August 2007, Hamburg

Travel-lust strikes again. I had heard many good things about Hamburg, Germany's second-largest city, and Patricia was also interested, so we planned a trip for late August, when the weather was still good. The journey there was short and fast, and we even got a very good deal on the trainride, not something you can take for granted with Die Bahn. After an hour and half, we stepped off our ICE train (Inter City Express, the German fast train, travelling about 240 km/h on fast stretches), and recorded the arrival for posterity.

After a medium-length walk, we found our not-as-nice-as-Dresden FeWo. This place was a bit dingy, so I think we will pay a little more in the future, to try to prevent a recurrence. It was probably as clean as it could be, given the carpets and so on which were installed, but didn't quite meet our expectations. In the end it is the old trade-off: travel more often, or stay in more luxurious places. We will shift our balance a little towards luxury.

Apparently Hamburgers don't let themselves get stopped so easily. Or perhaps they are very distracted? Suffice it to say, the red pedestrian lights have been doubled up. I suppose they are now twice as safe?
If there is one thing which makes Hamburg different than other German cities, it would be the harbour, which we thus made our first visit after dropping off our things. The water is front and centre of many goings-on in Hamburg, such as this wedding, and one could spent hours, if not days, just walking around the area with a camera.
Towards the evening we were getting hungry, and stumbled upon a Portuguese restaurant right at the water front. Given Patricia's part-Portuguese heritage, we could not let the opportunity go by, and found the place to be very charming, with a brusque but good-natured and friendly staff, and naturally, great fish. I ordered a mixed platter which ended up being a mixed experience, but Patricia's fish was delicious, if laborious.
We continued on to the famous Speicherstadt, or warehouse city. A mix of old and new, and with two interesting small museums above each other: The Spice Museum and the Museum of Afghanistan, as well as the least happy guy in all of Hamburg, and his boat. We snapped a self-timer portrait in a nice, but huge, coffee house there too. Considering that the M8 is strictly a manual-focus camera, I didn't do a bad job at all!
Later in the evening we fell for a tourist trap, and went up the tower of the St. Michaelis' Church, or The Michel, colloquially. The fireworks was put on by the fair across the way, as it turned out, and the free drink afterwards in the bar was non-alcoholic, neither of which were made clear before-hand. We still enjoyed it and chuckled a little at their desperation and the patheticness of the situation. They had fulfilled the contract to the letter, but not to the expectations. One would hope that they do a better job of explaining the exact terms of their Sunday promises to the congregation.
In the evening as we returned, we passed through Hamburg's famous (or infamous) Reeperbahn, a seedy district of questionable repute from years past which has now turned into a somewhat trite regular tourist sex quarter. It is still somewhat larger and more concentrated than usual, but the seedy characters were more creepy than freaky, and anyway, most people were just there to have a look. The one street where women were not meant to be allowed was as full of the fair gender as of men. I suppose that too got lost with time. In the end, the formula for selling sex was the same as everywhere: make it black and red, lower the quality, raise the price, and name your club something like the "Funky Pussy Club". We just strolled through and soaked in the ambiance. We did see one bar where women and kids we not allowed.
On our travels around town, we saw both black motorcycles and cars, all very nice. Eventually we ended up at the famous two-building Deichtorhallen. Only one was dedicated to photography, where we promptly went. The other one is concerned with traditional media. I am not sure why the division, but hey, if you have two buildings...
That evening we attended a performance of The Mouse Trap, the famous old Agatha Christie play, which among other places, had a decade-long run in Toronto, where I never did manage to see it. The actors were mostly quite decent, and we enjoyed it very much. I would love to see more theatre and go out more in the evening in general, but these days my mind is just focused elsewhere. Perhaps starting in the spring.
Another must-see in Hamburg is the Fischmarket. Packed full of people, and lots of guys hawking their fish. Some would sell fixed mixes, others would throw in a basket, still others would go down the list of what they had, one at a time, until it was all gone. Most of the sellers were pretty normal, but some of them were very funny, something you would completely miss if you didn't speak German. We visited the washrooms in the hall, where I got an interesting shot of the eating throngs next to a walkway. Back outside we spotted this rip-off: pay €5 to let a pigeon fly free. Of course, it will just get caught the next morning, or maybe they even have them trained to return.
One of my favorite sights in Hamburg was the U-434, a Cold War Russian submarine which had supposedly spied on New York City. Tight for space, very tight, and full of instruments everywhere. It had old-fashioned mouthpieces for parts of the internal communication. Patricia demonstrates the correct way of moving through the portals. Well, nearly: the head thing would be different. The dining table was also the operating table, in case of serious health issues requiring surgery. The torpedo room had never actually been used. Our guide explained that most people who had worked on such a submarine left it with psychological problems.
Back outside we looked for a restaurant for dinner. On the way we came past this memorial church remnant. When we found our restaurant, close to the Portuguese restaurant of the first night, our table lamp turned out to be a charming old boat lantern. Our walk back along the riverside walk was very beautiful, not least due to the sunset.
Our final stop of the trip was the Hamburg City Hall, a stunning old building, where we also took a tour. Unfortunately we ran out of time for the Art Gallery, partly my fault, but Hamburg is a nice enough city that I could easily imagine coming back. The Deichtorhallen is quite famous, and often has important photography exhibits, so perhaps the next time something interesting is on there...
Back in Berlin. In summary, Hamburg is well worth a visit, and is interesting enough that you could spend a couple of weeks there, although most of the major things could be covered in a week, depending on your interests.