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.
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…
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.
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?
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…