Germany is one of my favourites countries to visit. I love its effortless cool, its fascinating history and its friendly people (I have found the rude German stereotype to be a myth). Before this year, I’d visited Berlin, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Dresden and was really keen to visit Hamburg, the second biggest city in Germany. We managed to make it there in May this year and this is what we did.
Sternschanze is Hamburg’s alternative, “hipster” neighbourhood. It’s filled with cool bars, artisan cafes and independent shops. We spent most nights there and quickly established our favourite bar – (10) and counting on Bartelsstraße.
Before we visited Hamburg most of what I’d heard about St Pauli was negative; stag parties, strip clubs and the infamous Reeperbahn (the sleazy main street) was what the area seemed to be best known for. However, St Pauli isn’t all bad; the quieter area has cool bars and interesting street art. One of my favourite things about the Germans is their laid back approach to having a good time – in many of the German cities we’ve visited, the most fun experiences we’ve had is when we’ve sat alongside crowds sitting in a park or a square who were just chatting and having a beer. In St Pauli the meeting spot was outside a convenience store; locals bought their beer from the shop and lingered around outside, chatting and sipping their drink. It’s hard for people from many countries, particularly the UK, to imagine doing this but it was a completely safe, laid back and fun atmosphere.
Altstadt and Neusdtadt
We wandered around Hamburg’s Altstadt (Old Town) and Neustadt (New Town) which are in the city centre side by side. The sights we saw there included the impressive City Hall (Rathaus) and the Composer’s Quarter which is made up of 17-18th century buildings housing museums dedicated to Hamburg composers. I have to be a honest though, I don’t think Hamburg’s Altstadt and Neustadt have the charm of the old and new towns I’ve seen in other Germany cities. I preferred the neighbourhoods of Hamburg surrounding the city centre.
Speicherstadt literally translates as “city of warehouses.” It’s an area down by the River Elbe which is made up of red brick warehouses with narrow canals in between. The warehouses are still working, storing and trading everything from coffee to carpets, but there’s a few museums in amongst them too like the Hamburg Dungeon and the Miniatur Wunderland which is a model railway.
Port of Hamburg
Hamburg’s Port is the second busiest port in Europe (after Rotterdam) and 15th busiest in the world. We spent ages wandering alongside the River Elbe watching the massive container ships come and go.
Flohschanze (Flea market)
On Saturday morning we visited the Flohschanze (Flea market) which is held just beside Millerntor Stadium where St Pauli F.C. play. We wandered around checking out the trinkets and Paul picked up a few second hand records at a bargain price.
St Pauli Game
Paul goes to a football game in each country we visit and while I usually leave him to it he insisted I come to St Pauli with him as they are such a famous team. Known for their left wing ethos and punk association, the crowd was filled with interesting political banners. There was also a vegan burger stall outside which you don’t often find in football stadiums. After the game we went to The Jolly Roger, a famous St Pauli F.C pub. It was a lot of fun, dark and poky with walls covered in anti establishment stickers and punk songs blasting from the speakers.
Blankenese is a wealthy Hamburg neighbourhood perched on top of a hill overlooking the River Elbe. We travelled there by commuter boat from the city centre and made our way up the steps that run between the houses to see the view from the top. There’s also a little beach by the river at the bottom of the hill.
On the way back from Blankenese we visited Altona which is a lively area north west of Hamburg with lots bars, shops and restaurants. We stopped for a drink at Imoto bar.
“I might have been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg,” said John Lennon. You see that quote everywhere when you read anything to do with The Beatles’ time in Hamburg! Hamburg played a crucial part in the history of The Beatles – they moved there after leaving Liverpool, honed their performance skills in the local clubs, and caught the attention of Brian Epstein who went on to manage them. Hamburg’s role in launching The Beatles is commemorated in a little square with five metal statues (the fifth is Stuart Sutcliffe who was their bassist at the time – also the drummer is a hybrid of Ringo and Pete Best who played the drums at some of their Hamburg gigs).
St Georg is a very culturally diverse area of Hamburg. The city’s gay district, there’s loads of gay bars and rainbow flags waving from the windows. There is also a big Middle Eastern community due to the city’s Central Mosque being in the area. It was enjoyable to wander around St Georg and take in the lively bars, shops and restaurants, but, maybe this is me being a bit too paranoid, it did feel quite dodgy in areas as well. The graffiti above made me laugh.
Sitting on the banks of Außenalster (Outer Alster Lake) was, without a doubt, one of my favourite Hamburg activities. Like the convenience store experience I described in St Pauli above, I just love how the Germans can sit down anywhere and create a good time; they don’t need a fancy bar, or even a roof over their heads. Folk were sitting on the banks of the lake drinking beers, soaking up the sunshine and chatting. It was a wonderful atmosphere. We ended up whiling away a few hours there, beers and bratwurst for Paul, a few glasses of rose for me.
Worker’s Day Demonstration
By chance, we were in Hamburg on May 1st which is International Workers Day, a celebration of labourers and the working class. We stumbled across a demonstration down by the port which seemed to be particularly highly charged due to added issue of Hamburg being the location of the G20 summit later in the year. There were a great deal of anti G20 banners.
St Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church in the Neustadt has panoramic views of Hamburg from its tower. We went up to the top, surveyed the view, and photographs.
Fischmarkt (Fish Market)
On Sunday morning, Paul got up early and went along to the Fischmarkt (Fish Market) which is held down by the River Elbe. The fish market, which dates back to 1703, is held every Sunday morning and always busy.
Strandperle might just have been my favourite Hamburg experience. Above, I expressed my admiration for how Germans can turn up anywhere and have a good time; Strandperle is the best example of this. A beach on the banks of the River Elbe, its location opposite a cluster of construction cranes means it has possibly the ugliest view of any beach in the world. The huge container ships chugging past add to the industrial ambience.But the Germans simply put their jacket on the sand, open a beer, give their kids a bucket and spade to play with, and enjoy. I loved it.
What Our Trip To Hamburg Cost
Two Easyjet return flights from Edinburgh Airport to Hamburg: £109
Four nights accommodation in an Airbnb apartment in St Pauli (it’s no longer on Airbnb): £196
Total cost of four night trip to Hamburg for me and Paul: £305