St Nicholas Church / Memorial - History and Facts | History Hit

St Nicholas Church / Memorial

Hamburg, Germany

Amy Irvine

18 Feb 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St Nicholas Church / Memorial

St Nikolai church was once the world’s tallest building from 1874-1876. Mostly destroyed in World War Two, it is now a memorial and museum site, the Mahnmal St-Nikolai.

History of St Nikolai Kirche

The first chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, was erected in the 12th century on the banks of the Alster river. This wooden chapel later became a sizeable brick and stone church, which remained in place and expanded until the mid-19th century.

During Hamburg’s Great Fire of 1842, the St. Nikolai Church was the first large public building to burn. Soon after, a fundraising campaign was started to rebuild the church. A new church was designed in the neo-Gothic style by English architect George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1874. Its 147.4 metre spire made it the tallest building in the world for 2 years.

During the Allied heavy air raids on Hamburg from 24-29 July 1943 (Operation Gomorrah), St. Nikolai was largely destroyed, yet the crypt and spire remained relatively unscathed – the spire served as an orientation point for the Allied bomber pilots. Approximately 34,000 people lost their lives in the bombing of Hamburg.

Since the war, the Nikolai ruins and memorial have become a central place of remembrance, dealing with the war and its dictatorship from 1933-1945. A permanent exhibition is set up in the crypt, and there are changing exhibitions and peace policy events.

St Nikolai Kirche today

Today the ruins of the St Nikolai Church are a place of remembrance of the victims of the Second World War.

The church crypt houses a permanent exhibition on the eventful history of the church, and the main section hosts a museum about World War Two dedicated to its victims, as well as the causes, consequences and historical context of the air war over Europe.

There is also an observation tower with a glass panorama lift which takes visitors to a viewing platform 76 metres above the ground, overlooking the harbour, Alster lakes and the city centre, as well as nearby Speicherstadt.

The St. Nikolai Memorial also regularly organises a programme of events including lectures, special exhibitions, readings, concerts and films.

Getting to St Nikolai Kirche

The St Nikolai Kirche memorial is located at Willy-Brandt-Strasse 60. By subway / S-Bahn, take the U3 to Rathaus or Rödingsmarkt station, or the S1, S3 to Jungfernstieg station. If travelling by bus, take Line 3 to Rathausmarkt or Großer Burstah station, or Line 17 Rathausmarkt or Großer Burstah station.

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