Derby days now history in Hamburg after St Pauli promotion

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

The largest port in Europe and the richest city in Germany, Hamburg can provide the perfect football weekend. Its red-light district where The Beatles cut their teeth is now fairly tame – though there are still plenty of late-night attractions around St Pauli. 

This is where you’ll find the Millerntor, home of cult club St Pauli, a short walk from the Reeperbahn, in the shadow of the city’s seasonal funfair. Populist and party-minded, St Pauli offer a match-day experience like no other. 

In May 2024, fans swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate a first promotion since 2010, after a memorable campaign of bitter derbies with HSV and satisfying narrow away wins at sworn enemies Hansa Rostock. St Pauli were back in the Bundesliga – as was the city of Hamburg but not, pointedly, HSV.

For six years until that moment, for the first time since there was such a thing as top-flight football in Germany, Hamburg had had no representatives in the country’s highest division. But despite a first-ever relegation in 2018, former European champions HSV (‘Hah-Ess-Fau’) still attract near-capacity crowds of 55,000 to the Volksparkstadion during this current ignominious spell in 2. Bundesliga.

Set way up in the north-west district of Bahrenfeld, HSV are still another world in terms of size, budget and past achievement. A Traditionsverein if there ever was one, HSV were the only club to have maintained permanent top-flight status since the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963 – though it was close-run thing in 2014 and even closer in 2015. By 2018, HSV were a disaster waiting to happen.

Nonetheless, their Volksparkstadion retains its prestigious status. A Euro 2024 venue, this was where East Germany famously beat West in the World Cup of 1974 – and where Holland dramatically beat the German hosts in the semi-final of Euro ’88.

Fulham fans will remember the Europa League final here of 2010, and defeat to Atlético Madrid. For Euro 2024, Hamburg stages five matches, including a quarter-final.

Hamburg can also lay claim to be the home of German football. While other German cities reacted with indifference and even hostility to soccer in the late 1800s, this outward-looking port embraced the new, foreign game with open arms. 

Germany’s first dedicated football club, SC Germania Hamburg, was set up here in 1887. Hamburg also pioneered competitive games between different cities, while elsewhere the game was structured within regions.

After World War I, SC Germania were one of three teams to amalgamate – along with Falke and Hamburger FC – to form Hamburger SV: Hamburger Sport-Verein, HSV. St Pauli’s history dates back to 1899, though a clearer foundation date is the one given on their badge, 1910. 

Today both run reserve sides in the fourth-flight Regionalliga Nord, Hamburg’s based at the Edmund-Plambeck-Stadion in Norderstedt, near Richtweg towards the northern end of the U1 underground line.

With an equally long history, populist Altona 93 have been based at the Adolf-Jäger-Kampfbahn since 1908. Promoted in 2024 back to the fourth-flight Regionalliga Nord along with HSV and St Pauli’s second teams, Altona 93 can be reached by taking S-Bahn line S1 to Bahrenfeld, then walking 10mins down Friesenweg. As St Pauli commercialise their punk credentials, so older fans are drifting to Altona.

Finally, mention should be made of the Hamburg Hurricanes, an inclusive football club and social network for expats, initially meeting for casual games at Stadtpark. With the aim of expanding their community across ages and genders, they now run two senior men’s teams. The first XI currently plays in local Kreisliga 6, home games taking place at the Sportanlage Neue Welt at Jahnring 24 by the planetarium.

Over the road, the Schweinske Restaurant Stadtpark serves in-house Udo Hell and local Astra beers, as well as classic dishes, until 10pm every night. It’s all an easy stroll from Alsterdorf station on the U1 line.

Getting Around

Arriving in town and local transport

Hamburg airport, 8.5km (five miles) north of the city, is on S-Bahn line 1, 25mins from the main station. Trains run every 10mins. A single ticket is €3.80 or a day pass, also valid for other city transport options of the U-Bahn network and buses, is €8.80, €7.50 after 9am.

Hansa Taxi (+49 40 211 211) has different numbers if you would prefer an electric vehicle (+49 40 211 255), as well as for its airport pick-up service (+49 40 211 1799). You should be paying about €30 to reach town from the airport, €35 the train station, €40 the Volksparkstadion.

The main station (Hamburg Hbf), with its two extra stops (Nord and Süd) on the U-Bahn system, is a ten-minute walk east of the city centre. Single ticket prices (€2/€2.70) vary according to length of journey. Stellingen, the S-Bahn station for the Volksparkstadion (S3/S5) north-west of town, is 15-20mins direct from the main station, €3.80 single. 

The S1 passes through Landungsbrücken, close to St Pauli’s stadium, the Millerntor, although U3 St Pauli is closer. Each is €2 single from the main station.

A valid match ticket for an HSV/St Pauli game allows you free transport to and from the stadium on match days. Day passes can also be used on certain ferry lines – all boats stop at Landungsbrücken, handy for St Pauli.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

For nightlife, St Pauli is the traditional hub – albeit a lurid one. The local beer of choice is Astra, usually sold in little brown bottles slid across the bar counter.

Many of the bars on the Reeperbahn and around St Pauli naturally double up as pre- and post-match spots for games at the Millerntor. Although in the same location, the Café Miller (‘Breakfast café and football bar’) and Kleine Pause (‘From a flower shop to a snack bar’) are less partisan. Both have TVs, KP has a terrace.

At Hamburger Berg 7, stand-out Rosi’s has hardly changed since the Star-Club days. Rosi herself, ex-wife of early Beatles mentor Tony Sheridan, worked at the place back then, revisiting in May 2024 at the age of 83. This classic Hamburg dive opens 8pm-4am five nights a week, and offers pool and table football..

Also linked to the Beatles days are live/party venue Große Freiheit 36 at that address and Gretel & Alfons over the road – one open until 8am at weekends, the other until 4am every morning.

In another little bar hub the other side of the Reeperbahn, on and around Hans Albers Platz, the London Pub and Molly Malone’s both attract expat football fans, although for authenticity, nearby Zum Silbersack (‘since 1949’) is beyond compare. Displaying photos of the pub team that played St Pauli, it provides the classic Reeperbahn night, bottles of Astra sliding along the railed-off bar counter as the jukebox blasts out vinyl celebrations of Hamburg-Altona.

As it to balance out the St Pauli bar bias, Gerhardstraße has been transformed as the ‘HSV Party Meile’, bars such as the Sportpub Tankstelle and Kiez Klause the key spots.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre

Hamburg Tourismus has a hotel database and booking function.

The nearest lodging to the Volksparkstadion, the Arena Hostel Hamburg offers en-suite doubles with a balcony along with regular dorm beds. The only downside is that in-person check-in is only available 4pm-7pm. You’ll find it just across from Eidelstedt S-Bahn stop, one up from Stellingen. The stadium is a 15min walk away.

On the other side of the stadium, at the edge of the park on Albert-Einstein-Ring, the bright four-star Mercure Hotel Hamburg am Volkspark overlooks the racetrack a 25min walk from the football stadium. Affordable on-site parking is a particular plus.

St Pauli is central, so accommodation options range from flophouses above bars to five-star luxury. The nearest, given the uncertain future surrounding the otherwise perfectly acceptable Budapester Hof, is the 100-room Hotel Commodore, set in a heritage Art Nouveau building dating back to 1905, with half-board rates offered to tourist groups.

Nearer/on the Reeperbahn, you’ll find the mid-range Cityhotel Monopol and Hotel Hanseport. If you’d rather be away from the bar quarter, then the Hotel Hafen Hamburg sits near the port and the Hotel Fürst Bismarck by the station, where you’ll also find the contemporary Generator Hostel for doubles, singles, dorms and regular entertainment.

Finally, for five-star spa comfort or if the company is paying, the Grand Elysée near the university cannot be beat, crowned by its Top Seven rooftop bar.