Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hamburg and the Wobbly Town

Hamburg was completely destroyed by WWII. As a result, the city has been entirely rebuilt. Unlike Munich, Hamburg decided to build anew, without rebuilding the past. It’s the second largest city in Germany, and a major-metropolis that has been engineered in the modern era. Most of Europe makes the United States look new, but Hamburg makes us look very old.

We had a layover in Hamburg while going from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, but had found The Generator Hostel, so we booked a room for when we would return. Three days later, when we arrived we knew exactly where our hostel was, it was near the train station and we were booked.
“It’s so nice to have an easy travel day,” said Leslie, thereby jinxing us.
We arrived at The Generator at 6:35pm and were informed by the hostel that there was a note on our reservation. It said that they will give the reservation to someone else if we don’t check in by 6. We’d been bumped.
They pointed us to the A&O Hostel, but it was a bit far away and we were only shown a walking route. Later, we learned that the U-Bahn (subway) was much faster, but we were not told that at the time, so off we went, lugging our gear through Hamburg.
Half an hour later we checked into the A&O, which wasn’t bad, and actually cheaper at €12 per bed. Plus, the room we were in was full of interesting people. We met a couple men from Sweden who informed us that the east coast of Sweden was much better to visit than Stockholm because there’s more heavy metal music there. There was a man who worked at a nearby hotel from Zimbabwe who was the only person I’ve ever seen wear a suit every day while in a hostel. We made a friend named Mohammad from Morocco who we bonded with over some similar experiences. He was on his way to Oslo, Norway to look for work.
That night, we went to a strip of restaurants by the train station.
The next day, we woke up late. Too late. There was a pretty good looking all-you-can-eat buffet at the hostel, but we would have only had 15 minutes or so, so decided to take a pass and look elsewhere for breakfast.
Soon, we found ourselves on the U-Bahn, flying over the city of Hamburg. For part of the ride, the U-Bahn was about two stories above-ground, like the monorail in Seattle. It was a great way to see the city and has the distinction of being the only place we’ve ever decided to stay on the subway system just for fun.
Eventually, we stopped by the wharf for some breakfast. We got ham, cheese and egg sandwiches that were unique as the ham and cheese were like a normal sandwich, but the fried egg was on top of the entire thing, making it difficult to pick up. Nevertheless, it was pretty good.
The Rathaus was our next destination. Rathaus means “Town Hall” and it had a huge square out front. A large bay was nearby as well as the Alsteralkaden, which is streets and canals with little shops and streets. That was our goal.
But we got waylaid. We found one of the most beautiful malls we’d seen in a long time, and darn-it, sometimes you just have to shop. Plus, we knew we are about to leave Western Europe and we’re a bit sketchy about the quality of goods and services in the former eastern block. No offense to anyone over there, it’s just an unknown to us while we know Germany has a reputation for quality goods.
As a result, Bryan once again owns a pair of jeans while Leslie stopped by the salon for a color. So maybe it wasn’t the most cultural of days. Then again, that’s probably what a lot of Hamburgers do. (LOL! “Hamburgers”)
The next day we woke up, availed ourselves of the all-you-can-eat breakfast and left the city. We went on a day-trip to Lueneberg, identified in The Lonely Planet as “The Wobbly Town”.
Lueneberg’s a little village about thirty minutes outside of Hamburg by train. Historically, it’s a salt-mining town, with many of the salt mines directly below the town. The “white gold” dried up in the 1980s, leaving the city built on top of a shifting landscape. Add this with flexible mortar built into the walls and the entire city is wobbly. Walls aren’t strait, streets wobble up and down and the entire thing can make you feel quite disoriented. It’s almost like you’re looking at the world through a glass of water.
It was also nice that it was cheaper. We could get an ice cream cone for 80 cents. We stayed through the afternoon before returning to Hamburg.
We had one more goal before leaving Hamburg. We wanted to see the canal district, “Speicherstadt”, so we walked over to canals built off the Elbe river. New bridges and buildings lined the place, which was quite interesting, but my feet were getting tired, so we decided to try and see Batman.
In Bangkok, they play movies in English and Thai. You can pick which you want to see. In Netherlands, they do not dub the movies at all, so they’re in English. In Germany, well…
Leslie asked a young woman if she could point us to a theater and she obliged, but did not know if English was available. Two U-Bahn trips later we found ourselves outside the theater with a big, rotating, triangular Batman promotion out front. The promotion was completely in English, so we thought we might have a chance.
We got up to the gate and learned that only German language was available. D’oh.
My feet were still tired, but we were getting hungry. Leslie wanted this thing called “healthy food”. We heard some music and saw a lot of people walking over a bridge, so we headed in that direction. There was a fun little cafe with some beatnik style music going on. It looked like they were just serving drinks and the occasional sausage, so we moved on.
A neat little city-park that grabbed our attention. It was quite clearly man-made, but it was a fun park. A little stream ran through the center with trees and forest-like areas covering either bank. There was a large grass area surrounding the central forest part with a walking path for strolling. Little hang-out spots had been cut into the forest for people to sit on while lots of people brought blankets or books for the grass.
The guidebook actually came through for us with regards to “healthy food” and we soon found ourselves back on the U-Bahn heading to the other side of the city. The guidebook didn’t tell us that there would be a carnival going on. We dropped €6 on a Ferris Wheel that purported to be “The Largest Mobile Ferris Wheel in the World”.
Soon, we were looking for the cafe as identified in The Planet, but we did take a short detour.
There were two streets we could walk down. One had a bunch of cafes and shops. The other was the Reeperbahn, which is the largest Red Light District in Europe.
I was expecting something similar to our recent stop in Amsterdam, but it was quite different. In Amsterdam, sex shops, coffee shops, sex shows and prostitutes in windows line the street in the Red Light District. All shops have something “red-lighty” about them. In the Reeperbahn, the “red lighty” shops are interspersed with regular buildings. For example, the Opera House is on the Reeperbahn. We didn’t see any prostitutes hanging out in windows, either. There is a street nearby called Herbertstrausse that is lined with brothels. Women aren’t allowed on that street, so we didn’t visit.
We eventually found our way to the cafe, only to find it closed. It looked out of business.
With the healthy food mission in jeopardy we made our way back through the Reeperbahn, looking for restaurants with some sort of salad. Fortunately, we found one. It was a pub, but they had salads on the menu that ended up being pretty darn good.
So it turns out that our last experience in Hamburg was eating good, wholesome food in a place that was anything but wholesome.
Next stop, Nuertingen, Germany. Home of our friends Michael and Kersten Hausmann, who we met in Koh Phan Ngan, Thailand 3 and 1/2 years ago.

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