A Weekend in Hamburg
Lonely Planet recently published its Best in Travel for 2018, and I was pleased to see Hamburg in the top 10 cities to visit.
Rick and I spent a weekend there in March 2017, and really enjoyed our time in the city. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we both kept joking about moving there - although I'm not sure who was joking most as we both kept bringing it up over the weekend!
Hamburg seems to pop up on a lot of 'best cities' lists, and I'm not overly surprised. It's a vibrant but relaxed city, with lots of different areas to suit all tastes. Plus - big bonus - it's fairly cheap. There was a real mix of tourists, from older couples checking out the architecture and historical parts of the city to stag groups admiring other things(!) along the Reeperbahn. Add in the lure of music fans scoping out the Fab Four's old haunts and there's something for everyone.
We were lucky enough to be visiting whilst Hamburger Dom was on. Germans seem to love big fairs, and they move around towns and cities through the year (the fairs, not the Germans). I love going to the fair too, so was thrilled to be there at the same time. I'll be honest, we'd taken a four hour train journey up to Hamburg which involved two bottles of prosecco and some beer between the two of us (what? It was Friday night!), so we had a great time - though I'm sure we would have enjoyed it just the same if we'd had less to drink...
There were all sorts of stalls and games to try, as well as a ferris wheel which gave great views of the city, and the usual ghost trains, fun houses and rollercoasters. If you're able to visit Hamburg when it's in town, I'd definitely recommend going along.
Our first full day of sight-seeing saw us take the metro up to Sternschanze. We'd heard it was an interesting alternative area to wander through, and there were lots of independent little shops and cafes to stroll around in the sunshine. The main reason I'd wanted to go there though, was for the Flohschanze - a huge flea market where you can find all sorts. Literally anything. It was so much bigger than either of us had expected - a week or two before we'd been to Hannover and had excitedly gone down to the river to find the flea market there, only to be quite disappointed by it because there were only a few stalls. This one went on for ages and had clothes, toys and books and music just for starters. It was really busy, too, which was great as it felt like a real 'local' thing to do.
We spent quite a while there, before walking down towards St Pauli's metro station. En route, we found Wallring Park, which was beautiful. It seemed a popular place for families to hang out, and we sat and watched the world go by next to a lake for a while. The park was in full bloom, too, with really vibrant lilac flowers everywhere - it was quite a nice respite from the city.
Hamburger Dom was more or less across the road, and it was quite a different place during the day - rather eerie with no one about. As we were so close, we decided to wander down the Reeperbahn. That was a bit of a mistake. The Reeperbahn is an area famous for it's strip bars and, as a result, notorious for stag dos. Unfortunately, because we went during the day, you could see how horrible it actually was - there were no neon lights to distract us and no drinks to make everything seem fun. The whole area seemed really sleazy and run down, and neither of us really enjoyed it.
The one saving grace was going on our little tour trying to find places the Beatles had played at or hung out in. First stop was the Indra Club, where the band first played when they moved to Hamburg in 1960. It was closed, but it was still quite fun to be in the same place the band had been. We also found what was, allegedly, the Fab Four's favourite bar in town - Gretel and Alfons, before walking over to Beatles-Plaz, an unassuming bit of pavement with five silver steel silhouettes of the band with their instruments (the fifth Beatle being Stuart Sutcliffe). Our wander through the area was quite good fun, but we were both a little underwhelmed by the legacy left by the band.
Oh - one thing I did forget to mention was that we bumped into one of the Pigeon Detectives while we were scanning the gig list at Molotov at the top end of the Reeperbahn. He jokingly said we should go because he'd heard the band were good, then it dawned on us that he was part of the group. We chatted for a bit and bonded over living in Leeds, before he invited us along to see the gig later that night.
After a day of non-stop walking, we decided we deserved a drink, so we took the train over the Hafencity. This is a newly developed area around the port - think London Docklands. The guide book made it sound quite exciting; in reality it was still quite underdeveloped and it took us a while to find anywhere we liked. We stopped on the waterfront for a glass of wine and a beer, caught a bit of the sunset and mulled over what we wanted to do for dinner...
Beer & Beatles - Quintessentially Hamburg
You know I said we'd done loads of walking? Well like idiots we ended up back where we'd started the day, in the Sternschanze area of the city. We found a brewery with a restaurant attached, so decided to head there for drinks and a tasty treat. Ratsherrn was absolutely packed - we did arrive fairly late and had stopped at the bottle shop next door first - but we had to wait a bit for a table. We also had to wait ages for an English menu - so much so that the couple on the table next to us took pity on us using Google Translate in an attempt to figure out what we wanted, so they read everything out for us until a waiter came past and we had a chance to ask for an English one (is there anything more embarrassing than not being able to speak another language whilst you're abroad? It always makes me feel incredibly rude).
Post dinner, we headed back to the Reeperbahn in an attempt to go and see the Pigeon Detectives. We got there too late though, and saw a stream of people coming out of the club, so we wandered back down the street to see what the area was like at night. Of course it was still super sleazy, but it had a totally different atmosphere after dark and I quite liked all the neon lights. We decided to go and have a drink in Gretel and Alfons, a la Beatles - but we took one look in there and turned around again - it was a bit of a dive and just didn't appeal (nothing wrong with those, I'm a fan of a dive bar usually). Rick reckons it hadn't had a lick of paint in those fifty years since the Beatles went drinking there. Instead we walked all the way up to the other end of the street back to St Pauli station where I went on the ferris wheel at the fair before heading home.
Fish & Food - an Unexpected Sunday Morning
One of the things we were most excited about when planning our trip to Hamburg was seeing (and experiencing) the Fischmarkt. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, because a) I don't really like fish and b) I didn't get why everyone kept going on about it, but we'd heard it was the thing to do so we dragged ourselves out of bed early and headed down to the waterfront to see what the fuss was about. As we approached the area, I could see lots of food vans selling alls sorts of seafood on ice, as well as stalls selling hats, bags and other paraphernalia - but it was when we got into the big hall we understood. Inside the red brick building were several food and drink stalls - it was a massive food hall with a stage at one end and rows of tables filling the space. The band were loud but friendly, and late night revellers were continuing their festivities on the dance floor - only Germans would still be raving about at 7am! It was really good fun, and the atmosphere was amazing. We grabbed some breakfast from one of the stalls (and one of the best hot chocolates I'd had in ages) before meandering back through all the stalls along the waterfront.
As we'd had a late night and an early morning, we popped back for a cheeky nap before exploring some of the older parts of town. We wandered to the Rathaus - a beautiful building which dominated one side of the city square. The architecture in this part of town was quite stunning and a contrast to some other parts of the city - especially the newer Hafencity area which was full of glass-fronted buildings. We went back there to see the impressive Concert Hall and enjoyed a stroll around the walkways by the canals, until it was time to go and catch my train.
We chose to stay near the main train station, which was a good choice in the end. I didn't want to stay too close to the Reeperbahn, thinking it might be too noisy, and being close to the station made it very easy to get around without being right in the thick of things - or too far out of town.
We had a brilliant time in Hamburg, and seemed to pack quite a lot into the two days we had there. We didn't have any particular plan before we arrived, but found the public transport easy to navigate and most of the areas were easy to walk around. I particularly liked that there were quite distinct areas of the city to explore, which kept things interesting. It's difficult to describe, but it's quite a chilled place, despite having a bit of a buzz about it, and we're looking forward to going back and spending more time there.