If you’re visiting Hamburg as a tourist and discover the St. Nikolai Church for the first time, you will be puzzled. Was the church not completed because the money ran out for a fully assembled church building, but why was the high church/bell tower completed then? Unfortunately, the church fell victim to Operation Gomorrah and the resulting firestorm almost 80 years ago. The remains were preserved as a memorial in memory of this terrible time. Nowadays there is a small but imposing museum in the basement of the ruins, and a viewing platform at around 80m which can be easily reached via a lift. The combined ticket for both attractions costs 5 € and is worth every cent. Undoubtedly, a highly recommended Museum in Hamburg.
The devastating Operation Gomorrah and the resulting firestorm in downtown Hamburg did cost the lives of thousands of people in 1943. A sometimes truly painful death – burned directly by fire and degenerated into so-called smurf corpses, being scalded by hot liquids like water, some even continued to burn in the water (as long as parts of the body such as the head have left the water again, to take a breath) through previously coming into contact with phosphorus, or not less painful of air pollution in bunkers due to faulty air circulation systems. It was a really disastrous time, for Hamburg’s population and the structures in this area.
Planned as ethical bombardment, Operation Gomorrah, which lasted 1.5 weeks, not only cost the lives of around 34,000 people, it also destroyed entire districts. But not completely, as the so-called “block-busters” (housing block destroyer bombs) were first lowered onto Hamburg in order to destroy the roofs and several upper floors before the second round of planes returned with phosphorus bombs. One fire after the other ignited and a real firestorm broke out in Hamburg’s city centre due to a devastating chimney effect. It burned brightly everywhere, some pages of charred books were even carried by the wind all the way to Lübeck (60 km distance), and the cloud of smoke was said to have been almost infinitely high.
But why was the St. Nikolai Church so badly affected? At the time of completion in 1847, the tower was 147.30 meters high, making it the highest sacred building in the world at the time. It was clearly visible from a far distance – and so the fighter pilots used it as a convenient target point.
The museum of the St. Nikolai memorial reports on multimedia from the church itself, such as the devastating “ethical fire”. It is definitely worth a visit, and you should plan around 30 minutes for the visit (if you watch the film in its entirety and read all the boards and descriptions). Below is a short video about the museum and the view from the tower.
St. Nikolai memorial address: Willy-Brandt-Straße 60, 20457 Hamburg
Museum opening times: daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.