I visited Hamburg a couple of years ago, at the beginning of my expat life in Germany, when I was pretty curious for everything. I returned the last week of December to revisit some places and eventually discover new ones. It was raining again, but I wasn’t bothered. The memories were still fresh and I didn’t need too much orientation to find my way without a map around the old places that I visited the first time. The difference was that this time I was expecting the monumental apparitions from the edges of dark-bricked buildings and the omnipresence of the water. And I knew I am not in Venice.
Hamburg was and still is a very rich city, compared to the poor capital city, with a high volume of trade exchanges. Most of the old buildings, stylish but still serious and inspiring people to work were built for the needs of the shipping industry and the economy developing on its expenses. The penchant for arts and individual outlook of the buildings evolved as the need of the successful businessmen to personalize and outline their success increased too. Usually included in the category of ‘Brick Expressionism’, these buildings may look brutal at the first sight and an intrusion into the private space of the quiet walker. After a couple of walks, one may get used with unexpected apparitions of naked bodies hanging in the most surprising corners. A strong body may send a strong message of power.
In the area around the main train station, there are also many cultural attractions. Out of time, we chose only House of Photography where a retrospective photo exhibition of beautiful fashion art by Guy Bourdin.
Close to the Deichtorhalle area, one of Europe’s biggest art centers for contemporary art, the media giant Der Spiegel offers an architectural showcase of power given by information. On the other side of the street, there are the ZDF headquarters. Bild and Die Zeit, as well as many regional newspapers – more powerful than the national ones, following the federal political and administrative structure of the country – are keen to trade information bites with the same fervour of the businessmen fighting for a better price for their symbolic merchandises.
We refused ourselves the temptation to take a air balloon tour over Hamburg, that can be booked around the same Deichtorhallen area. We went far away from the Central Station area, trying to be as invisible as possible from the sights of the unpredictable punks waking up. Most of the shops were closed, but we dared to make some tours in the main yards, invited by the spectacular apparitions. Levantehaus was our favourite, with stone spectacular animal heads around delicate sources of lights.
I love to visit old townhalls in Germany, but the one in Hamburg is my favourite. Besides the usual administrative businesses, it also hosts the regional government. Its construction lasted around 44 years after the destruction of the previous one by a fire. Such a long work resulted in a brilliant piece of architecture, with a hall richly decorated and elegant stairs. Queen Elizabeth II and the Shah of Iran visited it in the 1960s. Guided tours in French, English and German are offered regularly, including on Sundays. In the close vicinity, the Chamber of Commerce and the Hamburg Exchange, reconstructed after the war – when most of the city was destroyed – with the money of the local business community are another symbols of local power.
After a short stop at the exhibition at Bucerius Center, dedicated to Dionysos and the Greek beauty, we took the Poststrasse and explore the Hansaviertel and its Jugendstil buildings. Somewhere around, Mr. Hertz who researches the electromagnetic fields was born. The Neuestrasse and the whole area around Marriott has small luxury and antique shops, with beautiful silverware exposed in the windows.
From Valentinskampf we arrived at the new area of Johannes Brahms Square, close to a museum dedicated to the composer’s life. The huge building was at the beginning of the century hosting a conservative workers’ union hence the preference for naturalist representations. Statues of naked men are placed on one side of the building, unexpected apparitions in the world of serious work. In the park, a complex of classical statues are part of a memorial in the memory of Kaiser Wilhelm I, from the House of Hohenzollern, the first German emperor who united the German states for the first time, in 1883.
Despite the cold weather and the regular batches of rain, we are ready to walk a lot. Even though buses and metro are available, we have enough strength to move forward as this is the best way to discover a city that you cannot have too much time to see otherwise. From the Brahms square, we pass along the serious buildings of the civil courts heading direction Karolinenviertel, an alternative area for young green people and families. Once arrived there, not only the shops look different – more vintage and local anti-fashion styles – but also the style of the restaurants – vegan, Indian, Nepalese or Tibetan style. After more bio shops and even more graffiti, we return slowly to the central area. On the way back, we spotted the big stadium, where the matches of the local soccer teams are watched by the passionate supporters. Luckily, nothing is announced for our Sunday and we aren’t bothered by the usual commotion on such occasions.
When is time to eat, I don’t hesitate twice and I say where I want to go. It is the same place where I’ve been before: Saliba restaurant. At the time, I ate outside, but it is cold enough to don’t offer myself the pleasure of a meal with a view over the water. The smells and sounds of the Middle East didn’t change since then, and the service is fast enough to answer our hunger. We only had a small chai latte, my newest passion, at Mélange, a couple of blocks away, too busy and without a serious food offer for our tastes. At Salba, I had a delicious rice with dates, cashews and pomegranates, plus other veggies. A delicious combination, that I will remember for a long time. The rice was maybe a bit too fried, but overall fine. The different spices and ingredients bring their own taste and create a great balance. And of course they do have the delicious cardamom perfumed coffee that cannot be tasted anywhere else but in the Middle East.
I couldn’t leave Hamburg before going to the port. In the evening, the maze of bridges over the water connecting different histories and architectural styles isn’t as visible as in the middle of the day. I have memories of the beautiful modern architecture of the quarter near the port. HafenCity is built on water and projected to resist any weather intemperances – the floods were and still are the main problem for the city infrastructure. Nearby, a small musical box museum announces the coming performances of the Elbe Philharmonic who’s under construction for a couple of years already. More than in Berlin, middle class people of Hamburg love to go to concerts and exhibitions and to enjoy the good life. Nothing wrong with it, and while moving slowly around boats and couples doing their evening walks I am thinking that many ‘water cities’, like Amsterdam or even Venice, have a special charm that will always call me back.
After a last chai latte at the Campus Suite and a new 30-minute walk, I am ready to promise that soon will be back to Hamburg. I bet I will do almost the same things I already did during my last 2 visits. Some things don’t have to change at all.
For more pictures from Hamburg, visit my Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/hamburg/