Hamburg: A ride on the river and a walk in the park
After waiting 2 hours for our train in the Netherlands and then a 5-hour train ride split into 4 different trains, we finally returned into Germany and arrived in Hamburg. We made our way via an S-bahn train to Stellingen, the neighborhood where our host lived. This was a very nice area, with beautiful houses, beautiful trees, orange and yellow tree leaves on the ground and nice paths between the streets. We really liked this place, and our host was very helpful during our stay, offering lots of advice on what to visit, and also playing guide a couple of times.
On Wednesday morning, we took a train with our host to go to the city harbour. Hamburg is crossed by the river Elbe, and since the city is very close to the river’s flowing into the North Sea, it has always been a major port for trade. I think we read somewhere that it was the biggest port in Europe, but maybe I’m wrong. The waterside is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants, but those aren’t exactly on dry ground. The actual ground is linked by multiple bridges to a very large floating platform that runs the whole length of the waterside and on which all the shops are. It was a very sunny day so walking there was very enjoyable, even though I ended up putting sunscreen on my face, for the first time since August.
Our host led us to a place near the waterside, a big round place with a domed ceiling. When you enter the building, you immediately see that you are next to this giant hole that goes down dozens of feet into the earth. The reason? This is the access to a tunnel that was built a hundred years ago, crossing the river from under, as almost no bridges can be built because the city has to be accessible to big ships. But since they didn’t have any room to build a kind of slope for cars to access the tunnel, they just built this huge cylindric hole, in which there are four elevators: three for cars and one just for pedestrians and bikers. We went down the hole and saw the tunnel, which would have taken us about half an hour to cross by foot, so we didn’t cross. The inside walls of the hole and of the tunnel were very nicely adorned.
Warehouse central, or a very modern riverside
Our host then took us on a walk around the newest “in” place in town. It is a couple of islands in the harbour that until very recently hosted huge warehouses that were used to store goods tax-free, as it was a kind of no-man’s-land. This time is over, and the warehouses now house expensive stores, expensive restaurants, and very expensive flats. There has also been new housing developments: the island is now home to lots of very huge and gorgeous apartment buildings, that are also very expensive, even though the ships’ fuel makes the area a very polluted place.
A cruise on the Elbe
After parting ways with our host who had some work to attend to, we got on a ferry that did a tour of the whole port area. It was very cheap compared to tourist cruises since it’s part of the local public transportation. It took about an hour to get from one end of the tour to the other and back. The weather was still gorgeous, so it was all very enjoyable, except for the many Europeans who find it acceptable to smoke in public places, not only in my face but also in the face of lots of young children. I was a bit pissed off by that. However, it was nice to see the huge shipyards of the port. The place was more pretty than I had expected, with the islands containing the shipyards also hosting lots of trees, and sometimes even houses. On the city side, we got to see beautiful huge houses, that are probably home to the richest citizens. The trip was nice, but we both felt a little sick that day, and the wind on the river was very cold, so by the time the boat turned around, we got a bit bored on the way back and wanted to get off as soon as possible.
City Hall, or the Rat House… hum, Rathaus!
Our cruise was followed by a quick U-bahn ride to the city center, where we took lots of pictures of the huge Hamburg Rathaus, which is home to both the city hall and the Hamburg State government. The place is really nice and grandiose, but when we went back on the next day to visit the inside, we were a bit disappointed, because it was kinda plain compared to some other city halls or parliaments we have visited. A courtyard in the middle housed a very pretty fountain though.
Laura’s German lesson: Rat means advice in German, and Rathaus is the town hall. Since Hamburg is so big it’s a province of it’s own, therefore the Rathaus hosts both municipal and provincial councils.
St Michael’s Cathedral and a view from the top
We later made our way by foot, so Grosse Michaelkerk, or St Michael’s Cathedral, which is very iconic in Hamburg. It is a very old Protestant cathedral, that is a very tall clock tower that is a landmark in Hamburg and a very important part of the skyline. We decided to start by going up (with the elevator, yippee!!!) to the top of the tower, where we got a pretty nice bird eye’s view of the city.
The cathedral itself was very impressive. I thought there really was a lot of gold, but in general, being a protestant church, there was a lot less decoration and statues than in most catholic cathedrals we have visited. When we entered the place, someone was playing the organ and the music, to me, ended some grandeur to the place.
Planten und Blumen Garten
We ended our Wednesday by a nice walk in Planten und Blumen Garten, a very nice park near the city center. There was this huge playground that took us back to our younger days. There was also a nice lake, lots of gorgeous plants and flowers, and a really pretty Japanese garden, with actual Japanese practicing martial arts in front of a sort of pagoda.
A city of huge lakes and parks
On Thursday morning, after a quick return visit to the Rathaus, we set out on a very relaxing day of chatting while walking in the parks. From the Rathaus, we set out on the side of a series of two huge lakes that cross the city from the south to the north. Again, it was all very nice, with lots of trees on the lakeside, and the leaves falling from them. Laura actually considered making a big pile of leaves and jumping around in it. When I told her she should just go ahead and do it, she surprisingly declined.
Laura: Actually, he pointed at an already made pile of leaves and I didn’t want to mess it up for the people that had taken the time to gather them. As for the lake, he forgot to tell you it’s an artificial unintended lake. They made a dam and it didn’t occur to them that the rest of the area would be flooded. Oops! The church to whom the land belonged wasn’t very happy!
Our walk took us to the northern part of the city, where we went into what looked like a very nice neighbourhood, with beautiful old buildings. We found a Döner place, amidst all the expensive-looking restaurants. We then proceeded to the nearby city park, which we particularly enjoyed, as it was just like a walk in the forest. We also got a look at the city planetarium. While we didn’t pay to actually visit it, we got in the atrium, where there was a very funny cow with a huge space suit, and also used the WC, where the little people on the doors were also astronauts.
Our afternoon was then capped off by a walk into another huge park. However, this one also functions as a cemetery. When I say it is huge, it is ginormous. There are actually a couple bus lines crossing it. Also, walking in the place feels just like walking in a park, except every now and then you come across a grave or two. In one of my many inappropriate moments, after being in the graveyard got us to talk about some of our favorite Buffy moments, I proceeded to sing most of the songs from the musical episode. Yes, singing in a cemetery. I know, I’m a baaaaaadd person.
St Pauli and the Red Light district
After waiting a while for our host to join us (a wait that was prolonged by the U-bahn stopping for a while because of an unfortunate suicide on the train tracks) we walked a bit into a part of the city center we hadn’t visited before. A highlight of that visit was an old theater that the city wanted to transform into an opera place. The people of the city protested, and started squatting the place, and now, decades later, it is still used by squatters, because the police know the old city would protest if they tried to get the people out of there. The facade of the place is all covered by posters and graffiti, but the visual is very nice.
After a very messy meal in a Syrian restaurant, we then took the U-bahn to the St Pauli area. There, we walked on the Reeperbahn, which is a huge street lined with, musical halls, sex shops, bars, sex clubs, big expensive shops, oh and prostitutes. Walking there at night was a bit disturbing, especially once I noticed that, though it didn’t happen to us because we were three people together, prostitutes accosted pretty much every single man that walked alone on the street. What was nice though was that we saw the street where, as we had learnt in Liverpool, the Beatles had played a lot in their early club days. Though the “Star Club” isn’t standing anymore (and is probably a sex club now), there was a big statue of the Beatles at the opening of the street.
This night out concludes our stay in Hamburg, also our second of three short stays in Germany. I am writing this on Friday morning, on a train that will take us from Hamburg, to Stockholm, Sweden, WAYYYYYYYYY up north. It actually is a 10-hour train ride, so we’re basically sitting in the train from 9:30 AM to 7:30 PM tonight…. Have a nice day too!!! 🙂