Hamburg is a large, sprawling city filled with cool, calm, patrician elegance on one hand, raucous Reeperbahn district low life on the other, with an added dash of harbor romance as large stretches of industrial waterside are renovated or reinvented. When it comes to youth culture, however, the scene has converged in the somewhat rundown and very multiculti Schanzen and Karolinenviertel quarters. Stocked with independent designer boutiques, vintage shops, comfortably shabby cafes and assorted bars and clubs, this is Hamburg at its most bohemian.

Marktstrasse in Karolinenviertel is young designer row and a must for fashion individualists. Kick off with Druck Dealer (print dealer) at number 102, a boutique-atelier-exhibition space for hand-printed T-shirts and more from artists Nele Maack and Gesa Lange. Shoe designer Inga Thomas recently set up shop at number 117, where she creates lively vegan footwear—the skins are leather imitations from Italy. The interior, on the other hand, is minimalist retro-butcher, and the foot powder to ease try-ons is champagne-based.

Hans Peter Reuker at Reuker HP, 133 Marktstrasse, stitches up classics with a twist, such as a denim jacket with attached hoodie or a hooded satin dress. Decoy at number 145 is a new joint project from Hamburg labels Sugarcube, Tazuma and Goldmarie, offering women’s, men’s and babies’ clothing and accessories in three in-store shops plus a mini hair salon in the back. Artist “happenings” and exhibits are also planned, one can play ping-pong in the backyard. The front stoop has become a casual extension of the Panter cafe across the street.

Karo Dame, 147 Marktstrasse, offers such street gear as embroidered fatigues and ponyskin bags.

Cross the street and check out Peter Pützer‘s vintage shoes and accessories from the Twenties to the Eighties at U2 at number 1a. Andreas Linzner at number 6 creates irresistible stuffed animals, toiletry cases, pillows and more from recycled towels, bathrobes and curtains, which he buys and lovingly restores by the ton.

It’s T-shirt central at Shirt Lab, number 16, and Garment at number 25 features clean, hip looks from Kathrin Müller and Ullinca Schröder. Next door, Sium’s Regina Stehenbock takes an ironic approach to simple shapes, playful detailing and fabrics like cotton calico, jersey and denim in her very graphic second-floor space at number 27. Suspect at number 28 is a retro treasure trove for Forties to Seventies fans, with an amazing selection of slips and costume jewelry.

The Schanzenviertel’s retail offerings are less concentrated, with interesting and generally pocket-sized boutiques nestled between food stores, cafes and antique-junk shops. Of special note: Reingold on Schulterblatt 78 for fairy-tale jewelry designed and crafted by Ivar Kranz, Chocofeh on Schulterblatt 92 for shoe enthusiasts with a taste for fur-lined ballerinas, Caribbean-flavored style at Yolander J. on Juliusstrasse 12 or Scarpovino on Susannenstrasse 29, where you can buy wine, cigars and footwear all in one go.

Exhausted? Join the fashion flock, literati and assorted artsy types for coffee, homemade cakes and vegetarian dishes under the trees at Cafe Unten den Linden on Juliusstrasse 16. The thoroughfare Schulterblatt functions as a massive outdoor cafe in good weather, with cheap and cheerful snacks of almost every nationality. Favorite daytime hangouts in the Karolinenviertel include Yoko Mono on Marktstrasse 41, which spills out into the park on sunny days, and Cafe Klatsch on Glashüttenstrasse 17, which caters to cool kids and chess-playing elderly men. Lange Reihe in the St. Georg district behind the train station attracts both the scene-seekers and foodies to the elegantly hip Cox at number 68, joined by Turnhalle at number 107, an extremely spacious eatery housed in a former gym. For drinks and what goes with them, the ever popular Purgatory Bar at Friedrichstrasse 8 is the absolute opposite: small, dark and plushly sinister. Golden Pudel Club on St. Paul Fischmarkt 27 and Amphore on Hafenstrasse 140 are young, mildly grungy but with open-air, harbor-view seating.

Designer hotels are a Hamburg specialty, and 25 Hours Hotel at Paul-Dessau-Strasse 2 is specifically styled and priced for a young clientele. It’s very pink, very pop, with an in-house lounge screening movies every night, a sushi bar and retro-mix furniture designed by 3Meta, which can be bought. The Eastern note continues at East Hotel on Simon-von-Utrecht-Strasse 31, but quiet it’s not. Be prepared for a weekend scene populated with PYTs of both sexes. Finally, the elegant Side on Drehbahn 49 features interiors by Mattheo Thun and light installations by Robert Wilson.

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