In the night from the 4th to the 5th of May 1842 fire broke out in a house of the „Deichstraße“ (dyke street). The night watchmen made noise with rattles and calls. The soldiers on guard fired signal shots, and the guardians in the spires rang the fire bells. So the fire-brigade was called.
Greedily the fire spread to the wooden half timbered houses. It jumped over the Deichstraßenfleet (fleet, canal), more than 7 meters wide, to the houses of the Steintwiete (lane). Within shortest time the ware-houses in the Steintwiete and the houses down to Roedingsmarkt (marketplace) were ablazed.
The close lanes became deadly traps. Fire engines could not get into the small and crowded lanes. People paniced and tried to escape. Hundreds ran crying among the burning houses. Others tried to save everything they owned.
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The firefighters worked untiringly, but in vain. At noon the flames seized the tower of St. Nikolai. Around 6 o'clock the tower collapsed under cracking and thunders. From the ware-houses alcohol flowed into the fleets. It burned on the water, ignited the stakes in the fleets and endangered ships and bridges. Around 11 o'clock in the evening the fire jumped over the Alster (river). Now the city hall was in danger, and although fire chiefs blew up the city hall and other buildings, the fire continued to spread.
More and more fire-men fought against an inexorable flame sea.
In the Katharinenstraße (Katherine-Street) and in the Grimm (street) the people sat on the roofs of their houses and put out each spark, which the strong wind blew. That way they saved the whole parish of St. Katharinen.
Rich people saved everything they owned by using coaches and lighters. Poor people lost everything having no money for coaches. The small streets and canals are blocked with trolleys, furniture and goods. The work of the fire-men was very difficult. The chaos continued to increase and lead into anarchy: Plunderings, robbery started.
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Many people fled into the „Börse“ (stock exchange). They later had to leave this house, because already everything was burning around.
Several courageous men decided to save the „Börse“. Some of these people went to the roof. They had wet cloths around the head, and around the feet thick tapes. So they groped on the hot copper plates back and forth and pushed the flyingfires down with steel-pipes. They suffocated them with wet cloths, always in danger to fall down because of the smoke. It interfered each view into the width, bemused the brain. Their eyes were filled with tears. They often had to be replaced. The south wind drove the fire towards the „Gänsemarkt“ (goose market). Here a breakup could help.
Fire chiefs blew up whole house blocks at the Trostbrücke (bridge) and the townhall. A desperate attempt to stop the fire - without success.
Now the fire seized the Petri-Kirche (Peter's church). Around 9 p.m. a part of the tower began to burn, which no one could reach. Next morning the tower collapsed, too.
In the night to Sunday the wind turned and drove the flames towards the Alster. Thousands of fire-men were still working. They put down the fire. The street where the fire stopped was called „Brands Ende“ ( fire-end-road).
On Sunday, 8th of May, a rainbow shone over destroyed Hamburg. One third of the city was destroyed. 51 people died, 20 000 were left homeless.
The most important and historically parts lay in debris and ashes:
Nikolai-Kirche, Petri-Kirche, old townhall, crane, city scales etc.
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The poverty and misery in Hamburg was big, the assistance from other towns was big, too.
The people in Hamburg began to rebuild their city with courage and energy. The houses were not reconstructed at the old roads. The state bought all properties. It put on new broad roads and built for the first time water pipes under the roads. All roads were paved and received sidewalks and gaslanterns. They shone more brightly and were cheaper than the old oil lamps. Thus a completely new borough developed. Beside the „Börse“ a large place was left for the city hall. The new city hall was established in 1892, only 50 years after the large fire.
The small Alster received a completely different form. The "Alsterarkaden" and the "watergate" were developed. Now ships of the Elbe could reach the Alster.
St. Petri-Kirche and St. Nikolai-Kirche were rebuilt.