Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch. I speak a little German. For the first time since I started studying German, I was actually in Germany. The only problem was it had been about ten years since I last took a German class.
Starting as a freshman in high school, I took five years of German. Towards the end, I was pretty good, but I certainly got rusty over the course of a decade of not using it. Surprisingly, once I was in Germany, the language started coming back to me pretty quickly. I guess it’s just like riding a bike…
We arrived in Hamburg late on Wednesday night–just hours after finding out Matt had to travel there for work. It was a bit of a whirlwind getting there– packing, booking and jumping on last minute flights. As we drove through the dark, damp streets to get to our hotel, though, I started falling in love with the city. At night, it was quiet and peaceful and the damp sidewalks glittered from the lights of the shops, hotels and houses.
We checked into the Mariott Hamburg, a lovely hotel located right in the center of town. I was quite giddy about actually being in Germany, but the warm, comfortable beds soon lulled me to sleep.
It rained and was very chilly our entire trip, but that didn’t stop me from going out and exploring. After Matt left for work on Thursday morning, I booked tickets on a hop-on hop-off bus to get my bearings of the city.
The pickup was at the Rathausmarkt, so I walked the quarter mile from our hotel to the bus stop and soon found myself staring in awe at the beautiful city hall. It towers above an open square where the Christmas Market and other events are held. At the edge of the square, shop keepers in small kiosks were setting up for the day to sell beer, big, soft pretzels and, of course, sausage.
It was a bit confusing at first to find the pick-up spot (there’s a big bus stop at the same location, but the hop-on hop-off bus pickup is a couple hundred feet away from it) and I had to wait a bit for the first bus to come by. The rain was really starting to come down and the Starbucks across the way looked so inviting, but I didn’t want to risk missing the bus. So I waited.
The tour itself was okay. The guide did a little in English and a little in German, so I tried to catch as much as I could from both monologues. His energy was about as dull as the day itself. Still, but bus went by all the major sites. Even with the steady rain and grey skies, it was still easy to see that Hamburg is a beautiful city. Some of the notable sites included:
- Reeperbahn—a street famous for its sex shops and brothels, as well as for its connection to The Beatles. Before they became world-famous, The Beatles played in several clubs around the Reeperbahn. Today The Beatles-Platz, a plaza designed to look like a vinyl record , stands in their memory at the intersection of Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit.
- The Fish Market-According to the Hamburg tourism site, this market has been around since 1703 and it’s supposed to be an incredible site to see (unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to visit this time). The fish market is open every Sunday morning and features everything from fresh seafood to exotic fruits and teas from around the world.
- HafenCity-Hamburg will be hosting the 2024 Olympic games and they’re already hard at work getting ready, HafenCity will feature the Olympic Stadium, Olympic Village and more. It will also have new work-live-play neighborhoods to keep the area thriving beyond the games. I didn’t get out to explore there, but it looks like it’ll be a really nice area when finished.
- Speicherstadt-roughly translated this means the “City of Warehouses.” This is the old warehouse district–and it’s reported to be the largest district in the world. It is a beautiful area of long brick buildings and channels darting between the streets. Many top Hamburg attractions, including Miniatur Wunderland (which I’ll write about later) and The Hamburg Dungeon are located here.
- Binnenalster-one of two man-made lakes created from the river Alster. The lake was reportedly created to serve as a reservoir for a mill. It’s a beautiful lake with gorgeous views of the Hamburg skyline from the opposite shore.
- Rotherbaum Quarter—a borough of Hamburg filled with some of the prettiest houses and mansions in the city. Many of these houses are built along the Außenalster lake (the upper of the two man-made lakes).
Hamburg has an interesting history. It has burned to the ground multiple times (most recently in a siege during World War II. The airstrikes were so bad it caused a massive fire tornado that destroyed most of the city). So, much of it is reconstructed or fairly new.
It’s a clean city with lots of green space. In fact it’s considered one of the greenest cities in Europe, with 20 percent of it being public parks and gardens. So it makes for a very beautiful city—especially in the fall with the leaves changings. Fun fact: Hamburg also has more bridges within city limits than any other city in the world and more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined (thanks Wikipedia).
After the tour, I began meandering back to the hotel, looking for a place to grab a bite to eat along the way. Two things I found interesting in Hamburg—there were a surprising number of places that only took cash and there were very few ATMs (at least compared to Toulouse and what I was used to in the U.S.). I did find an ATM after a little bit at the post office and eventually found a café where I sat down to one of the best bowls of vegetable soup I’ve ever had (they called it Minestrone).
The area near our hotel was chock full of great shopping, so I enjoyed strolling through the streets after lunch and window shopping. I eventually made it back to our hotel and dozed until Matt got home later that afternoon.
Being the beer lover he is, Matt had a list of breweries to visit, so for dinner we decided to go to a brewery. We ordered mugs of beer, a bowl of beer cheese soup and two plates of hearty German food: sausage, pork schnitzel and potatoes and sauerkraut in a couple of different forms. The food was delicious and we left with full and happy bellies.
We ended our evening pretty early that night, both exhausted from the last minute scramble and because Matt had to get up to work the next morning. I went to sleep with a smile on my face from a great first day in Germany!