24 HOURS IN HAMBURG
“We should do something this weekend.” The statement hung in the air for a moment. It was nine o’clock on Saturday morning and we were eating breakfast. “Tomorrow we could go to the beach, though it might be a bit cold.” Quite the understatement given it was winter in Berlin. “Or what about Hamburg?”
The last word hung in the air between us for a moment as the wheels started turning. “Do we have any plans tonight…?” We soon had our phones in hand doing hasty research. Before too long we had two return bus tickets and a night in a hotel for a total cost of 82.50€. A couple of hours later we were on a Flixbus and spent the three hours and fifteen minutes checking out what to do for 24 hours in Germany’s second largest city.
We arrived in Hamburg at 19:00 on Saturday night and we were due to leave at 19:00 on Sunday night. We had exactly 24 hours. This is how we spent it.
We stayed at the Hotel Polo am ZOB. I picked it because Booking.com mentioned it was close to the central bus and train stations. I didn’t realise exactly how perfectly located it would be. It is a solid three star hotel. Nothing fancy; just a comfy bed and a clean bathroom. I’ve been happier with less.
What I have come to realise is that St Georg has quite a dodgy reputation. Every city has its poor suburbs and this appeared to be one of them. However, there was little I could see that was terrible about it. Late night bazaars and stores were still busy with shoppers, even in the cold winter evening. Busy kebab shops and Turkish restaurants catered to the locals. While there are some social issues with unemployment and homelessness, there is apparently little violent crime. It’s probably a good idea not to leave your bag unattended though.
Closer to the Hauptbahnhof, or the main train station, the streets are busier with more travellers and commuters. There are theatres, cinemas and nice restaurants along Kirchenallee. We found a very German restaurant and ate a very German meal of roast pork, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and a Weizen.
The following morning I was woken with a simple yet loaded statement. “Hey, it’s seven forty-five. The Fischmarkt closes at nine thirty.” This seemingly innocent observation translates to “Hey asshole. Get out of bed. Now.” Roughly thirteen minutes later we checked out of the hotel and were on the train to the Fischmarkt.
The Fischmarkt, or (if you haven’t worked it out) Fishmarket, is more than just a place to buy fish. While there are still a number of caravans and trucks selling fresh fish, the market has grown around them to include fruit, vegetables, hot food, and an assortment of the other junk you usually find in a market. Loud men call out to people wandering past, offering specials on whatever they want to move first. If you want to buy a knock-off hoodie in Hamburg, this is the place. There is a wildly popular van called Jessy Good Time for Coffee where Jessy (I’m assuming) entertains people with his Jamaican dreadlocks and rough voice as much as with his coffee. And as a beautiful backdrop, the harbour full of fishing boats, container ships and ferries. Of course, no harbour is complete without a submarine as well.
Inside one of the harbour buildings is a food hall and stage. At nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, a great local band was rocking the hall with classics such as Sweet Home Alabama, and even more surprising were the number of people up dancing like it was Friday night at the social club. You impressed me Hamburg Fischmarkt!
Over a century ago, the Hamburg Speicherstadt, literally Warehouse City, was built as a freeport and thus a way to avoid import taxes and duties. Needing to be built in a short space of time, the warehouses were erected on oak pilings and separated by tidal canals. Since then it has played an important part in Hamburg’s history. While the rows of red brick buildings sit more quietly than they used to, it still acts as a tourist attraction housing several museums, the Miniatur Wunderland, and the Hamburg Dungeon.
The Hamburg Speicherstadt holds a world record, however it is difficult to work out what the record is for. Some say it is the largest warehouse structure in the world. Some say it is the largest warehouse where the buildings are touching. Others disagree and say it is the largest on wooden pilings. Whatever you believe, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and most of the harbour tours run through the canals that link the buildings together.
Housed in the Hamburg Speicherstadt is Miniatur Wunderland. I admit I had mixed feelings about this. When I asked for advice on what to do in Hamburg, I wondered if the people who recommended this to me were taking the piss. I have a geeky love of models, especially good ones, so I was also a little excited. I remember making models as a kid, but I was usually more interested in whether the planes would fly if I threw them off the roof and always disappointed when they didn’t.
Despite my initial reservations, Miniatur Wunderland was really entertaining and I would go again. If we had stayed longer than a day, I would have walked around the gallery another time. The detailed models of landscapes and attractions are very well done and you can instantly recognise them for what they are.
Having visited Rome for the first time some months ago, it was exciting to see St Peter’s Square and the Basilica. The Colosseum, much nearer than in real life, dominated another wall, and Trevi Fountain yet another. Knuffingen, America, Hamburg and the Alps come to life in different rooms. Easily one of the most popular displays is the airport where model planes come in to land and taxi around the runways. Along the handrails are buttons that add another dimension to the displays, moving cars or opening buildings; dragons swing around castles and knights joust in the lists. Through it all cars and trains move in such realistic and mesmerising ways.
If you go, and I recommend you should if you’re in Hamburg, take your time to look at the little things. They are easily missed, but they are where a lot of the fun is. There are humorous scenes in each of the displays. Superman flying to save a car, people falling headfirst into the snow, cows underwater scuba diving, and naked people everywhere. A nudist colony, people having sex in the forest, or a topless photo shoot. You could spend hours looking for them all.
WALK AROUND BINNENALSTER
The Alster was originally a small river which was dammed to form two lakes. One of these lakes was inside the original city walls, hence its name; the Binnenalster, or Inner Alster. The other lake is known as the Außenalster, or Outer Alster. Now the lakes are picturesque backdrops for leisurely walks. The city sides are lined with shops and restaurants and cafes, selling things you don’t really need, but will probably look at to get out of the cold for a while.
We walked around the Binnenalster, trying to soak up as much warmth from the weak sun, while it was out. It took about 40 minutes at a stroll. A walk around the Außenalster will take around two hours. If you have limited time, the Binnenalster is a nice walk and the city skyline makes for some nice photos back over the lake.
ST PAULI ELBE TUNNEL
Because we had no real idea what we were doing, we crossed back and forth across the city a few times. We didn’t mind as we were making things up as we went along. Thus we found ourselves backtracking to the harbour toward the Elbe Tunnel.
In 1911 the Elbe tunnel opened connecting the city with the docks on the southern side of the Elbe River. At the time, this was a major undertaking and everyone was suitably impressed. The tunnels were under pressure during the build and this was quite an achievement, though it made a lot of the workers sick. The tunnel is 426 metres long and is still used today for vehicles and pedestrians. At each end are large lifts which raise and lower cars, bikes, and people too lazy to use the stairs.
We wandered through this century old masterpiece of engineering and looked back across the river to the city as the sun went down and the sky turned purple. We would have liked to stay for longer, but it was bloody cold. The fastest way back to the city was back through the tunnel where we saw someone taking a selfie just as they were hit by a bike. This is what happens when you stand in the middle of the road.
A short walk away is the Reeperbahn which is home to a lot of Hamburg’s nightlife. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, discotheques line this stretch of road and its side streets. There are also several theatres and cabarets including the Operettenhaus, St. Pauli Theater and the Imperial Theater showing musicals and stage shows.
It is also the redlight district of Hamburg, so mixed into this are an assortment of sex shops, strip clubs and brothels. The large pink building labelled the Pink Palace Sex House where you can find the Titty Twister bar. It makes no attempt at subtlety in advertising what they do there. Strangely enough, all the signs were in English. I can only speculate why.
If you have little ones, or you’re not into that kind of thing, then perhaps you should avoid the area altogether.
It is along the Reeperbahn that The Beatles used to perform before becoming famous. There is a standing exhibit to them in The Beatles Platz. The band’s members are immortalised in Silhouette statues close to where they used to play.
After a walk along the Reeperbahn, we had a döner kebab for dinner and caught a train back to the main bus station. Our day wasn’t a frantic day of running around desperately trying to cram in as much as possible. Instead it was a fun day of exploring, taking photos and enjoying this lovely city. There is a lot more to see in Hamburg and I look forward to seeing it again.
The one thing I wanted to do but missed out on was seeing Der König der Löwen, which you will probably recognise better as The Lion King. The stage show was such a stunning success in Hamburg that it has a permanent show. I would have liked to have seen it, however our trip was a little spontaneous and I wasn’t prepared to pay 300€ for tickets. I didn’t want to see it THAT badly.
SOME THINGS TO NOTE
While you can buy hamburgers in Hamburg, the invention of the classic burger is hotly contested, generally by Americans. I imagine a lot would be horrified to realise they might be eating foreign food. Be aware that a Hamburger, with a capital ‘H’, probably means a person from Hamburg or something belonging to Hamburg, like the Hamburger Hauptbahnhof.
The trains and buses are really easy to navigate as CityMapper and GoogleMaps work well for working out routes and timetables.
A lot of people in the city speak English, but you’re better off knowing a little German. It isn’t a hard language to learn.
I’m lying. It is hard.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The easiest way is via Hamburg public transport which was effective, on time, and took us everywhere we needed to go within the city. All the buses, ferries and trains operate on the same ticket system, so a day pass will allow you onto any of the cities public transport. There are zones, so if you need to travel outside of the city centre, you will need to check the zones on the maps and purchase a ticket that covers where you want to travel to.
Tickets are available from vending machines in the stations. They are labelled with HVV. The day passes are cheaper after 0900, however if you have limited time, then you may want to get an early start. We purchased full day passes, though it was nice enough to walk to many places.
Another option is the Hamburg Card. If you are planning on visiting a number of museums or other places of interest, you can save a few dollars by using this tourist card to make some savings. As the only thing we paid for was the Miniatur Wunderland, it wasn’t worth it this time.