Thursday, September 9, 2010

Small city, large places !

Hamburg replaced Berlin in my mind as the most captivating city in Germany after I spent a weekend there.

We spent the morning on a walk from the Hauptbahnhof (central station) to the port and this was enough to establish why Hamburg is called the Venice of Northern Europe – Beautiful Bridges, Red brick buildings on either side of the water, small boats cruising on them with enthusiastic visitors waving hands. Our first stop was at the balloon ride – High flyer Hamburg. Although it was a windy day, I was still hoping (in vain) that there was a chance of a ride to get a glimpse of Hamburg from a height of 150m.

A short walk from there took us to the Speicherstadt (warehouse district). Walking through it with the red brick buildings on the one side and water on the other, made one wonder about the great architecture since it is the world’s largest warehouse based on a pile foundation and has entrances both from water and land but it also brought back memories of the world war since Speicherstadt was one of the heavily bombed areas (and had to be rebuilt later). The numerous small bridges also reminded me of Holland and weirdly I did find some of them named in Dutch (don’t know why but could it be because of a lot of Dutch traders at the port?). This was also a good place to take a boat ride (if you don’t do that, you are not a tourist!) and see different parts of one of the world’s largest harbours.

We saw everything from a U-Boot to a luxury yacht of a Dubai Oil king (although I did wonder first if it belonged to Vijay Malya!) to a German army ship and various shipping yards (almost all of them Chinese!). Only thing annoying about the boat ride was the driver (or should we call him a captain?) who kept talking non-stop for an hour and a half (I have never seen any German man talk so much) !! Although he had some funny stories to share about the harbour that celebrated its 821st birthday this year, I would have preferred to enjoy a few minutes of silence while gazing at the water (that’s what makes a boat ride special, right ?).

After taking a long walk along the harbour we proceeded to the Reeper Bahn, one of the largest red light districts in Europe with strip clubs and sex shops...as always, I took a photo and we quietly left the place (angel emoticon...) and proceeded to the Japanese garden, again called the largest Japanese garden of Europe. For a small city (that is half the size of Delhi - its all a question of relativity), Hamburg boasts of too many ‘larges’!!.

To put it lightly, I was stunned, it was a beautiful garden (actually large enough to be a small town) with fountains, waterfalls, landscaped areas, woods, lakes and possibly everything that Nature has to offer. At that moment, I really did consider moving to Hamburg. Any time I am in a bad mood, I go to the Theresienwiese (October fest grounds and no, not for a drink!) and walk through the alley of trees and I will immediately feel better, feel calmer and this was exactly the feeling that one got in the Japanese garden all the time. I am not even sure if we saw the entire garden but we spent hours walking and it was simply too beautiful for words or photos and what's more all the beautiful spots had comfortable chairs and inviting benches and many of them were occupied by people reading books, listening to music, elderly couples and frankly it made me jealous of those living in Hamburg ! We finally settled down on a white bench surrounded by swans and ducks to see the water works display for a few minutes before we half-heartedly left the place to go back to our hotel after a long but extremely satisfying day.

Day 2 began with the Raathaus (first photo). It was quite a sight first walking through the arcade looking at the Alsterseen (River Alster) with the swans (They always remind me of a fairy tale! That’s probably the girly instinct kicking in) and the Raathaus slowly coming into view in all its grandeur.


After spending considerable time in the Raathaus square and doing what one must do – have a coffee and cake with the great view – we proceeded to St.Nikolai church, a church that was heavily bombed and today remains as a world war memorial. The photo above shows the area around the church immediately after the bombing. An elevator ride gave me a glimpse of Hamburg from 75m (although it was only half as good as the balloon ride, it still made me happy) while the exhibition hall described in detail the various parts affected by the war. They also had a photographic collection not only of Hamburg during the war but also of other cities in Europe. The before/after photos were a simple but effective way of showing what a war does ! My favorite part was the last few sentences in the photo below...

...taking responsibility and not shying away from what was done is never easy.

A long walk through the Mönckebergstrasse, the shopping street of Hamburg, took us back to the central station well in time for some shopping and a meal before we caught the train back to Munich.

Some tips:
- Hamburg is best explored on foot, so be ready to walk so that you can take in everything it has to offer.
- The city was unusually crowded (although there was nothing special that weekend) and the trains were overflowing (thank god we had seat reservations!), so book in advance if you don’t want to spend too much on a mediocre hotel or stand in a crowded train, especially if you are traveling on a holiday/long weekend.
- The central station has an unusual number of shops and restaurants when compared to other cities (like Munich) in Germany. So don't think twice about having a meal here or picking up a souvenir.
- For the boat ride, if the weather is not good, choose a closed boat that has coffee on board. 1.5 hours of chilly breeze on an extremely windy or cold day can be quite unpleasant.
- For fish lovers, there is apparently a great fish market close to the harbour.
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