MonthJuly 2011

Hamburg

Day 194

As one of the largest port cities in Europe, we got a chance to go to Hamburg to see its beauty.  We went there by car and saw much of the historical part of the city as well as took a ferry ride along the coast of the Elbe River and walked along the city’s canals.  The weather was pretty much raining for the whole time we were there.  As my friend put it, “when you go to Hamburg, plan for rain”.

The Drive

We left work at around noon to pick up our rental car.  It took us a bit longer than we expected because we had to go grocery shopping so we could have lunch and dinner in the car on the way there for our 6 hour drive (or so we thought).  The drive ended up taking 8 hours because of a stau (traffic jam).

The car we got from the rental company was a Mercedes-Benz C220.  When we got into the car, it smelled like new and being in such a new car for a road trip was undoubtedly awesome. We only got this car because it was the cheapest car with automatic transmission available.  I guess the Renault that we got last time was booked for today.  I wish that I got the chance to drive it though.

On the way there, we got to see a lot of the German countryside (as anyone typically does when going from one major city to another).  On the grass plains and knolls, we saw countless villages, farms, vineyards, and the like.  We even saw farms of wind turbines and solar panels.

After a few hours of driving, we stopped a few times.  We stopped at a rest area and at this middle-of-nowhere village.  The GPS guided us off the highway and into this village just to avoid the traffic jam.  For the first third of the trip, I sat in the front while three of my friends had to squish together in the back.  When it was my turn to sit in the back, I didn’t really feel the discomfort while I was reading on my friend’s Kindle.  I ended up going through about 90 pages of Band of Brothers.  Maybe the book was so interesting that I just completely zoned out of the real world for a little bit.

We reached our hostel at around 9 at night and parked the car.  After moving our stuff into our room, we began our sightseeing tour of Hamburg.

Reeperbahn

Our first destination was the Reeperbahn street.  Similar to Amsterdam, this area is one of the most famous red light districts in the world.  The whole area was full of sex shops, strip clubs, and brothels.  On the street corner, many women wearing fanny packs kept trying to approach tourists and we figured that these women were all prostitutes (that stuff is legal in Germany).

One of the more peculiar things was that there was a church that stood pretty much in the core of the whole area.  Really convenient for people to go to confess their sins I guess.

We meant to find a bar here for a drink, but pretty much all of the places reeked with pungent cigarette smoke or was way too loud.  Two of my biggest pet peeves in one place.  We ended up just going back to the hostel instead.

In order to keep up my “try-as-much-kinds-of-beer-as-possible mentality”, I tried a type of beer called Astra Urtyp.  It tasted horrible – too much of hops flavour.  Some of the others drank a few more beers and got tequila shots before heading out again.  As usual, I went to sleep.  The next morning, I found that they returned at around 5:30 in the morning.

The Rathaus

At around 11, on a cloudy day with a large and persistent ocean breeze (it was super cold even with my jacket on), we showed up at the meeting point for the walking tour – a Starbucks.  This tour company receives some sort of sponsorship from them.  Our tour guide, didn’t look like a German, and when he spoke, a clear Northern USA accent came about – apparently, he had been living in Germany for some time.  He led us to the first destination of the tour – the Rathaus (city hall).

Located by the Alster River, this rathaus replaced the old one that was destroyed in the fire of 1842.  This building looked quite similar in form to other city halls, like the one in Munich and Vienna, with a clock tower-like structure that extended directly above the main entrance.  Right above the gate of the main entrance, the Hamburgers proudly displayed their coat of arms that depicted the old fortress of Hammaburg (where the city got its name) that used to exist in the area before its destruction by the Vikings.  Once more this coat of arms was displayed on the clock tower of the rathaus, just beneath a large antiquated mechanical clock.  Statues of German Kaisers decorated the side of the building as each one stood in a line just beneath the rooftop.

In front of the building was a giant courtyard and during World War II, a bomb landed here, but didn’t explode.  If it had, the rathaus would have been badly damaged.  The bomb was defused and the timing mechanism removed from the bomb is now on display in the rathaus.  In the courtyard, the Hamburgers held the Stuttgart Wine Festival, which apparently coincided with the Hamburg Fish Market in Stuttgart.  Here, people set up tents selling South German cuisine – the kind of German food that I’m always used to eating. 

Along the Alster River stood a giant stone plaque engraved with a message saying that 40000 sons of the city gave their life for us all.  Everyday, people going to the rathaus are reminded of the tragedy that befell the country.  Beside it, swans, ducks and other birds frolicked about and went on with their day to day lives.


Buildings on the other side of the river formed a canal much like in Amsterdam.  Canals could be seen throughout much of the city and in fact, the city holds the world record for having the most amount of bridges.  At first I thought Amsterdam’s 900 bridges was a lot, but apparently Hamburg has around 2300.

St. Peter’s Church

Although, not so significant as a work of architecture, many believe this place to be the site of where the old Hammaburg fortress once existed.  When we stood at the entrance of this church, the tour guide said, “welcome to the highest point of Hamburg!”  I looked around and just saw a gentle slope and nothing more.  I guess Hamburg must not have any mountains! 


Besides being a church, this building once served as a stables for Napoleon’s forces.  Not long after the Napoleonic Wars, the church was destroyed in the fire of 1842.  Despite the fire, much of the art in the building was saved including the lion shaped door knocker – the oldest artifact in the city.  At the back of the church, vegetation grew along the brick walls over the years and not far beside it, a wooden sign stood with directions to various places for pilgrimages.

Expressionist Architecture

During the height of Hamburg’s power in sea trade, many firms set up offices in the city.  Many of these firms had buildings resembling the architecture style of the expressionists – elements of the building’s exterior would reflect the purpose of the building.  For example, in one of the accounting houses for sea trade, one could see elements of the building protruding from its side in the shape of a caravel or an anchor.

In another building, known as the Chilehaus, held the shape of a ship and above the front entrance, there were various objects representing the country of Chile.  Similarly, in the Afrikahaus, there was a giant statue of a tribesman wielding a spear and behind the statue on the gate, was a sculpture of a plant indigenous to Africa.

We also visited the Patriotische Gesellschaft (no idea what that is in English), but this building too had examples of the expressionist art.  Statues of caravels and Poseidon stood on the roof.

World War II Stuff

While on the tour, the guide pointed out a plaque on the side of a building and on it was information saying that the building was once the location of the firm that manufactured the Zyklon B gas that killed millions of people in the death camps.  This plaque used to be located at the main entrance of the building, but the building owners and people working there did not want a daily reminder of those atrocities.  To counteract this, they used a different entrance as the main one instead.


Another destination, the Church of Saint Nicholas was one of the many buildings destroyed during the instead bombing raids on Hamburg.  The church did not get a complete repair after the war, but instead it now stands as a memorial – another reminder of the devastation of World War II.

Deichstrasse

Located near a large network of canals, this area of the city is the oldest part of Hamburg.  Undoubtedly, this area was filled with old architecture and complete with the cobblestone roads that are so prevalent in Europe.  The building style also resembled a lot of 18th and 19th century architecture. 


There would have been more buildings in this area, but through several fires and bombings, much of it was destroyed.  In fact, one of the buildings here was where the fire of 1842 started.  It must have been reconstructed since then.

Speicherstadt

Literally translated, the title means a “city of warehouses”, which indeed is what the area was for – storing cargo.  Back in the day, this area used to be where the Hamburgers traded without having to deal with customs tariffs.

As the size of cargo ships got larger, these buildings began to be obsoleted as many of these cargo ships could not fit in the narrow city canals.

HafenCity

Probably the most modern part of the city, this district serves as a playground for architects.  Much of the buildings here don’t follow any sort of mainstream design ideas – lots of buildings here looked really bizarre.

One building to note though, is the concert house under construction.  It has the shape of ocean waves to represent the city’s rich history of sea trade.  Originally budgeted for 100 million euros, due to construction delays and other unfortunate events, the cost of the building is now nearing 500 million euros.

Before this area became popular, the city had trouble getting people to move here, so they rented out flats here for as low as 500 euros a month, but now people can’t rent a flat here for anything less than 3000 euros a month.

Shopping and Food

After our tour, some of my friends couldn’t stand the freezing ocean wind anymore and decided they had to go buy a hoodie.  The wind was so strong that the clouds weren’t just floating across anymore.  There was like a wind speed of about 20 km/h.  We walked around the old town and found an H&M.  I looked around inside and to my surprise, I found that the prices at this H&M seemed to be a lot higher than Stuttgart.  Otherwise, I most probably would have bought something there.

Later on, we went back to the old part of Hamburg for traditional Hamburg cuisine.  We entered a restaurant that had a theme of sailing.  The wall had on display some schematics and black and white photos of various types of ships.  The color scheme of the place even coincided with the stereotypical blue and white colour combination of sailors. We went to eat at around 3, so it was kind of empty at the time.

The food I tried here was Labskaus – a dish typically served in Northern Germany and according to Wiki, “the main ingredients are salted meat or corned beef, potatoes, and onion. Some – non-traditional – recipes put beetroot, pickled gherkin, or even herring into it.”  Mine was served with beetroot and pickled herring, which was typical of the Hamburg style.

Hamburg Hafen

After our meal, we went to the harbour for a ferry ride along the Elbe River.  The ferry drove along the coastline and gave us a really good view of the city.  We rode the ferry from HafenCity all the way to the beach near the Elbtunnel.  In addition to the city scape, we even saw a docked submarine and a cruise ship about to begin its journey.  The travellers on the ship happened to be doing their lifeboat safety drill as we passed by so the people on the two ships happily waved to each other.


The ocean wind we felt on the ship was so strong that I probably needed a winter coat to keep warm.  The wind even caused the waves to be strong enough such that water splashed onto the deck of the boat and onto everyone standing on it.

On the other side of the river, miles of cranes lined up the shore, ready to unload any cargo on ships that docked.  What we were seeing was the second largest port in Europe, the largest being the one in Rotterdam.

Bar District

Supposedly, this area is known as the bar district (at least that’s what we called it).  Despite its name though, there was a really tight concentration of bars here, but the cost of beer was even more than Stuttgart.

At the bar/restaurant, I ordered an apple strudel to help combat my hunger from walking around all day instead of going for beer like everyone else did (although I did have a little bit).  The apple strudel I got wasn’t that expensive and it looked and tasted amazing.

Fish Market

The next morning, we went to the fish market – Hamburg is famous for it.  However, we got there a little late, so by the time we got there, a lot of the places were closing down.  As a last ditch attempt to sell more stuff, a lot of shops there started giving people really good deals on food like selling a whole box of fruit for only 1 euro.  I would have bought it if I could eat all of that.  A pile of garbage behind all these people went to show how much food they sold that day.

Although the market by named says “fish”, people sold all sorts of things in addition to fish.  Many sold bread, cheese, and various types of meat.  I wondered if I’d see something similar to the wurst man I saw a while back, but I didn’t.

The market even had an indoor beer garden with a live band playing.  It was quite a nice place.  If only we were there early enough.

Driving Home

As I probably should have known, I could not resist the urge to drive.  I ended up taking the wheel for about half an hour and managed to get the Benz up to 200 km/h.  While driving at that speed though, the steering wheel was really shaky.  I felt that if the car ran over a pebble or something like that, the car would just plunge into the side of the road.  If it wasn’t for that, I would have reached the car’s top speed.

Before I started driving though, we stopped at a rest area.  When we took a good look at the back seat of the car and noticed a giant mess of crumbs from all our snacking during the trip.  I don’t think I had any to do with that since I never considered myself to be a messy eater.  Just as we finished commenting about the messiness of the car, one of my friends had apparently stepped on dog poop and got it in the car.  It smelled horrible.  He even got it onto another friend’s pants.  He cleaned it up right away, but a faint smell of the poop lingered in the car for the rest of the journey.  It’s a shame that the car rental company gave us a car smelling like new just so we’d give it back with a bad smell.

In another rest area near Frankfurt, we stopped for a bite to eat and went up to the observation tower there to look at the Frankfurt skyline.  That was a nice sight except for the giant high voltage line that blocked part of the view.  By then we were already pretty much 3/4 of the way home.  I continued reading Band of Brothers on the Kindle and managed to get through about 65% of the book in total.  We got back into Stuttgart at around 7:30 in the evening, returned the car, and went home.

The Pronunciation of the Word “The”

Day 189

During a conversation with one of my German friends, the topic of the use of articles in languages came up and my friend told me that in his English class, he learned two different pronunciations of the word “the”.  One way, the way that most people should be familiar to, is pronounced like “thUH”, while the other had a “thEE” sound.  He also mentioned that he learned that these two ways of saying the word had a “rule” associated with it.  He said that the “thUH” pronunciation was used for words that had an opening sound of a consonant while the “thEE” pronunciation was used for words with an opening sound of a vowel.  For example, he would say “thUH” car, and “thEE” others.  There’s also “thUH” time, or “thEE” hour.  I learned no such rule in any of my English classes as far as I was concerned.  It didn’t matter to me which pronunciation people used.

I too noticed that some people say “the” differently, but I had no idea there was a pattern.  I tried it for myself, but I couldn’t really test it while thinking about it.  Eventually, as we kept talking, I found myself following this same pattern.  I followed this pattern without even knowing it.  I probably did this since I learned how to speak English.  I didn’t do it just once, but on multiple occasions.  I wondered how it could be that I followed the pattern so implicitly.

I sought to find out why this was.  Eventually, I learned that this was a difference between British English and American English.  Many Americans would simply say “thUH” for everything (maybe except for some who have a more Northern accent for English).  The distinction in the pronunciation lie in British English.  Me being from Canada, similarly follow this aspect of British English.  Now whenever I use the word “the”, I often find myself thinking about which way I said it.

First Time Playing Badminton Again in Like 5 Years

Day 188

It turns out that at my work place, there exists a small gymnasium and in there, the company holds badminton games every week.  After discovering this, my friends and I went to try it out.  I hadn’t played badminton for about five years and it took me a little bit to get back into the groove again.  We started off with some light rallying and as we kept playing it just escalated to smashing the birdie back and forth (I never knew I could even smash the birdie).  Even though we played on a small court with a low ceiling, we learned to adjust the power of the shots such that we wouldn’t hit the ceiling or hit it way out of bounds.  It took a bit of work to adjust the smashing power though.  It led us to not use that much power for any of our hits, so the birdie never moved very fast.  Driving the birdie was next to impossible too.  If the opponent missed the birdie, it would just go out because of the small court.  After getting used to the court, we began to play real games, but we  butchered the serving really bad.  We totally forgot how it was supposed to work for scoring, who’s turn it was to serve and when players switched positions.  We kind of just made up our own rules scoring rules.  But, the real rules did come back to us and we played that way for the duration.  It was really great getting to play this game again.  Definitely a fun two hours.  I think I’m going to go every week now.

The Hamburg Fish Market and the German Wurst Man

Day 187

While walking around Stuttgart last Thursday, my friends and I went to the Hamburg Fish Market.  Normally, a street market in Stuttgart isn’t that interesting, but this one was different.  A fish market from Hamburg meant quality fish.  Geographically, the city of Stuttgart is landlocked, and the most commonly bought seafood is frozen.  I don’t know what other people think, but I would definitely eat fresh fish over frozen fish.

Even though by name, the market sold fish, some retailers sold chocolate desserts like chocolate/caramel bananas and strawberries.  They even had a giant beer garden set up for people to eat and drink.  While people ate, a band would play music.  Out of the entire event, what stood out most to me was the man selling German sausages.

This man had gathered a large crowd when he started yelling loudly about what a great deal he had.  This man would fill up giant bags of sausages and sell them for only 20 euros.  Each bag looked like they were about 3-4 kilos.  What an amazing deal in terms of euros/weight.  The guy would yell something in German and then if nobody bought it, he’d add more sausages into the bag until someone bought it.  To further entice people to buy, he’d take sausages and throw them into the crowd.  It was such a weird sight.  A fat guy just throwing sausages into the crowd.

His giant belly must have been all the beer he drank and the sausages he ate.  It’s so stereotypically German.  While holding the sausages in his hand, he’d go on about what kind of sausages he was selling (apparently he had elk meat sausages too), and he sold so many bags of them.  I think the guy selling cheese nearby adopted this wurst man’s strategy of stuffing cheese in bags (except he didn’t throw them, so that’s not as cool).

Eventually, he took notice of our group and call out to me, “you with the hat!”  I guess I stood out of the crowd because of my fedora (or maybe because I’m Chinese).  I walked up to him and he handed me this stick of pepperoni (I think that’s what it was) and started saying something to me that I didn’t understand.  This man yelled so loud that it seemed like he was screaming at me the whole time.  I looked over to my friends and they yelled back with a translation saying, “give him your hat!”, but I heard “in your hat”.  I was really confused at this point.  Why would I put the sausage in my hat?  Soon after, I realized what he wanted and he ended up wearing the hat for a brief moment before handing it back (it didn’t suit him at all).  I’m pretty sure he dirtied the hat with his greasy fingers too, which I wasn’t too happy about, but I guess it’s all in good fun.  It was a really strange experience though, but at least I got free food out of it.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Day 186

Since we never got to go to Neuschwanstein because of that rainy day, we went yesterday because it was so sunny.  We all woke up super early to take the 7:17 train out of Stuttgart and I ended up sleeping for most of the journey (sleeping at 1 the night before didn’t help).

Four and a half hours and 3 train transfers later, we arrived in the town of Füssen, and from there we took a bus to Hohenschwangau.  All of these German towns had a really old style of architecture – even older than the ones I see around Stuttgart.  It’s almost as if Band of Brothers used these houses for filming their show.

On the train to Füssen, we could already see that pretty much most people on board were tourists all heading to the same place.  It seemed as if the sole purpose of this town is for tourism, despite its rich history.  The nearby municipalities of Schwangau and Hohenschwangau were the same too.  Tourists were everywhere, and taking photos of everything (myself included).  From Hohenschwangau, we could already look up the hill to see a glimpse of Neuschwanstein Castle and the Bavarian Alps.

We could also see the less popular castle, Hohenschwangau Castle from Hohenschwangau.  By itself, that castle looked really great, but when put beside Neuschwanstein, it just doesn’t compare.

We went to the ticket center to hopefully get tickets for the tour of the inside, and when we reached the ticket counter after 40 minutes of waiting, we found out all the tours we wanted were full.  We even tried to get tours in languages we didn’t know like French because we just wanted to see the inside, but those were full too.  The only ones left were too late in the evening for us to go since it would conflict with our train back.  We had no choice but to only see the outside. 

From the base of the mountain, we proceeded on foot and arrived at the gate of the castle after about 10-15 minutes. For once, the attraction we went to visit wasn’t under some kind of maintenance. Since I had walked up to the castle a lot faster than the rest of my group, I went ahead and went inside to the castle courtyard.


The castle courtyard also had a spectacular view of the surrounding area.  Looking further up the mountain, I could see a lot of parachuters slowly drifting down.  Those people probably had a better view of the castle than everyone else on the ground.  When I went back to the castle gate, I found that the rest of the group still hadn’t caught up yet and I probably spent almost 30 minutes up there.  I had no idea what took them so long, but it turned out that they walked really slow and made a lot of random stops.  After meeting up with them, we walked along the forest trail to the Marienbrücke, and that was where we arrived at the location where all the iconic photos of the castle were taken.  According to Wiki, this castle was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Before taking any pictures of the castle, we had to fight through the rather large crowd of tourists that also wanted to take these iconic shots for themselves (I can’t say that I wasn’t one of them).  Eventually, I got on and enjoyed the view of the castle and the surrounding area.

After crossing the bridge, I climbed up a hill to get an even better view and that’s when I stumbled on a cross placed on the edge of the cliff.  Apparently, someone had died here and it was probably from falling off the mountain or something.  That made me feel a bit uneasy, since falling off was definitely in the realm of possibility.

From the bridge, we saw that people were down in the gorge and it seemed like a nice place so we took the trail down as well.  On the way down, we passed by a waterfall and two my friends decided that they’d go swimming in it.  The water looked super cold too.  Regardless, they climbed down and started swimming in there in just their underwear.  Some of the tourists walking by were kind of shocked to see that.  Some weren’t very impressed, but others found it amusing.  A funny thing about that was that people didn’t take any pictures of the waterfall because the two swimmers would be ruining the picture.  They swam in there for about 10 minutes before getting back out and once they did, we continued down to the bottom of the gorge.  The water at the bottom was so amazingly clear and looked so clean.  It was reminiscent of the time I went to Banff National Park when I was 10.

Along the shore, people had stacked stones together to build towers and they were scattered everywhere.  I tried building my own, but I failed quite epically.

It was soon time for us to leave for our train back to Stuttgart so we continued following the trail down the mountain.  The path down went along the creek where the water flowed down the mountain and that was quite nice to see.  The way the water crashed down looked kind of like white water rafting, except that there wasn’t enough space for it.

Eventually, the trail led back into town near a residential area.  The houses here too looked really old.  More architectural styles that Band of Brothers probably used.

After about 15 minutes of walking, we ended up back in Hohenschwangau.  From there, we took the train back.  At the train station, I saw the largest mass of people ever waiting for a train.  Pretty much all of these people were tourists too. 

Needless to say, it wasn’t very comfortable on that train.  All the seats had been taken up and most people had to stand in the aisles and that wasn’t great at all.  I ended up standing in the train for about an hour and fifteen minutes.  The train didn’t have air conditioning either, so here we all were, getting blasted by the sun without any ventilation for all the warm bodies in the train.  The loud drunk people and the screaming little kids didn’t make it better either.

After getting off that train to wait for our connecting train in Buchloe, we went to go buy some food at a local cafe.  While buying our food, we chatted with the owner for a little bit and it turned out that he used to work in Vancouver and lived on Robson Street.  Small world.  Unfortunately, we were in a bit of a hurry so we had to just buy our food and go.  Originally, the 20 minutes we had would have been sufficient for buying food, but the guy (not the guy we chatted with, but someone else) trying to give us our bill took the longest time ever doing it.  He literally stood at the cash register and stared out into space as if he didn’t know how to do his job.  Then he’d press a few buttons on the register (wrong buttons), and the machine just gave an unhappy beeping noise.  I had never seen anybody work so slow before.  It’s almost as if he worked with zero efficiency.  Even worse was that he forgot my order too.  My friends ended up sharing their food with me (I was really hungry).  After getting our food, we sprinted back to the train station and caught our train.  On the train back, I ended up sleeping since I was so tired from walking around all day (and was probably still under the effects of sleep deprivation from the night before too).

After my nap, I ended up taking random photos of the countryside and playing cards with the others until we reached Stuttgart again.  It was a nice trip, but it is a shame that we never got to visit the inside of the castle.

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