Sunday, 14 February 2016

Hamburg ohne Handy

Blog posts about travel usually aren't that much fun to read without photos, are they? You need them to break up the text and provide the reader with a focus, something to actually transport them to that place.

I'm afraid this is going to be a very black-and-white post because before I'd even arrived at the bus station to go to Hamburg, my phone was pickpocketed from me (as far as I can tell from asking myself the irritating "When did you last have it?" question). Well, not only does it suck in general to lose your phone - especially these days with all the texts and photo memories, the social media passwords you have to frantically change - but I also couldn't take any photos. My phone has doubled as my camera for the past four years. I guess my Instagram is going to have to take a hiatus for a while.

Anyway, in trying to enjoy things as they came and not worry about documenting it, I found a silver lining. I kept telling myself that I was on holiday, that Hamburg wasn't an extension of my life in Berlin. So, I'll try to let the documentation I have been able to do - in writing - try to do justice to the photos I didn't take.

Hamburg itself is an interesting amalgamation of cities I've visited before (don't we always try to look for something comforting and familiar wherever we go?). If I had to sum its vibe up in a single sentence: it's a seaside town crossed with a big city. The fact it's on two, upper and lower levels reminded me of Quebec City, while the ubiquity of the river/canals and the look of the buildings echoed Liverpool and Manchester. The old town was definitely Scandinavian in flavour. All in all, it was a welcome breath of fresh air.

I'm going to put everything into easy bullet points for you.

  • My companion and I were staying on the cusp of the Altona and Eimsbüttel districts (a lot of places in and around Hamburg carry the -büttel suffix, by the way; this comes from Low German and its rough meaning is "settlement").
  • Hamburg and its surroundings are full of delightful place names in general: Övelgönne, Schlump and Poppenbüttel, to name just three.
  • Although Berlin is often cited as a vegan paradise, it may surprise you to find that one of my highlights of Hamburg was the food. Let me introduce you to Mamalicious. It was right by our hostel. I noticed it on Saturday - the funny chalkboard drawings and promise of vegan mac'n'cheese caught my eye - and determined we had to go there the next day. I had assumed Mamalicious was just a regular café with one signature vegan dish... I was dead wrong. Turns out this is probably the biggest breakfast joint in Hamburg. Its offer is vegetarian (and mostly vegan). Its aesthetic somehow mixes diner with cosy local haunt. And on a Sunday morning it was C-R-O-W-D-E-D, with a jolly Canadian man and a team of German waitresses bustling around making sure everyone was satisfied. We had to wait 20 minutes for a table. Probably even longer for the food. But it was so worth it. A photo of me post-mac'n'cheese does exist, but it is not fit for the general viewer. I really wanted to get cake as well, but I was just too full.
  • Did you know that in Hamburg, public transport consists not just of trains and buses, but also a ferry? You can catch it from the Landungsbrücke and it will take you along the river to Finkenwerder, a Hot Fuzz-style village. The views along the way are just great: you'll see a beach, aforementioned Danish-looking buildings, both old and new...
  • Another cool thing Hamburg has is a tunnel from one bank of the River Elbe to the other, which you can walk under. IT'S SO COOL.
  • We did a tip-based walking tour with Robin and the Tour Guides around the harbour, the St Pauli district and the Reeperbahn. It was really cool to learn about the history of The Beatles in Hamburg, which I'd had no idea about, and to see the history of prostitution in the city (even if I don't particularly agree with certain streets being closed off to women).
  • St Pauli has a similar history to Friedrichshain in Berlin (punk/squat stuff), but it looked to me a lot more like the cleaner parts of Prenzlauer Berg. So gentrification is everywhere, I guess.
  • In Hamburg, total strangers greeted us with 'Moin'. Really sweet.
  • We paid €10 to enter a club that was all but empty at 1am... the bars in the Schanzenviertel were also a little bit disappointing.
  • The Speicherstadt is probably interesting if you know a lot about architecture and design, but to most other people it's rather sterile. Also, soya milk is nowhere to be found in its cafés. Get there at the right time, though, and you'll catch a beautiful sunset.