(because that’s what people from Hamburg are called. It gets better; people from Frankfurt are Frankfurters.)
To round out my March of constant travel (excepting one birthday week in Dresden which I still need to write about), I took the bus to Hamburg on Friday to meet my dad, who was just finishing up a fortnight in Europe. He was like a dang college kid taking the train all over Switzerland, Germany, France, and England! I’m glad we got to meet up, because it was really great to spend the weekend together, and neither of us had ever been to Hamburg… we both loved it!
Sailboats and a view from across the Alster to our hotel area
My dad was surprised to learn that Hamburg is actually Germany’s 2nd largest city after Berlin. It’s also one of three city-states (the third being Bremen). I’m just shocked, after having seen how lovely it is, that more Americans don’t choose Hamburg as a main destination in Germany, because let’s face it, Munich isn’t that great. (Unpopular opinion; no shame.)
It took us all weekend to sort of get a geographical feel of the city… it’s just not easy given the 4021 bodies of water. (Not an exact number.) Did you know that there are more bridges in Hamburg than in Venice?
On Friday night, we set out in search of a delicious seafood meal but it turns out that all the cool places are full on Friday evening! Instead we settled for some meatless Italian and then made our way to the basement of city hall, which apparently houses a bar! It was probably the most historic place I’ve ever imbibed.
Hamburg’s famous Rathaus
We took a (loooooong) guided walking tour on Saturday that taught us everything we could have ever wanted to know about Hamburg’s history… its founding by Charlemagne and subsequent Christianization, the importance of its harbor to North Sea trade with England, its membership in the capitalist Hanseatic League, its destruction by fire in the 19th century and firebombing in the 20th century, and its current drawn out and super expensive construction of the world’s best-acoustically-engineered symphony hall…
A monument in the town center memorializing the 40,000 Hamburgers who fought and died in World War I.
St. Michael’s Church, which was destroyed during WWII and is now preserved in its damaged state as a monument.
The Chile-Haus, a “brick expressionist” building that looks like a ship and was built by a man who made his fortune trading salt-peter from South America.
In the Speicherstadt, the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex
We then took to the harbor, the city’s pride and joy (and paycheck). We dined on the rooftop terrace of the Blockbräu brewery, enjoying the gorgeous view of the harbor. We forewent the hour-long, not-free harbor tour for the 10-minute, free-with-transit-card ferry ride. We wondered where all these people had come from and where they could have possibly been headed.
Throughout the course of the weekend, we enjoyed several leisurely walks through Hamburg’s biggest and most famous park, Planten un Blomen. Some parts were more scenic than others…
A huge, imposing, and frighteningly Stalin-esque statue of Bismarck, keeping the peace
Some of the best scenery, in my opinion, could be found after nightfall on the Alster in Hamburg’s city center. The lights reflecting on the water were just gorgeous. Unfortunately, the lights reflecting on the water were also difficult to capture with my abused little point-and-shoot:
A shot taken during the day
And at night
On Sunday we took a tour of the Rathaus (town hall), which is a ridiculously large and extravagant building to house the government of a city/state of only 1.8 million people. Miraculously, the building is all original as it was not destroyed at all during the war (even though over 65% of the entire city was wiped out)! Incredible. The rooms that we saw were intricately decorated according to different themes: the Imperial Room honoring Wilhelm II, the Room of the Republics depicting the famous republican city-states that Hamburg strove to emulate; the Phoenix Room symbolizing Hamburg’s rising from the ashes after the Great Fire (and later the Great War[s]). Due to some scheduling/Daylight Savings snafus (probably) we took the German tour and I got to flex my translating muscles to keep Dad clued in.
We attended an English Mass in a beautiful little outlying neighborhood before heading to Trip Advisor’s #1 recommended attraction, which had also been recommended to us by Grandma Lord, the Miniature Wonderland Model Train Emporium of Super Extravagant and Unnecessary Detail (I may have taken some liberties with the name). You could have spent seven hours in there, but we blazed through in 1.5. It’s three stories of tiny little worlds created with model figures and trains and plains and cars and fire trucks and what have you. They’ve recreated entire cities, states, and “countries” (the US was Cape Canaveral, Las Vegas, Sedona/the Grand Canyon?, Mount Rushmore, and an unidentified Christmasy mountain town. Close enough). The vehicles actually move, the lights change to create day and night, and there’s even an entire operational “airport”. Absolutely ridiculous!
The tiny model of the Miniature Wonderlands building itself as part of the larger Hamburg recreation…
I won’t be returning to Neuschwanstein this year, so this was close enough.
After re-charging with some beer and bratwurst (totally stereotypical, ugh), we did the obligatory Reeperbahn/St. Pauli thing and headed to Beatles-Platz, where the boys themselves are immortalized…
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and another Paul
We did a quick lap around the block in St. Pauli and decided to get out of there ASAP, heading back to our beloved Hafen City neighborhood to enjoy dinner in an old shipping warehouse that’s more slanted than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
Overall, I really did love Hamburg! It’s probably claimed a Top 3 spot among my favorite German cities (don’t ask me for my final list, I’m still formulating it) and I have no idea how I’ve lived a cumulative 10 months in Germany in my life and never been before! It has a kind of US-East-Coast vibe with a little London thrown in, but at the same time the whole town is totally relaxed. Our tour guide noted that it’s his favorite city to give tours of because he doesn’t have to compete with the traffic volume-wise. The history of the city is incredible (I couldn’t totally do it justice with my limited blogging patience) and all of the different waterfront environments are just gorgeous! In case you put any stock in my travel recommendations, know that Hamburg gets two big thumbs up (and my dad loved it too so he’ll corroborate).
And now, to hunker down in Dresden (also a Top 3 city, naturally) and get as much research done as I can before my next adventure!