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Business as unusual

It’s known as one of Germany’s major business centres, but write Hannover off as dull and you’ll miss out on intriguing architecture, off-beat street art and locals-only nightlife, says James Stewart

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too successful. You’d think a country renowned for business acumen would celebrate a city that hosts blockbuster trade fairs. Instead, for pulling in 800,000 attendees to mega-shows like March’s CeBIT – the largest digital technology get-together on the planet – Hannover gets a bad rap. “Is the capital of Lower Saxony the most boring city in Germany?” news weekly Der Spiegel wondered a few years ago, while Germans have scoffed that the best thing about Hannover is its transport network – making it easy to leave.

The joke, however, is on them. For unless you see nothing other than the largest showground on Earth and the inside of a business hotel, you’ll find much to enjoy in airy, prosperous Hannover. It may not be as obviously handsome as other state capitals – the RAF saw to that in 1943 – yet its hodgepodge of old-world charm, post-war drabness and modern ambition is all the more interesting. Tradition sits cheek by jowl with eccentricity. And boring? Der Spiegel has clearly never had a night on the tiles in the student quarter.

Traditional virtues

With its haughty brick churches and wonky half-timbered houses, Hannover’s cobbled Altstadt (old town) is an island of charm and sanity amid the modern city. Most buildings in its medieval streets were rebuilt after the war, yet the soaring 14th-century Marktkirche (market church), adjacent Altes Rathaus (old town hall) and Kramerstrasse, which spears away from the church in earthy pastel façades chequered with beams, look for all the world like proper picture-postcard Germany.

Stroll round the corner and you’ll pass the reconstructed Renaissance home of 18th-century philosopher-mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, and the History Museum with its royal carriages fit for a Cinderella ball. Beyond a gate bearing the ‘British’ coat of arms of King George I – the 18th-century ruler who instigated 120 years of Hanoverians on the British throne – you’ll find Teestübchen (2 Ballhofplatz, tel. +49 (0)511 363 1682). With its pea-green panelling and cosy candlelit niches, this old-world café is a perfect place to hunker down out of the winter chill with a mug of tea and slice of homemade apple cake.

From café culture to high art – for the price of a pack of peanuts at the London opera, you can settle into a seat in Hannover’s Opera House (1 Opernplatz, www.staatstheater-hannover.de); Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Verdi’s Falstaff are the shows to choose between in January.

Art attack

In the 1970s, Hannover embarked on a ‘street art experiment’ to pep up its streetscape – and the results are marvellously odd. A man is cradled in the antlers of a concrete stag in the shopping high street. Steintor U-Bahn station is a canary-yellow checkered castle. And beside Leibnizufer’s four lanes of traffic, three buxom belles pirouette above the Leine River. These are the ‘Nanas’ of French artist Niki de Saint-Phalle, rather than extras from The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Once over the shock of their appearance – they caused 20,000 complaint letters – Hannoverians embraced the sculptures as colourful icons. They now make a quirky backdrop to the equally characterful flea market that sets up beside the river on Saturdays. Saint-Phalle was made the only honorary Hanoverian for her trouble, and she returned the favour in 2000 by transforming a simple grotto in the Grosser Garten (entrance Am Grossen Garten) into a mosaic acid-trip; an unexpected shot of psychedelia in one of the finest baroque gardens in Europe.

More of Saint-Phalle’s work is found among the Picassos and Chagalls of the excellent Sprengel Museum (Kurt-Schwitters-Platz, www.sprengel-museum.de). It lies south of the Altstadt, past the swaggering Neues Rathaus (new town hall), where one of Europe’s two inclined lifts ascends to a belvedere. It’s not a trip for those of a nervous disposition, given the lift’s tendency to judder as it inches round the outside of the hall’s oversized dome, but makes a fine introduction to the Maschsee Lake that was dug under Hitler’s orders in the 1930s (it’s now a focus for summer festivals).

Night owls

Yet it’s not bizarre art or odd architecture that most refutes any claims that Hannover is tedious: it’s the weekend nightlife. It may come as little surprise that a city of students has a club or two, but what is surprising is that it’s slipped under the radar of outsiders. This means you get to party with the locals – and they like their clubs intimate.

Action in the centre focuses on the grungey Steintor area, aka the Stöhntor or ‘moaning gate’ because of its red-light district past. In place of pole-dancing bars, Reuterstrasse now boasts steamy venues like Eve Klub (3-4 Reuterstrasse, Thursday-Saturday), whose party crowd and good-time tunes put it in the top 50 clubs in Germany according to Maxim magazine. Not bad for a former strip-club in the dullest city in Germany. It’s open till 5am, like most bars hereabouts, or you can nip around the corner to any number of clubs. There’s tiny techno and electro bastion Kiez Klub (5 Scholvinstrasse) in the parallel street, or 3Raum (5 Ballhofstrasse) with a playlist of old-school funk, boogaloo, soul and nu jazz. A little further away, seek out Café Glocksee (35 Glockseestrasse, www.cafe-glocksee.de) for DJs that swing from indie to 50s to reggae and back again. Listings magazine Prinz (www.hannover.prinz.de) is the best guide to the latest places to party.

To really tap into the scene, however, you need to head out of the centre. Linden, east of the Altstadt, is a leafy, multicultural quarter that’s home to hip 20- and 30-somethings, as well as bars like Bronco’s (7 Schwarzer Bär) – voted Prinz’s favourite bar in 2009. It could have been the retro style of this lofty place that won it. Or perhaps it was the dance floor, so tiny that a bop feels like a house party. But most likely, it was simply the friendly vibe. Of course, it’s packed at weekends – which is just another reason not to tell the legions of business suits where you’re off to. After all, Hannover’s boring, right?

FR Pas si commercial

Réputée comme le plus grand centre de foires commerciales en Allemagne, Hanovre a toutefois d’autres côtés plus divertissants à découvrir. Un reportage de James Stewart

Dans un pays réputé pour son sens des affaires, Hanovre est une ville aux multiples facettes, qui ne s’est pas fait un nom uniquement en tant que centre d’exposition. (…)

Avec ses églises altières et ses vétustes maisons à colombages, le quartier moyenâgeux d’Altstadt (vieille ville) est un îlot plein de charme. L’église Marktkirche du 14 siècle (église du marché), l’Altes Rathaus (l’ancien hôtel de ville) et la Kramerstrasse sont des lieux dignes d’une carte postale. Le café des temps anciens Teestübchen (2 Ballhofplatz) est idéal pour se réchauffer avant de visiter l’Opéra (1 Opernplatz).

Toute la ville est parsemée de merveilleuses œuvres d’art des années 1970. On citera notamment les trois belles figures féminines surplombant le fleuve Leine : les « Nanas » de l’artiste française Niki de Saint-Phalle, qui forment une étonnante toile de fond au marché aux puces du samedi. D’autres œuvres de Saint-Phalle sont exposées aux côtés des Picasso et des Chagall au Musée Sprengel (Kurt-Schwitters-Platz). Ce dernier se trouve au sud de l’Altstadt, où l’un des deux ascenseurs sur plan incliné d’Europe permet de relier le sommet du belvédère.

Mais Hanovre s’anime réellement la nuit. Toute l’action se concentre dans le quartier de Steintor, alias Stöhntor que l’on désigne comme « la porte des gémissements » en raison de son passé de « red-district ». L’Eve Klub (3-4 Reuterstrasse) a été classé en tête de 50 clubs en Allemagne par le magazine Maxim. Essayez le Kiez Klub (5 Scholvinstrasse) pour la techno, ou 3Raum (5 Ballhofstrasse) pour le funk et le jazz. Et pour vous plonger dans la vraie scène locale, allez à Linden, au Bronco’s (7 Schwarzer Bär), qui ne désemplit pas les week-ends.

NL Niet enkel voor business

Hannover staat bekend als een van de grote businesscentra van Duitsland maar saai is het allerminst, zegt James Stewart

Een land dat gekend is voor zijn zakelijk vernuft moet trots zijn op een stad met vele gerenommeerde handelsbeurzen, niet? Maar als je verder kijkt dan de beurzen en zakenhotels, valt er heel wat te beleven.

De indrukwekkende, statige kerken en krakkemikkige pseudovakwerkhuizen maken de geplaveide Altstadt (oude stad) erg charmant. De Marktkirche (marktkerk) uit de 14e eeuw, het Altes Rathaus (oude stadhuis) en de Kramerstrasse lijken zo van een typisch Duitse postkaart geplukt. Het oeroude café Teestübchen (2 Ballhofplatz) is de perfecte plek om de koude te ontvluchten, gevolgd door een bezoekje aan het Operahuis (1 Opernplatz).

De drie wellustige schoonheden die een pirouette draaien boven de Leine zijn de moeite waard. Het zijn de ‘Nanas’ van de Franse kunstenaar Niki de Saint-Phalle. Je vindt nog meer werken van Saint-Phalle tussen de Picasso’s en Chagalls van het Sprengel Museum (Kurt- Schwitters-Platz). Het museum ligt ten zuiden van Altstadt, waar je een van Europa’s twee schuine liften kunt nemen tot aan een belvédère.

Maar pas als de avond valt, komt Hannover echt tot leven. Vooral in de buurt van het groezelige Steintor bruist het nachtleven. Het blad Maxim zette de Eve Klub (3-4 Reuterstrasse) in de top 50 van de beste nachtclubs van Duitsland. Trek naar de Kiez Klub (5 Scholvinstrasse) voor techno of naar 3Raum (5 Ballhofstrasse) voor old-school funk en nu jazz. Of ga naar Bronco’s in Linden (7 Schwarzer Bär).

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