Following few painfully boring weeks without travel, last Saturday I decided enough was enough and took the opportunity to visit my family in Hamburg. It was just a quick trip, my easyjet flight took off from London Luton at an ungodly morning hour and I was back in the capital in time for Sunday dinner.
Despite the shortness of my stay in Germany’s second largest city, getting away was totally worth it. Hamburg is a meeting point for water, nature and German efficiency. Surrounded by forests and parks you will find there perfect little neighbourhoods where each house is completely unique. By the steel-coloured water of the inner Alster lake you will see thousands of financially-happy Hamburgers strolling down Neuer Wall and Jungfernstieg, city’s main shopping arteries. The city feels modern and at first glance looks like the kind of place that promises a comfortable life. I could see myself driving through the city’s wide streets in one of the beautiful cars I saw parked in the centre, picking up kids from a great kindergarden and going back to my mini-villa in the suburbs. Everyday life with a hint of travel in the air – something this port city with two international airports always carries around.
Of course not everything is straight from Astrid Lindgren’s childrenbooks. Hamburg is like a highly competent CEO of a multi-national concern. He build something that functions effectively resulting in content and well-off employees who see no point in leaving because they know that life doesn’t get much better than this. But Hamburg still struggles with a few bad apples in his economic empire. Although the city looks after its citizens much better than many other places in the world, there are still socio-economic problems that result in frustrated youth living in grey blocks of flats with life centering around a kebab or a sausage-selling place. I remember passing through a parking lot in the centre when I was little, my mum anxiously clenching my tiny fist as we walked passed groups of drug addicts. Outside the main train station, Hauptbahnhoff, you call still see dozens of homeless while at night you can meet a prostitute at the sinful Reeperbahn (Rope Walk) of St Pauli, city’s famous red-light district and entertainment hub.
There are loads of things to do when you visit this place. You can go to Tierpark Hagenbeck, a unique zoo where animals are not trapped in cages, or admire peace and serenity of the Planten and Blomen Japanese garden. For the history enthusiasts St.Michaeli’s and St.Nicholas churches as well as the city hall will be a must-see. If the weather is nice try a walk around the harbour or the beach. Next to St.Pauli-Elbtunnel, a hundread year old underwater tunnel, you will find Rickmer-Rickmers, a restored ship with a museum and restaurant. From there you can go to the peculiar Harry’s Hamburg Bazaar, Fish Market and U-Boat Museum (if you haven’t got tired of the multitude of the city’s museums by then).
I usually like to start my stay with coffee or one of the amazing flavoured Chai Lattes that you can find in some of the cafes by Alster. My caffeine rush is usually accompanied by an apfelstrudel or a delicious käsebrötchen (it may seem like a simple cheese roll but trust me, no one mixes bread and cheese the way Germans do!).
Try to plan your stay when the Hamburger Dom Fair is coming to town. If candy floss, chocolate covered fruit on a stick and 3 km of funfair are your thing, this is a place you don’t want to miss. I used to go there as a child and remember running ecstatically from one attraction to the other, cheerfully dizzy from the array of lights, colours and sounds.
If you happen to stay in Hamburg for longer make sure you go to Lübeck, a small town just outside the city which is famous for Marzipan. The best place to try it is Cafe Niederegger. Their Marzipan Torte is an absolute heaven! Add to this a walk on the beach in the nearby Travemünde and you got yourself a perfect Sunday in Germany!
Whatever you decide to see or do during your visit, keep your eyes wide open and get the most out of this interesting city. Breathe in the port aroma, take in its maritime stories, its multi-kulti vibe with its resulting tensions. Appreciate the efficiency and feel genuine happiness noticing great quality of life that many of its citizens are privileged to. Absorb this place through all your senses and let yourself discover your own Hamburg. Enjoy.