What I Did Not See in Hamburg

Hamburg is one of the most interesting cities in Germany. A city of contrasts. Still a port town with traditionally a working-class population, mainly fishermen and dockers. It is also increasingly a hub for business and the German town boasting the highest percentage of high-income people (and convertibles, despite the less than stellar weather). Yet decidedly less conservative, ‘chi-chi’ and stiff than Munich or Bonn. Less achingly hip than Berlin, it is nevertheless a city justifiably proud of its rebellious streak, innovative thinking and a distinctive local dialect.

View of Hamburg from hanseballon.de website.
View of Hamburg from hanseballon.de website.

I hadn’t been in Hamburg for over 10 years, so was looking forward to spending half a day just reacquainting myself with the town at the tail end of my business trip there earlier this week. Sadly, the German railway employees decided to strike yesterday, so I preferred to stay at the airport, for fear of missing my flight. So this is what I did NOT see yesterday:

1) One of the most spectacular harbours in the world. I always have what the Germans call ‘Fernweh’ (‘farsickness’, the opposite of homesickness) and harbours even more than airports convey this world of limitless possibilities…

From Wikipedia.
From Wikipedia.

2) The Reeperbahn, also know as ‘the most sinful mile’, is a notorious street in the nightlife district (also red-light district) of Hamburg. The Beatles played the clubs here in the early 1960s, and the area is mentioned in many songs worldwide (including Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, The Police). However, I know it from a book we studied at school Faust auf der Reeperbahn, stories about and by Willi Bredel (a German socialist realist writer, imprisoned by the Nazis, fleeing to Russia and later resident in GDR), in which he describes a performance of Goethe’s Faust performed for the working classes on the Reeperbahn. The audience starts booing Dr. Faustus and try to force him to marry Gretchen after he seduces her. A very funny story and ‘Hoirad’n soll er sie, hoirad’n!’ (he should marry her) is a line that I still use for any simple and obvious solution to a complex problem.

Reeperbahn by night, from virtualtourist.com
Reeperbahn by night, from virtualtourist.com

3) The rebels of St. Pauli. St. Pauli is a neighbourhood of Hamburg (and yes, it’s the one that houses the Reeperbahn). The traditional entertainment district for sailors, it is also home to the local Chinatown and best known for its football club, St. Pauli FC, with its distinctive pirate’s flag. Although it hasn’t always been successful on either the national or world stage (and struggles to stay in the Bundesliga), it’s a club that has achieved cult status for its anti-establishment, left-wing tendencies and for banning any right-wing hooliganism at its sports events.


4) Leuchtturm 1917 stationery. This was one of the things I was looking forward to buying: several years’ supplies of the distinctive, high-class notebooks which originated in Hamburg in 1917 and was then re-established there in 1948. Shock, horror! At the airport, I could only find the ubiquitous Moleskine and even asked the newsagents and booksellers why they didn’t stock their local product. Are they not aware of the brand’s international reputation? Or has Moleskine pulled out all the stops to be the sole supplier?

From notedinstyle.co.uk
From notedinstyle.co.uk

This, incidentally, is my 600th post since I started this blog in February 2012. I’m not big into round-figure symbolism or celebrations, but I’m pleased it happened right now with Hamburg. I couldn’t think of a nicer town (that I very nearly saw) to write about…



21 thoughts on “What I Did Not See in Hamburg”

  1. That’s such a shame that you didn’t get back into the city (though I understand why and would probably have done the same) but great idea to do a post about it, thank you for reminding me of my visit to Hamburg, can’t believe how many years ago now. It was on my year abroad in Germany, and we visited the city for a couple of days. Good memories. I hope you get to see it again one day.

    1. Pleased to hear it brought back good memories! I was a bit upset initially, but sometimes you just get wasted days like that… and at least I got to discover some new German-speaking authors at the airport bookshops.

  2. Congrats on the post anniversary – amazing! As for the stationery – yum! I love European stationery (British stuff is often a bit dull….)

  3. I really enjoyed our Christmas break in Hamburg last year – living in a tourist town that narrowly escapes the twee (mostly!) I was particularly taken with the way that high end Hamburg apartments look proudly out at the port and its majestic cranes. Also enjoyed the red brick warehouses.

    Many congrats on your milestone, Marina. I always enjoy your posts.

    1. So glad to hear it brought back fond memories – I think I might plan a city break there soon myself, with the children.
      Yes, I couldn’t quite believe myself that it’s been 600 posts in 3 years and a bit…

  4. I really liked Hamburg, it is such a contrasted, interesting town! And it is quite funny to walk back from the Reeperbahn at 5 in the morning and see people too drunk to reach their house sleeping on the pavement or see the forbidden to women street (couldn’t believe it!)

    1. Thank you, glad to hear the city struck a chord with you too! I’m always fascinated by those cities with a big industrial/commercial past, which still manage to reinvent themselves for the modern age.

  5. Congrats on the big six-double-o, Marina! And commiserations on missing your sightseeing in Hamburg. The harbor does indeed look spectacular, as, in its different way, does the Reeperbahn. I know of the latter solely from the (rather bad) movie Wenn es Nacht Wird auf der Reeperbahn (1967).

  6. Congratulations, Marina Sofia, and well done! And all of your posts are terrific! Your blog is one of my must-visits. Thanks for sharing these lovely views of Hamburg. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the chance to go round the city, but glad you’ve had the opportunity to explore it.

    1. Awww, thank you, I never thought when I started that I would make it this far… As for sightseeing – well, business travel is really not as glamorous as people expect it to be (and I’d still like to know why my room seemed to be the only unrenovated one of the whole hotel…).

  7. I love Hamburg! It’s my second favourite German city (yes, unbelievably, there is such a thing, LOL) after Berlin. The Wells family spent a fabulous Holiday there and we took in all the sights you mentioned (although we kind of skirted round the Reeperbahn bit on account of the kids being very young, obviously) and more. One of our highlights was a very fancy breakfast in the café by the banks of the Binnenalster. We discovered that place way too late… but we’d have been bankrupt otherwise! It was an amazing holiday. Sadly the computer died several weeks later and took all our photos with it, so this is a holiday of which we only have memories. As for Fernweh… I’m with you on that one. Where shall we go?
    Great post, thank you!

    1. Same here – Berlin and Hamburg are my favourites (although, like a proper Austrian, I think the cooking in Munich is fairly decent…).

  8. Congratulations on your 600th post, Marina! I enjoyed reading about Hamburg – I’ve only swooped in and out of the city on business with no time to explore, but it looks to have plenty to offer. A good destination for a city break at some point.

    1. Yes, business travel is sadly overrated, isn’t it? No time to explore any of the lovely places you visit. And sometimes you even have to visit places in the middle of nowhere…

  9. Congrats on your 600th post!
    Sorry you had to stay at the airport. So, the French aren’t the only one going on strike!

    1. You know, that’s exactly what I said to myself: what is Germany coming to, with so many strikes? Switzerland also had some strikes recently… Quelle horreur!

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