Today wasn’t too eventful, I caught the bus to Hamburg for six hours and since the WiFi didn’t work, I kept myself busy with music, reading, writing and origami. The bus arrived an hour late (very un-German), so I checked in at my exceptionally clean hostel and looked at some city maps to plan my stay. For dinner, I had some very good Vietnamese food at a nearby restaurant/poker parlour.
The area I stayed in seemed really quiet and mildly seedy, I saw a girl leap out of a public bathroom pod (the cylindrical ones you pay 50 cents to use) in shock and horror as she squealed “oh my gosh”. I met my dorm mate and she said it was a public holiday for Unity Day, it’s the 25th anniversary of Germany being reunited as one again. There was probably a massive party going on, but I was still feeling unwell and went to bed. I felt a bit lame for sleeping so early, but I made up for it with an exciting Sunday full of activities instead.
I woke up early for the legendary fish markets, it goes from 530 to 930 every Sunday and it is truly an amazing experience. There’s a variety of fischbrotchen (fish burgers, I’m glad the German language is very straight forward) the first one I had was a pickled fish with onion, it was a bit slimy so I opted for a sesame crumbed one afterwards. In the queue I met an Aussie couple, Claire and Wade, who were starting a year long trip. We headed to the big hall, with music, beers and waffles, it was like a massive party. Sure, some people were probably drinking from last night, but it was cool to see so many people getting so festive on a Sunday morning.
After my delicious breakfast, I cycled through the Botanic Gardens and enjoyed the crisp, fresh air. The city was very quiet because everything shuts on a Sunday, but there were plenty of people jogging and walking their dogs.
Next up was the walking tour, starting just opposite the town hall. Our guide Irene was great and I learnt heaps of cool stuff, for instance, Hamburg is home to the biggest port in Germany, even though it’s 120km from the ocean, it also has the highest number of millionaires in the country.
Our tour went through the old town, which had really impressive brick buildings, it was hard to capture the detail, but the sheer scale is noteworthy in itself. The designs were inspired by office structures in places like Detroit, in this case, they needed more space for workers to do some unpleasant work. All the paperwork for cargo needed to be done by hand, so the people working here performed this task for 12 hours at a time. The Chilehaus (the building owner had strong trade relations with Chile) was built from over 4 million bricks, in two years in the 1920’s. It resembles a boat and the street supposedly holds the record for the sharpest street angle in Europe.
As we crossed the bridge to the new town, we came across the St Nikolai memoral and I wondered why churches and cathedrals to St Nicolas were so incredible in each city I’ve seen so far. He’s the patron saint for merchants and trade, which makes him very popular among port cities. In this case, the church was destroyed in 1842 by a catastrophic fire, rebuilt to be the tallest building in the world in 1874 and then destroyed in 1943 by aerial bombs during the war.
We headed to Domstrasse, the starting point of the great fire of 1842, which destroyed a quarter of the city. It started near a warehouse which stored barrels of high concentration alcohol, before the fire approached, the workers removed the barrels and poured the contents into river. Unfortunately the tide was coming in and the fire fighters used the water from the river, not knowing it was laced with alcohol. Coupled with some strong winds, the fire took off and burned for four days. Nowadays it’s a café strip, where I ended up having lunch, the panfisch (pan fried fish), was delicious, easily the best meal I’ve had in Germany.
The last part of the tour was HafenCity (harbour city), which has been transformed by architects from all over the world. However, there is one dud, a really expensive one. The Elbe Philharmonic started construction in 2007 and planned for completion in 2010, but now it will probably be 2017. That’s not the worst part, the budget started at €77 million, then €140 million and now it’s €1 billion. There were many problems, one of them being the location, it’s right next to the port, where lots of cargo ships come and go. This creates a lot of underwater vibrations, which strikes the ground of the structure and ruins the acoustics of the building. To overcome this, they’ve suspended the concert hall, like a beehive, so it makes less contact with the ground. It sounds like an expensive solution, I hope it works.
After the tour and some lunch, I went to see the IF museum, dedicated to some of my favourite things about Germany: efficiency, design and innovation. I was sorely disappointed when it was shut, I looked at the posters outside and tried to peer through the windows instead.
The museum was located in a really new and trendy place, so I wandered around for a bit instead. Again, there was an amazing variety of beautiful buildings, each with their own flavour and style.
I checked out TripAdvisor’s number one attraction, Miniature Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway set. It sounded a bit cheesy, but honestly, I thought it was awesome, one of the few places where kids are just as excited as their parents. The first part had dioramas covering Germany’s history, they were in glass, so I couldn’t take photos without the annoying reflection. Upstairs they had so many different displays, the photos can’t capture the tiny details and all the cool little things. The individual props and people aren’t just standing around, there are little stories taking place everywhere and some are quite amusing.
By the end of the day, I was feeling hungry and decided to try the number one currywurst in Germany. Admittedly, the picture doesn’t look very good, sausages aren’t exactly photogenic, but it was nice, it felt odd to sit at a restaurant with real plates and cutlery, eating something that normally comes in a cardboard tray.
I headed back to the hostel and packed my bags for my bus to Berlin tomorrow, my last stop before home time. It’s going to be fun though, I’m staying with Leonie and Julien, the touring couple I met in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, a while ago. We’re going to a concert to see Sales, a US band, I bought their album and I’ve been listening to it for a few hours now. With only two more days to go, I need to savour all the European goodness that I’ll surely miss.