Hamburg made an impression of “the nautical Berlin”. At least in terms of culture and liberalism it gives Berlin run for its money thanks to the districts of St. Pauli, Sternschanze and Reeperbahn. There are punk bars and hipsters cafes. Techno clubs (or rather huts) and squatted buildings full of lo-fi spontaneous art. There is a red light district behind iron gates, after which woman visitors are banned from entering. If that was not enough, a massive ugly-grey nazi-era bunker sits right in the centre of the city. Plans have been devised to demolish it, but destroying German quality 2 meters thick walls is not an easy task. So for the time being it hosts techno and punk nights. Very fitting indeed.
The city centre is quite generic with its pretty, but standard Central European architecture. Nothing to write home about. On the other hand, Speicherstadt is absolutely amazing with its tall red brick buildings, canals and the beginning of the 20th century industrial look. In terms of the architecture it is one of the most impressive areas I have ever seen and most certainly the most attractive warehouse area in the world. On a slightly different note, just outside of the city to the west lies Blankenese, a pretty village for posh people, which makes a pleasant half-day trip. Expensive houses, hilly narrow roads and a water-front make it all very Mediterranean. Germany does not cease to amaze, Hamburg in particular.
I am not a big fan of visiting museums, just because they are big and famous, but Hamburg has something entirely different to offer, namely an Airbus factory. I wanted to visit it, but unfortunately my timing was off for English guided tours. I went there to take a look at this massive facility. I tried acting like in the know and marching through open gates, but was politely stopped by a guard and guided to the reception. Upon explaining my cause at the reception, the answer was “this is not possible”. Said in the cold tone that instantly kills all the hope inside. The factory left unseen. Well, Hamburg is definitely worth visiting again, the factory or not. Hopefully next time I will have better luck with Fish Market and Airbus.
Estimating travel times is hard. I started a journey to Hamburg just outside of Lübeck, some 50km to the destination or about two and half hours of riding. The plan was to arrive early to catch the legendary Sunday fish market. I woke up at 5:30am and was on the road half an hour later. Fifteen minutes into the ride it started raining and the rain continued until the evening. In fact the weather was stormy during almost the entire stay in Hamburg. Continuous rains did not spoil my impression of Hamburg, but on contrary they complimented the character of the city. Anyway, I arrived to Hamburg soaking wet and muddy around noon just in time to see flocks of trucks leaving the market square… Two and hours turned somehow into almost six hours. If that was not enough, my phone experienced a temporary water death. Fortunately I had a place to stay thanks to Helge and Ina. Helge was my roommate at vipassana for ten days, most of which we spent not communicating with each other. It almost felt like being roommates in Finland. Well this time we had plenty of communication and I benefitted from the knowledge of the locals. Thank you, Helge and Ina.
I did not know anything about Hamburg in advance, apart from the fact that The Beatles had started their career there. The biggest feat of Hamburg is of course its harbour, which is the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam. It occupies the other bank of Elbe, making a neat split between industry and living. Unlike in Göteburg, where the harbour looks sort of out of place in the heart of the city, the harbour of Hamburg fits nicely in the city landscape. As well as horns of passing by ships compliment the soundscape of the city. The harbour is a subject of pride among Hamburg inhabitants, as it has historically been the main source of wealth of the city. There is even an annual celebration dedicated to the harbour. What other city can boast something like that? The harbour creates an illusion as if there was an open sea just behind the harbour. All the channels and rivers make the impression complete that Hamburg is a sea-side city. When I shared my thoughts with Ina, the answer was that there is indeed nothing on of the other side of Elbe. I dedicated one day to exploration of the harbour and as it turned out there is well nothing much to see. Heavy industry, even heavier fog and flocks of trucks, not much in terms of sightseeing. The harbour looks much more appealing from the other side of Elbe.
There is a municipal river bus cruising Elbe. I experienced a cultural shock, when I realised that there was a bar on the municipal river bus. Completed with tables and chairs too. All for the price of a bus ticket (drinks are not included). Suomenlinna ferry has got a long way to go. Maybe in the year of 2107. One can only hope…