Historically speaking, Ottensen is more Danish than German. Up until 1864, the humble craft village was ruled by the Danes, and only annexed to Hamburg in the 1930s. Bordered by the River Elbe in the south and the Altona Station in the east, it is located west of the city centre, in the Altona district.
The neighbourhood survived World War II remarkably unscathed, with many of its pre-war Art Nouveau buildings now protected historical monuments – not that you would know it. Few places do grand and grunge better.
West of Altona town hall, Christianskirche drips in Baroque splendour, whilst worker houses-turned-antique shops cram into Felde Street. Meanwhile on Friedensallee, red brick turn-of-the-century architecture transports you to NYC’s West Village, with a menu to match.
It’s the place to feast on next-gen Lebanese mezze, ramen hotpots, and hole-in-the-wall falafel joints – a reflection of the hood’s immigrant population. On Wednesdays a popular farmers market wakes up sleepy Spritzenplatz, whilst down the road, Fabrik’s weekend tacos and tapestries lure a local crowd to the concert venue’s nave-like central hall. The repurposed ammunition depot is one of several masterfully restored industrial ruins, harking to a time when shipbuilding, tobacco factories and glassworks flourished here.
Some have been razed to the ground and reimagined as multi-use parks like Kemal-Altun-Platz, where a crumbling steam excavator marks the entrance. Ottensen’s residents are hardly nature starved, thanks to ivy-clad buildings, overgrown courtyards and liegewieses (lawns) for sunbathing. For serious tanning, follow the neighbourhood’s winding cobweb of streets down to Elbe beach. Or, alfresco café-hop along the hood’s pretty pedestrianised main drag: Ottenser Hauptstraße.
This is boutique shopping par excellence, with speciality stores peddling everything from rocking chairs to organic cosmetics. It’s also the address of vermilion hued Reh Bar, which props up the neighbourhood on cappuccinos and US$5 caipirinhas morning, noon and night. Drink up, then drink in some culture at Ottensen’s quintet of theatres, including Altonaer, known for its rousing page-to-stage performances.
Dubbed the city’s first design hotel, this goliath former gas plant lit the city’s streets 130 years ago. Where 5,000 tons of coal was once stashed is now 600 square metres of light-flooded lobby, accoutred with water features, an Apple workstation and some very sinkable Chesterfields. Whilst its 140 lofts aren’t technically all lofts (for that you’ll need to splurge on one of the ‘L’ category rooms), their exposed brick, earthy furnishings and polished steel will still put you in a New York state of mind. Check out the duplex art room, where Greek artist in residence, Georgios Engonidis, creates the hotel’s signature bold canvases. And if time permits, take one of the hotel’s Minis for a spin (it’s on the house).
Beim Alten Gaswerk 3, +49 408 90 620, gastwerk.com
A ten-minute taxi
Marvel at ship figureheads, whaling artefacts and 17th Century ornamental tiles at this unsung museum, which charts Altona’s evolution from a once-Danish ruled fishing village, to thriving trading hub.
Museumstraße 23, +49 404 28 13 50, shmh.de
An eleven-minute walk
Between its stylish clientele and tables spilling out onto the pavement, this deli-coffee shop wouldn’t look out of place in a leafy Copenhagen suburb. Inside, the scandi vibes continue with mismatched salvaged furniture, a chequered blue-white floor (laid by owner Frank) and three-metre-long towers of driftwood, sourced from the Danish coastline. Its hands-on owner, a hobbyist sailor from Münsterland, takes his 4×4 right onto the beach to collect these washed up treasures, which sell for an eye-watering US$900. If you like your souvenirs a little kleiner (smaller), there’s Portuguese Flor de Sal, urban-foraged fruit jams and locally-made strawberry ketchup. Or, go full hygge and order the Sumatran coffee and lemon cheesecake, sweetened with allotment-grown elderflower syrup.
Rothestraße 53, +49 404 11 11 499,
A two-minute walk
This muralled former chocolate factory hosts a busy calendar of community-minded cultural events, from screen-printing workshops to stand-up comedy. Get your green fix at its nearby garden (abutting Eulenstraße playground), complete with chicken coop and beehives.
Eulenstraße 43, +49 403 99 26 20,
A seven-minute walk
Inspired by a Danish candy factory, this cheerful store-cum-workshop has been Ottensen’s favourite sugar hit for 15 years. Despite processing 50kg of organic sugar a day, its vegan bonsche (sweets) are surprisingly healthy, made with all-natural flavours and veggie dyes like violet carrot. Turn up at 4pm and you can watch two metres of candy being rolled into a giant stick of rock. It’s quite the show. There are blowtorches, bubbling copper cauldrons and (worth the wait) – a still warm ‘drop’ that melts on your tongue. Their mind-boggling artisanal flavours include salted lemon, chilli mango and plum with black pepper, priced at US$4 for 110 grams.
Friedensallee 12, +49 404 15 47 567, bonscheladen.de
A nine-minute walk
“I always wanted to work with my hands,” says Thomas Keil as he taps nails into the sole of a tan leather brogue at his wonderfully worn workbench. With family roots in Pirmasens (Germany’s oldest shoe city), the great grandchild of a master cobbler was destined for the craft, which he’s been honing for two decades. Everything about his made-to-measure fittings is old-school, from the inky trays customers press their feet into to the basement’s antique shoe-stretching machine. Prices start at US$2,775.
Keplerstraße 20, +49 151 44 23 51 92, keil-schuhe.de
Less than a minute walk
Karl’s Café & Weine
Bandana-wearing Ethiopian owner Alex welcomes you like a guest to his own home at this Ethiopian and Eritrean eatery, where roasted coffee beans scent the air. Soon enough, guests are wafting their faces in the caffeinated plumes – an anti-ageing ritual Ethiopians swear by. It’s an evening full of ceremony. Next, an ornate copper jug and bowl does the rounds, preparing diners for the three-course set menu’s “hands only” main course: injera, Eithiopia’s national dish. The fluffy fermented flatbread doubles as a utensil to scoop up spicy mouthfuls of lentils, green beans and hearty doro wot (chicken stew). There’s also a head spinning bottle list and bottomless popcorn-like fendisha for dessert, if you have room.
Keplerstraße 17a, +49 171 12 47 497, karlscafeweine.de
An five-minute taxi
Cinema settings don’t get much more atmospheric than this neighbourhood arthouse movie theatre, housed in a former 19th Century ship propeller factory. Its Tuesday sneak preview nights are exactly that (even the genre is a surprise), whilst its weekly “zeise latenight” music and film specials attract 200 backsides to its velvet seats. The popular series started a decade ago with poetry slams (still a crowd pleaser), which launched the career of Michel Abdollahi, now a household name in Germany. Skip the popcorn and snack on wood-fired pizzas at the hall’s in-house Italian bistro, Eisenstein.
Friedensallee 7-9, +49 403 06 03 682, zeise.de