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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More photos here