No city embodies Germany's uneasy alliance of old and new more than its fashion and media capital, Hamburg. Part grit and part high style, Hamburg is as well known for its tony residential neighborhoods as it is for the infamous Reeperbahn, a red-light district that rivals Amsterdam's. But a recent infusion of glamour has spawned a new entrepreneurial spirit. Hipsters are reclaiming the Kiez, the shady district surrounding the Reeperbahn, and opening sleek new clubs alongside the working girls. Bursting at the seams, the city center will soon double in size with the completion of an ambitious 383-acre harbor redevelopment project. In Hamburg, it seems, seediness has succumbed to style.
Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (9—14 Neuer Jungfernsteig; 49-40/3494-3150; doubles from $245) was recently restored to its 1896 greatness by the Raffles hotel group. The antique-filled rooms still house visiting dignitaries and celebrities, but its Amrita Spa and Euro-Asian restaurant, Doc Cheng's, are welcome blasts of cool.
Across the Binnenalster lake, society types hold court at the Kempinski Hotel Atlantic Hamburg (72—79 An der Alster; 800/426-3135 or 49-40/288-880; doubles from $200). Built in 1909 for Grand Tour travelers arriving via steamer, its maritime-themed rooms still charm.
Fast-forward to 2001 at Side Hotel (49 Drehbahn; 49-40/309-990; doubles from $181), Hamburg's first contemporary-design property, with interiors by Milan-based designer Matteo Thun. The dramatic steel-and-glass façade opens onto a soaring atrium dominated by a moody Robert Wilson lighting installation that replicates the changeable Hamburg weather.
The chic muted gray rooms aren't the main attraction at the Dorint am Alten Wall (40 Alter Wall; 49-40/369-500; doubles from $190); top billing goes to the hotel's Bistro, owned by noted chef Josef Viehhauser.
The Gastwerk Hotel (67 Daimlerstrasse; 877/454-3775 or 49-40/890-620; doubles from $102)is in an old public gasworks building and houses a Terence Conran—designed suite. The hotel's other, loftlike rooms have exposed brick walls and clubby mahogany furnishings.