Why visit Hamburg? To start with, Easyjet’s very cheap flights on offer, secondly my husband never having been to Germany before chose Hamburg for his birthday weekend over Milan. Of course, there is the famed Beatles connection and the city reminded me of Liverpool in more ways than one, but there is also an admirable counter culture and free-spirited sensibility you might not immediately associate with Germans. From the anti-facist St Pauli FC (their song is also “You’ll Never Walk Alone”) to the many people wearing “refugees welcome” jumpers and stickers, it is a city which felt open and creative.
3pm Exiting the metro we were greeted by a dreary grey sky, the perfect backdrop for one of the most imposing buildings I have laid eyes on. A giant concrete WW2 bunker gave the impression we were in a dystopian video game. Testament to German invention, instead of tearing it down as nothing more than a blot on the landscape (or an unwelcome reminder of their past) it is now being used as a venue for events and raves.
Our design hotel NH Collection was situated in the Karolinenviertel district and after check-in we went exploring. My husband has a love affair with trainers so our first port of call was Glory Hole, an independent sneaker shop-cum-museum, it was the Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory of trainerdom. This area is chock full of one-off boutiques, clothing stores, bars and restaurants but with a grungey graffiti daubed edge to it.
5.30pm Rain falling, we ran in to Less Political (oh the irony for anyone who knows me) in nearby Sternschanze, topped up my caffeine levels and whiled away the time chatting. The floor to ceiling birch shelves stuffed with coffee paraphernalia belied the worthiness of this hipster haven on the Hamburg coffee trail. My brew lived up to the hype.
8pm After a failed attempt getting in to the Rote Flora artists’ squat we had dinner in Oma’s Apotheke, a traditional yet kitsch German pub. The food was average, our schnitzel palatable but the chips saltier than the sea itself. Service was friendly and unfussy as we found in most of Hamburg, an atmosphere perfect for a few beers.
10pm – A stone’s throw from our hotel was the dive bar Kitty. Tiny, cool, underground and exceptionally smoky. My overwhelming feeling was how glad I am the UK has a smoking ban, much to my chagrin the smell permeated my every fibre until the following morning. Clearly I’m getting old.
10am Keen to make the most of our only full day we headed out early for coffee and croissants in downtown Neustadt overlooking the canals. The City Hall (or Rathaus in German which let’s face it, sounds way cooler) in its neo-renaisssance glory prime for a few photos before continuing our trainer pilgrimage to Snipes, Kickz, Nike and the Adidas store.
12pm Sneaker lust sated, we needed a little more culture. What better than the futuristic Hafencity followed by the newly opened Elbphilharmonie Operahouse. The metro stop alone was worth journeying to the end of the line, check out this Star Wars style light show which changed colour every few minutes.
2pm In hindsight it was an error trying to visit the Operahouse on a busy Saturday the week of its opening. Given the sheer amount of fanfare, coupled with the fact it was considerably over-budget and delivered late, queues merely for the viewing platform were about 50 to 60 people deep. Though an impressive example of modern architecture, we continued past on our riverside walk .
Speicherstadt the old warehouse district, one of few to survive the WW2 bombings, was a visual treat. The seemingly infinite canals flanked by identical red brick, wrought iron and uniformly square windows evoked a nostalgia for an era I had not lived through, a foray in to Hamburg’s past as a working class port city. Though time has marched onward the city found use for these spaces; storing rugs imported and sold by the immigrant Persian population, Speicherstadt theatre and museum, the famed Miniatur Wunderland and our next stop – the Kaffee Roastery.
3.30pm I had read excellent reviews of the Kaffeerosterai so hotly anticipated a delicious roast in one of the most historically relevant stops on the Hamburg coffee trail. What a disappointment then, to be standing in a chaotic conveyor belt of tourists for half an hour only to be presented with a tasteless cup of dishwater. I wanted to run back to the warm caffeiney bosom of Less Political.
9pm After a nap we took the metro one stop to Reeperbahn, it may as well have been on the other side of Germany so vastly different to Karolinenviertel. It was Amsterdam’s red light district on acid but without the beautiful canals, I felt out of place amongst the throngs of drunk men and stripper hypermarkets. This was not helped by being shoulder barged by an angry prostitute on her way to work! Take note, only men are allowed down the streets where the sex workers sell their “wares”. On the upside I got a photo of the Blue Angel – a copy of the God awful nightclub in Liverpool, some sort of dedication to the Beatles.
12pm We had intended to wake up early enough to see the legendary Altona Fischmarket which opens at 5am, where many a Reeperbahn reveller goes for their post party fishbrotchen. It is a fully functioning market so closes by 11am, but being on holiday we couldn’t resist having a lie-in. Instead we headed down to Fischpfanne one of the floating restaurants in front of the market, complete with a riverside view, and had our fill of some fantastically fresh seafood at a very reasonable price.
1pm On the walk back we popped in to St Michael’s Church, a fairly opulent Lutheran church. If you find yourself in the vicinity the tower provides an excellent view over the city for only 5 euros, sadly for us it was a typically foggy January day!
2pm Gangeviertel was the perfect end to a perfect trip. It was deathly quiet when we found the squat, identifiable amongst the surrounding corporate buildings, Sunday really is a day of rest in Germany. All appeared shut so we just took some photos of the artwork and sculptures. Preparing to wander off we heard the low thumping bass of nearby music, and there through an unassuming door was the magical breakfast club. We were Hansel and Gretel wandering in to the gingerbread house, but instead of an evil witch we were greeted by smiling hippies serving up a vegan brunch.
This was a cooperative in the truest sense of the word, food and drink were payment by donation, as Londoners we clearly overpaid if the barmaid’s reaction was anything to go by! Upstairs there was a G20 symposium, while downstairs we sat amongst families and groups of friends reposing on giant cushions as the DJ spun some deep funk and jazz.
4pm Ultimately relaxed and unwilling to go, we had to return to the airport. Hamburg is a place I would come back to in a heartbeat, we only scraped the surface of this city’s layers, and in the summer I think its true character and vibrancy would shine.
So there you have it, 48 hours in Hamburg….I hope this makes you want to visit, and if you have already been what did we miss?