Hamburg originated (early 9th cent.) in the Carolingian castle of Hammaburg, probably built by Charlemagne as a defense against the Slavs. It became (834) an archepiscopal see (united in 847 with the archdiocese of Bremen) and a missionary center for northern Europe. The city quickly grew to commercial importance and in 1241 formed an alliance with Lübeck, which later became the basis of the Hanseatic League. Hamburg accepted the Reformation in 1529. In 1558 the first German stock exchange was founded there; with the arrival of Dutch Protestants, Portuguese Jews, and English cloth merchants (expelled from Antwerp), and with the expansion of commercial ties with the United States after 1783, Hamburg continued to prosper.
The city was occupied by the French in 1806 and in 1815 joined the German Confederation. In 1842 a fire destroyed much of the city. After World War I Hamburg was briefly (1918–19) a socialist republic. In 1937 the city ceded Cuxhaven, its outlying port, to Prussia, but incorporated the neighboring towns of Altona, Harburg, and Wandsbek. During World War II (especially in 1943) Hamburg was severely damaged by aerial bombardment, and some 55,000 persons were killed. After the end of the cold war, the city became a transit port for trade with Central Europe and experienced a surge in shipping.
Hamburg today is an elegant, modern city and a cultural center, widely known for its opera, theaters, magazine- and book-publishing houses, radio and television broadcasting centers, and film studios. At its center are two lakes, the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and the Aussenalster (Outer Alster). The St. Pauli district, with its well-known street, the Reeperbahn, includes numerous places of entertainment. HafenCity, marked by striking modern buildings, is a major waterfront redevelopment of former port sections of Hamburg and includes the Elbphilharmonie (2017), the home of one of the city's three symphony orchestras. Hamburg is the seat of a university (founded 1919), several museums, and medical and technical institutes. There are extensive zoological and botanical gardens. Noteworthy buildings include the baroque St. Michael's Church (1750–62), rebuilt (1907–12) after a fire; the Church of St. Jacobi (begun in the 14th cent.); and the Renaissance-style city hall (1886–97). Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms were born in the city.
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