Hamburg: Gateway to the world

hamburg

And so here we are.

Three days after my final Uni deadline, I hopped on a plane, bag in hand, ready to see what Hamburg had to offer. And my, what a pretty little port city it is.

Having done very little research beforehand (it’s my close friend’s home town – what else did I need to know?), I was instantly taken by its leafy surrounds. A city it may be, but they do a fine job of making it look pretty, with greenery accompanying baroque buildings on almost every street.

My friend tells me there are strict planning rules to keep the architecture consistent throughout the city, and I can’t help but contrast it with London – a mishmash of shapes, sizes and textures I’m not altogether sure work in harmony with one another. Hamburg, however, hits the nail right on the head. I guess that’s continental Europe for you.

Admiring the views as my friend and I wander through the city, I can’t help noticing spontaneous flurries of white fluff, dancing through the air in a similar fashion to falling sakura in springtime Japan. But these little flecks aren’t petals – they’re little bundles of pollen. It looks remarkably like fairy dust, as though little elves are dropping a little bit of magic on the city. Thank god I don’t have hayfever.

We walk by the Rathaus (Town Hall), where the police are playing in an orchestra outside. Because – yup – that’s a thing that happens. They’re good, too, made even more so by the magnificent backdrop. From there, we wander to the Harbour – visibly the most expensive district in Hamburg. It’s stunning, and so full of character I can’t help but express all the ooh’s and aah’s – no doubt driving my companion insane.

It’s not too far a distance before we reach the Elbphilharmonie – basically Hamburg’s Opera House. Architecturally, it fits right in with the surrounding port with its graduated wave-like roof. But the real wonder is to be seen from the Elbphilharmonie itself, with its unparalleled views across the port and city.

We were later going to visit Hamburg’s art gallery, however found admission to be incredibly expensive at €14 a ticket. Say what you like about London, but that we offer our culture for free is undeniably brilliant – and definitely taken for granted. Disgruntled, we instead spent the money on burgers and chips (because you haven’t really been to Hamburg without eating a hamburger, right?).

With sore feet from all the walking, I was grateful at this stage that I had cancelled my AirBnB – the one I had booked was 50 minutes by bus out of town. A little advice for those looking for accommodation on the cheap (and this applies anywhere): if you’re anything like me, you’ll take the room 30km out of town, thinking it’s a good way to see the off-the-beaten-track parts of the city. It isn’t, and you won’t, you’ll just resent the fact that you have to travel an hour each way and are forced to stick to a curfew as there’s no public transport from 10pm – 7am. Which means no going out. And – worst of all – no experiencing St Pauli.

While there are plenty of tourist bars in Hamburg, I came to the city to see it from the locals’ eyes – and so decided to go where the locals go. Easily surpassing Barcelona’s La Rambla for nightlife, St Pauli is a street chock full of bars and clubs to suit all tastes – marked by the ‘Dancing Towers’ on the top end. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of going out and getting absolutely mashed dancing to chart music, so we decided to opt for something a little more alternative.

Fortunately, St Pauli had exactly what we were looking for: Headcrash, a two story rock bar where we gleefully danced to the likes of Billy Talent and Green Day, and Thomas Read – an English themed pub, club, arcade and live venue all wrapped into one, where you’re just as likely to dance to the resident band’s renditions of Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way as you are to Bloodhound Gang’s Ballad of Chasey Lain. Now that’s a good night out.

Thomas Read was so good, we ended up there two nights in a row – both times lasting through to sunrise. Feeling my full twenty-five years, all I can say is thank goodness for naps, coffee and puddingschneke, and a true local experience of Hamburg I’m unlikely to forget.

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