Brent Foster: co-founder, managing partner and tour guide with Robin and the Tourguides
I came to Hamburg from California in 1998 to study classical music. I finished my studies and played in many different professional orchestras around Germany. Which was eventually very stressfull to coordinate with the raising of my son, so I eventually decided in 2010 to change carreers and become a tour guide. Of course, I knew the scene here in Hamburg very well but had to study a lot to get the history and stories down. I eventually learned more and more about Hamburg´s history and districts so that I can now offer a dozen or so standard tours in different parts of the city as well as offering very individual tours with different themes for many different groups and interests. I gave music up professionally in 2015 and concentrated on being a full time tour guide.
I still enjoy going to concerts and listening to live music, style isn´t so important as long as it is well performed and intruiging. I also am very interested in the craft beer scene, which is why I started the Hamburg Craft Beer Tasting Tour here in Hamburg in 2015.
Unfortunately, I don´t have much time to do much anything else other than giving and organising tours and taking care of my son. However, on evenings when I just want to relax and not think too much, I do enjoy randomly watching YouTube videos such as TedX or Vsauce and maybe even now and then watching a hilariously cheap and quarky B movie with my son.
Why did you decide to offer Free Walking Tours in Hamburg?
Me and a good friend started Robin and the Tourguides in 2014 because we wanted to start a new tour company that was different from other tour companies here in the city. Our goals were to create a company that offered exceptionally high quality tours, was authentic, local, creative and was fair to all parties involved. Free Tours is a concept that always sat well with us because it allows everyone to experience a professional tour even if they might not be able to afford it.
It is also a fundamental principle that we are a local company that was founded and run all by local guides themselves, with the exception of Robin. He joined us very early on and does a lot of IT and backoffice work and for the first four years was the only one that was not a guide with us. Eventually though, as we grew, we needed more help from „non-guides“ with the organising and back office aspects. This philosophy has made us a very close-knit, motivated and trusting team.
How many different tours you offer and (Q2.1) are they really "for free"?
We offer our two standard free tours every day (yes, REALLY, every day!). Our Historic City Center Tour starts at 11:00 am in front of the main entrance of the town hall and our Harbour, St.Pauli and Reeperbahn tour starts at 2:00 pm at the Landungsbrücken Nr. 5. All our free tours are in English, German and Spanisch. That is already 6 tours that take place every day. We also offer our very special Hamburg Craft Beer Tasting Tour in English every Friday and in German every Saturday. On top of that, we offer a lot of individual private tours as well. These are very flexible as far as time, length, themes and sights are concerned. We offer walking tours, harbour boat tours, Alster boat tours, bus tours, bicycle tours, ritchka tours, among other tours through many very different parts of the city. We can organise short 2 hour tours as well as events lasting several days or even longer. That is the great thing about a company that is run by guides, we have a lot of experience and know-how. We have also organised many unusual themed tours on demand such as: dating tours, gender-based tours, culinary tours, gin tastings, shopping tours, WWII tours, concentration camp tours, art tours, and basically anything else that one can think of...And if we can´t accomodate for a special theme, we most certainly know someone who can.
Are „Free Tours“ really free?
One can delve into the linguistics of the meaning of „free“, but in theory, yes! Some people might mistake them as „free of cost“, however, this would not be an accurate description of what free tours are. The Oxford dictionary defines „free“ as: „Able to act or be done as one wishes; not under the control of another“. We find this a fitting definition of the free tour concept. It is not, so to say, that „free tours“ are free of cost, rather, everyone is free to decide for themselves what the tour is worth or what their budget allows. Of course, all our guides are dependent on the income they earn from the free tours. They have to pay their taxes, pension funds, health care insurance, social insurances, business costs and cost of living with what the guests decide to give them for their services. We also don´t think of our free tours as a low budget tour, rather just the opposite. We feel if the guide offers their guests a great tour, why should we fear that the guests wouldn´t pay a fair price for their services? This motivates all of our guides to offer high quality tours every time. We, of course, do get guests every so often that come to us after the tour and explain that they had a great time on the tour, learned a lot about the city and would love to give something but only have enough money to pay for their metro-ticket back to the central station to catch their bus back home. A lot of times they are maybe students, backpackers, unemployed or from very poor countries. I think most of us have experienced being poor at some point in our life. This is the beauty of the free tour system! It allows everyone to have a wonderful time while visiting the city and get a lot out of their trip regardless of their financial situation.
Q3: What is the main challenge when you meet so many different travellers?
The main challenge is to understand who the travellers are as a person, where are they coming from as well as their cultural, educational and historical background, and how much they already know of Europe, Germany or even Hamburg and adapt to this. This, however, is what makes this job such an amazing and dynamic job. Every group is different with different personalities, backgrounds, educations, nationalities, ages and beliefs. The challenge is to communicate clearly and effectively so that every one can get a better understanding and feeling of the city. The most challenging questions that I get, for example, are from children. I am always amazed at how differently, detailed and creative children think and most of the times I really have to concentrate a lot about how to answer them.
How do you manage to engage your guests to get a real taste of what Hamburg actually is?
Well, every tour is different. Many companies might have a script that the guides just memorize and recite over and over to their guests. Robin and the Tourguides is different, we don´t have a script and I am free to explain things that I want or feel the group is interested in. Of course, the main sights are included in our tours, however, I have the freedom to present different things if I get the feeling that the group is interested more in a particular subject than another. Sometimes, the group is only interested in a short and concise snapshot of Hamburg while other groups want an in depth feeling of many different aspects of what the city has to offer. To be flexible is very engaging for the group and many times there is a trusting bond that developes between me and the guests.
What is the most exciting moment you had during your tours?
Well, maybe exciting isn´t the best description, but I will never forget my very first tour in 2010. I had a perticularly large group of about 25 people. We were walking down a pedestrian street when all of the sudden one of my guests was run over from behind by a bicycle-ritchka illegally riding down the street. It was horrible! I immediately called an ambulance and the police, then had to file a report, contact the family and informed them that their son was in a hospital in a foreign country and make sure everything was taken care of. Of course due to the circumstances, I had to cancel the tour for the rest of the travellers when it happened. After everything was done and over, I remember thinking to myself, „What have I gotten myself into?“. Luckily however, something like that hasn´t happened to me again; knock on wood!!! :-) .
How the tourists can book your tours online?
Travellers can book and find information about our tours on our website:
They can also e-mail or call us on our hotline if they have any questions or comments.
Hotline: +49 40 232050499 (0)40 232 050 49