The Sephardi Jews of Hamburg - 2001

By Trevor Fox
November 2, 2008

In the port area of Hamburg bisected by Ditmar-Koel Strasse and Reimarustrasse lies a small enclave of streets with a clutch of Spanish and Portuguese restaurants, owned by Portuguese families whose origin goes back hundreds of years.

Marrano Jews from Spain and Portugal settled in Hamburg during the 17th century at the same time as they did in Amsterdam and in London. A small community was also established in Altona, now a suburb to the west of Hamburg, but at that time part of the Kingdom of Denmark. This was the only recorded Sephardi community to have ever been established in the territory of Denmark. Although never large in numbers the Hamburg Sephardim were influential in Hamburg life. The Hambro family from Hamburg and Breslau emigrated to London in the early 18th century to found both a bank and a synagogue in the City.

Incidentally Wiltons restaurant in London is owned by the Hambro family ----- Olaf Hambro bought it on a whim in 1942. While he was eating dinner a German bomb exploded outside and the owner decided that she would close the restaurant. Olaf told her to put the price of the restaurant on his bill and to keep it open.

In 1935 a new Sephardi synagogue was opened in Innocentistrasse. This had the unique distinction of being the only synagogue to be consecrated in Germany during the Nazi era, the local Hamburg police having provided both a police escort for the Dutch Chief Rabbi, as a visiting dignitary, and a police cordon around the synagogue to protect the Jews inside ! Six weeks after this the Hamburg chief of police was removed. After that matters deteriorated with the Hamburg Jewish community being finally deported in 1942 with the Sephardi community believing that they would be protected by the Portuguese government !

During the 1960s more families from Portugal came to Hamburg. On a warm evening in summer the area bisected by Ditmar-Koel Strasse would resemble a quiet quarter of Lisbon, with outdoor cafes and pastelerias, were it not for the road signs. I recommend Aquario restaurant on Rambachstrasse where you can choose your fish from a counter display including fresh sardines and tuna flown in daily from Lisbon. A mixed platter of grilled fish ( peixe misto ) including sardines, bacalao ( cod ), merluza ( hake ) and tuna costs about 25 euros. House wine is vinho verde.

Round the corner is Sagres restaurant. The salted cod in a tomato-based stew with sliced pommes sauté potatoes is recommended. Castelao in Reimarustrasse and Baixa Rio are also highly recommended. A nourishing peixe misto can also be had at Casa Algarve in Hofweg, not in the old port area but north of the Mundsbergplatz with the Binnenalster on your left.


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