There’s no better way of exploring Hamburg than walking around and hearing interesting facts about the city’s history and culture, doing a port tour on a boat, climbing a couple of hundreds stairs to get the stunning view of the city, eating traditional food, and experiencing the fish market at 5 a.m. on a Sunday. At least, I think that’s the right way to do it.
While studying abroad, traveling is crucial. Not only is it desirable to explore the culture and mentality of a city, but it is also exhilarating to go to different cities and parts of the country. As an international student at the University of Mannheim, it is not hard for me to engage with both local and international students due to numerous student organizations that prepare various events, dinners, sports competitions, and, most fun of all, weekend trips. My third chapter in this semester-long Germany series gives several glimpses of various German cities. The first stop is Hamburg.
It was my first group trip within Germany. VISUM, a student organization at the University, made this adventure as enjoyable as possible for everyone. Hearing a lot from local Germans about how Hamburg is the country’s real urban metropolis and a fast-paced environment and a magnet for young people only served to increase my excitement. I knew only a couple of people prior to the trip, but out of the full bus, at least half became my new friends by the end of the journey.
Our “international” bus was leaving on Thursday at 11 p.m. for an over-night ride to Hamburg. We were reminded multiple times to bring our IDs, pillows, blankets, and backpacks. Although some forgot a pillow or a scarf, no one failed to bring positive vibe. After a partly sleepless night, we arrived to Hamburg on Friday at 6 a.m. Despite our eye bags being darker than usual and some muscle pain from the bus seats, the group energy remained. We filled our stomachs with German Pretzels, some fruits, and caffeine. First on the “To-do list” was a 2-hour walking guided city tour.
From our very entertaining tour guide, adorned with a funky hat, rounded glasses, and a long-thick coat, we learned a lot about Hamburg. It’s a home to around 1.8 million people. The city is known for housing Germany’s biggest seaport and the third largest container port in Europe, making it the country’s leading foreign trade hub. More than 130 million tons of cargo cross the walls of the port in one year. This also means generating a lot of money annually – around 20 billion euros throughout the country. Seeing the city hall, financial centers, museums, little bridges all over the city, the tour guide made sure we remember the three things about Hamburg: “Money, port, and green areas.” Apparently, Hamburg is the greenest city in Germany. Yet, if you go for a city tour in Berlin, it is very likely that the tour guides will say the same about Berlin. Whoever is right, both cities are environmentally active and friendly.
Tour guides often mention that the city has more bridges than Amsterdam, Venice, and London together. Due to a lot of water channeling through its streets, Hamburg has over 2000 bridges.
Tired from walking and enduring the cold wind that was following us persistently during our tour, we all went together for lunch in a traditional pork restaurant. The food was amazing, and the lunch provided much-needed rest time. Our next destination was the St. Michaelis church. The church could be seen from any angle of the city because of its 132 meter main church tower, which dwarfs most buildings in the city center. The St. Michaelis church as seen today is the third one to be built on the site. The original church, built between 1648 – 1661 in the baroque style, was destroyed by a lightning strike. The second building was laid out in a form similar to a Greek cross, and later the 132-meter-high tower was added (1777-1785).
A stunning view of the northern metropolis after climbing a couple of hundred steps to get to the copper plating around the church’s tower.
Our day ended successfully. After grabbing some dinner on the way back, we went to our hostel to rest. In the evening, most of us went to the youth district of the city with bars, clubs, pubs, and all that jazz. Moving in a big group through the crowded youth district was not a good idea. We could barely find enough space for all of us, so we decided to come back and get some good sleep for the next day. At 10 a.m. we met our new tour guide, but this time we received a 2-hour boat tour of the port, learning about the port’s daily operations. To hide from the occasionally strong wind, we could go inside of our cozy boat to sit back and enjoy the ride. One of the most striking buildings we saw was the new Opera house – Elbphilharmonie. With the ambition to build the iconic concert hall of the 21st century, the costs spiraled out of all control. The Elbphilharmonie was originally supposed to be finished by 2009 with the cost of €180 million. Yet, it is still not finished and the costs rose to €785 million with an earliest completion date of summer 2016 and a projected opening in the spring of 2017. The exchange students and Erasmus students next year might be lucky to go inside and enjoy the musical performances.
The Hambrug’s Elbphilharmonie
Still daunted by Germany’s biggest seaport and overwhelmed by all the information, we went to a potato restaurant this time (or, as Germans would say for potatoes, a Kartoffel restaurant), also very typical for Germany. All kinds of potatoes could be found with various combinations, sauces, salads. It was a very creative place, where even the menu was in a potato shape. We then split into three groups to use our free time and visit one of the three museums selected: the miniature museum, the museum of spices, and a historic chocolate factory. Some decided to simply wonder through the city. I found myself reflecting on travelling in general: whenever we move in groups and visit new places, we all end up talking to meeting more and more people and forging new connections. I think that was what kept our spirits strong, despite the full schedule and somewhat cold weather.
The peak of the whole adventure came on the final Saturday evening and Sunday morning. For our last night in Hamburg, everyone was keen to have fun and say a proper “goodbye” to the city. We danced all night in a club and in the morning, at 5 a.m. we did something very typical for Hamburg citizens – we went to the Fish Market or in German, “Fischmarkt,” in St. Pauli. The market has been running since 1703, and it is famous for the boisterous “Marktschreier” (market criers), who hawk their products at full volume. We were among the first ones to arrive, so we got to see the setting up of their booths with various types of fish, eels, sea meat, but also fresh bananas, kumquats, oranges, and whatever else they supplied that week.
It was a perfect way to end our journey in the most popular German city. Tired yet happy, we took the bus back to Mannheim.