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
You’re part of a tight-knit network of creatives and freelancers. Who’s first on our list?
Dirk Wilberg: Let’s meet my buddy Jakob at Lemonaid. Their offices are in St. Pauli, right next to the local football stadium. Together with a few friends, Jakob produces tasty fair-trade soda, supporting farmers’ cooperatives. My favorite flavor is definitely passion fruit. For each sold bottle, they to contribute to charitable projects, like school initiatives in the countries that produce the ingredients – but also initiatives right here in Hamburg. It’s a really cool concept. Sustainability is embedded in the heart of this city: As a major seaport, Hamburg has always enjoyed a special relationship and bond with the rest of the world.
Let’s drive down to the water – after all, we’re in Hamburg!
Dirk Wilberg: Sure, but let’s stay away from the Landungsbrücken, the main pier area – it’s much too crowded. Instead, I suggest the Oberhafen, the upper harbor. Many creatives have taken over this former freight depot. Photographers, agencies, designers, and artisans rub shoulders, while others promote exhibitions or events in some of the area’s spacious warehouses. My personal recommendation: The Hanseatische Materialverwaltung (Hanseatic props management) – a huge fount of treasures for set designers or collectors of curiosities. The non-profit breathes new life into props from past film and theater productions, allowing social and environmental projects to realize their creative visions. Hanseatische Materialverwaltung has become a hub for creatives from Hamburg and further afield.
Do you perceive the city differently because you write about it?
Dirk Wilberg: I certainly pay more attention. My job encourages me to take a closer look. When I stumble upon something interesting, I often snap a picture to remember it later. After all, this is what Mit Vergnügen Hamburg is all about: using a sensitive touch to spot things our readers wouldn’t discover otherwise. Once you leave the beaten path, you quickly come across interesting urban spaces and thrilling ideas, like those on display at Oberhafen. It’s a great starting point and base for a thriving scene.
Who else can we meet in the Oberhafen environment?
Dirk Wilberg: Malte Brenneisen is one of the four people behind Die Brueder, a creative agency opposite Hanseatische Materialverwaltung. With Gentle Rain, they not only publish their own, beautiful magazine, but they also organize IndieCon, a festival for independent magazines. This September, they invite designers, authors, and publishers to gather around and join the fun.
Does a strong network improve a city’s quality of life?
Dirk Wilberg: It certainly adds to it. I really appreciate this stimulating environment. Hamburg may not be a huge metropolis, but boasts a dense cultural offering. In my case, that also involves a lot of subculture. The city’s overall look and feel is the proverbial cherry on top. Living in a harbor city with so much water is fantastic…
What about lunch?
Dirk Wilberg: Rain in Ottensen is one of my favorites. My friend Niels Berschneider opened this lovingly designed eatery. He previously worked at Lemonaid – once again, closing the circle. Although cafes aren’t exactly rare in Ottensen, Rain stands out. Niels has a lot of passion for what he does. He mans the kitchen himself and prepares delicious eggs benedict or tasty avocado sandwiches. He has a great eye for detail. It’s a really nice place to check out.
Any shopping recommendations in Ottensen?
Dirk Wilberg: Definitely Adler Altona, a suave men’s boutique run by Christian Adler – it’s just around the corner. His store sells premium accessories and fashion by select manufactories plus a great selection of books and mags. As a nod to his great-grandfather’s old shipping company, his store’s logo and signage exude a similar aesthetic. Christian cares a lot about tradition and longevity. Oh, and there’s a fun story about Christian and me – we actually met on a camping trip, via a mutual friend. Hamburg is a great place for chance meetings and serendipitous connections like this one.
Any other must-sees on your personal treasure map?
Dirk Wilberg: Michelle Records offers an extremely well curated selection of vinyl. With the Echo award, they even won a major German music award for their efforts. Record stores are having a hard time in general, but the enthusiastic team at Michelle Records manages to make the store something special. People flock here to browse the store, enjoy one of the shop window gigs, or meet other regulars who simply like to hang out. With their store, André and Christoph have created a space that exudes a great vibe: The staff doesn’t think that they have better taste than you, but are happy to help you find just what you’re looking for.
We certainly got around today. How important is mobility to you, considering the exploratory nature of your work?
Dirk Wilberg: Mobility is definitely very important. You can’t get to know a city from behind your computer screen. In a metropolis, I need a good mix of mobility options. I own a car and a scooter, but also use car2go carsharing and public transport. I guess there’s still room for a boat, especially in a city like Hamburg. Well, I already have a boating license (laughs).
So, what’s a good place to end the day in style?
Dirk Wilberg: Saal II is a bona fide Schanze institution – it’s been around forever and it’s just around the corner from our office. I often end up sticking around well into the evening, using it as a starting point for a night out. It’s a good spot for breakfast, afternoon coffee, or an after-work beer. And there’s still a hint of counter culture in the air. Paul Pötsch of the well-known Hamburg band Trümmer worked here until recently. The way they’ve kept the place alive and authentic in a relatively touristy area is pretty cool. It’s one of the last relics and stalwarts of the “old” Schanze.
Dirk Wilberg is a busy man. Besides being the editor of city mag Mit Vergnügen Hamburg, his ventures include a PR agency, specializing in music and guerilla measures, a record label and a booking agency. With an office near the hip Sternschanze district, Wilberg enjoys life in the heart of the city.
Local Secrets Hamburg:
Stockmeyerstraße 41, 20457 Hamburg
IndieCon Festivalfor independent magazines
Oberhafen, 20457 Hamburg
Große Rainstraße 15, 22765 Hamburg
Bei der Reitbahn 3, 22763 Hamburg
Gertrudenkirchhof 10, 20095 Hamburg
Schulterblatt 83, 20357 Hamburg