Hamburg's Fish Market

Sunday morning market in Fischmarkt
••• John Freeman/Getty Images

Fresh seafood, exotic fruits, nuts, flowers, and teas - the Fischmarkt (fish market) in Hamburg is a must for every visitor and a paradise for every foodie. The open-air market is located right next to the historic fish auction hall at Hamburg's harbor, the second-busiest port in Europe. The market and auction hall are one of Hamburg's top attractions.

History of Hamburg's Fish Market

Since 1703, this marketplace just off the water has been selling the freshest fish in the city.

A bustling area for trade, it wasn't long before other goods came into play. Fine porcelain, enough animals to fill Noah's Ark, armfuls of flowers and foods and spices from all over the world. 

Visitors may find the hours unreasonable (especially those that indulged in the infamous joys of the Reeperbahn) as items can only be sold until 9:30, but this is a compromise dating back to the markets opening. Fishermen eager to sell directly from the docks petitioned the city to sell on Sundays, but the clergy objected as it conflicted with religious services. The city found a compromise by allowing the market to open at 5:00, but requiring it to close before church. Event today, shopping is over as soon as the bells strike 9:30.

In those early morning hours, over 70,000 visitors walk the many stands along the Elbe. Crowds stampede the through the narrow aisles buying up a storm. Haggling is loud and boisterous with Marktschreier (market criers) calling out their wares and market value loud enough to reach the Reeperbahn.

They offer something for "Zehn euro" (ten euros)? Coyly respond with an "Sieben" (seven).

Sold everywhere from market stalls to trunks of their cars, A basket of fresh fruit from strawberries to pineapple to kumquats for 10 euro, an entire eel, and whatever else they’ve picked up that week. This is not just a tourist hot spot, this is a site to be enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.

A working marketplace, it is an attraction in itself.

As far as the market's original purpose, fish is still an important element of trade. In a country full of meats and sausage, the fish market offers every flavor of fish from perch to halibut to eel. The visitors to the site drove up prices in the 1930s and some of the more competitive sellers were driven to the west. However, plenty of sellers remain and sell at the market, as well as in virtual auctions. Approximately 36,000 tons of fresh fish are sold on the grounds of the fish market. This accounts for about 14 percent of Germany’s fresh fish supply.

History of the Fish Market Auction Hall

The Fish Market Hall is over 100-years old, built in 1894. Its iconic red brick and metal dome are a Hamburg landmark. Its elegant design is that of a Roman market hall, complete with three-aisled basilica and transept.

The area was partly destroyed with heavy damage to the auction hall in 1943 with WWII bombing. It had already been stripped of some of its flashier elements such as the bronze melted down for driving bands for grenades. Burnt out and sad, it almost met the wrecking ball by the early 70s. But it was saved, along with reconstruction of the neighboring buildings, and restored to its former glory in the 1980s.

To crown the resurrected building, the Minerva statue created by Kiel sculptor Hans Kock was placed back in the square.

Once you are done shopping for fish and everything else, it is time for breakfast. The main floor now sells everything from waffles to Wurst to cell phone cases. Even though you can get almost anything here, you shouldn't miss take-away seafood dishes like Fischbrötchen (fish sandwhich), Krabben (prawns) or the local favorite of Matjes (young herring).

The atmosphere is as chaotic inside as outside with live concerts entertaining the revelers who haven't stopped partying from the night before. Bands play everything from jazz, to rock to cover versions of German pop songs that the whole crowd could sing along to. A Bier at 8:00? Why not! There is no where else that combines fresh seafood, local vegetables and fruits, beers and live music is such a copacetic environment.

Even brides and grooms and their entire wedding party have been spotted ending a night of festivities here at the market. 

For those wanting something more formal, there is a very elegant brunch held on the second floor balcony every Sunday with the sounds of the band drifting up to the dining area. If you must sit down for a meal and brunch isn't an option, Fischereihafen Restaurant (Grosse Elbstrasse 143) is a local institution located nearby. There is a restaurant and oyster bar with all the seafood purchased from the Auction Hall.

Visitor Info Hamburg's Fish Market

Note that the markets short hours make for a crowded experience. You should also leave your best shoes at home as the Fischmarkt is actually below sea level and stormy days come with wet ground.

If you prefer a guide on site, there are multiple companies offering this service.

Website: www.fischauktionshalle.com
Address: Sankt Pauli Fischmarkt, Große Elbstraße 9, Hamburg in St Pauli down from the Reeperbahn
Public transport: S1 and S3 Station "Reeperbahnl"; U3 Station "Landungsbrücken"; Bus line 112 Stop "Fischmarkt"
Parking: At Edgar-Engelhard-Kai and in Van Smissen Straße
Phone: 040 30051300
Opening Hours: Year round. Summer (starting March 15) - every Sunday 5:00 - 9:30; Winter (starting November 15) - 7:00 - 9:30
Admission: Free
Brunch at Fish Market Auction Hall: Available every Sunday from 6:00 - noon and is 15 Euros per person

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