Move over, Berlin – Hamburg is taking the place of coolest city in Germany. I had the pleasure of spending two days in Hamburg and I really enjoyed the experience.
Hamburg is a city of strong opposites. A prosperous port city with important bases for companies such as Airbus, Unilever, or Beiersdorf, and origin of famous German newspapers Der Spiegel and Die Zeit. Home to one of the world’s most notorious “entertainment” (speak: red light) districts, the Reeperbahn; a centre of alternative culture with a rich history of radical left-wing and anarchist movements countering the rich city centre and opposing gentrification. These strong contrasts make Hamburg an extremely interesting place to visit, and you will wander from art galleries to squatted buildings in no time.
Arrival to Hamburg by air is easy and convenient. There is a direct S-Bahn from the airport to the city centre (and further on, if required) with a journey time of approximately 35 minutes. The first thing I saw getting off the S-Bahn was a Gay Sex Cinema next to a bar called “Talibar”; coming from posh Edinburgh, this was a slight culture shock, but the rest of Hamburg was less shocking.
Breakfast is the most important (and delicious meal of the day), so I set out to find some nourishing treats. I stumbled across a zero-waste café in the laid-back Sternschanze district called In Guter Gesellschaft (German for “in good company”). This seemed like a great place, in line with my New Year’s resolution of producing less (plastic) waste, so I decided to step in. Inside I was welcomed by beautiful decoration and loads of plants, alongside a delicious breakfast and brunch menu; all of this with the ultimate aim to reduce or completely abolish waste that is harmful for the environment, and using regional produce. I went for the vegan pancakes, using oat almond milk they produce themselves, and they were absolutely delicious. In addition to this, the café also had a book and clothes swap, where you can either bring your books or clothes, or grab something. I can definitely recommend this place and it was one of my highlights of the visit (also because I love pancakes).
Strengthened by breakfast, I set out to explore the city by foot to immerse myself. I started out by walking through Sternschanze, home to a plethora of great cafés, restaurants, and bars, but also the centre of an anti-gentrification movement based around the Rote Flora, which has been squatted since 1989.
Next stop St. Pauli. St. Pauli is home to the famous Reeperbahn, which I had already made an acquaintance with the night before during my arrival in Hamburg. The Reeperbahn (“rope walk”) was the main entertainment district to visiting sailors, known as the sinful mile – and to this day it is somewhat notorious, combining a mixture of red light district with less smutty entertainment options such as musicals, theatres, famous gig venues, and bars and clubs. St. Pauli has more to offer these days, and much to my delight there was an overrepresentation of cafés with vegan options, vegan shops, and vintage second hand stores. An interesting piece of trivia – the Beatles actually played in St. Pauli before becoming famous, and Hamburg Airport features a quote by John Lennon,
I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.John Lennon
To commemorate the importance of Hamburg in the career of the Beatles, Reeperbahn features a Beatles plaza.
The city centre of Hamburg features many more upscale shops (the first thing you see as you get off the S-Bahn at Jungfernstieg is a giant Apple store); although highly commercialised, the streets are beautiful and worth a wander. I stopped for a coffee at the cute and cosy café Nasch, that also does food but was very busy. A further must see is Speicherstadt, the old warehouse district and Unesco World Heritage since 2015 – not surprisingly given the amazing architecture in this part of town.
I decided to retreat back to my Airbnb in St. Pauli again for a bit, but not before stopping for another coffee at Playground Coffee – a quirky wee coffee shop that is definitely worth a visit.
Dinner was had at Slim Jim’s – a small but delicious and very affordable pizza place bordering St. Pauli and Sternschanze, with drinks after at Zoe 2 across the road. This was without a doubt the most comfy bar I have ever stepped foot in – after all, it is comprised solely of sofas and shabby chic furniture – and I highly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Hamburg.
To round off a perfect day, I went to see a gig at the Mojo Jazz Club by the talented Australian artist Matt Corby, and the vibes were amazing – the whole crowd was dancing, singing, and just generated an amazing atmosphere.
Although according to my phone, I had done 20,179 steps the day before (as many as when I hiked to Drangarnir on the Faroe Islands!), I was itching for some extra exercise and decided to join a free yoga class at Lululemon in the city centre. These are available every Thursday morning at 8:30 and only require a pre-registration via Eventbrite. With my Yin and Yang realigned, I went for yet another filling breakfast, this time at Cafe Miller in St. Pauli, where they offer delicious vegan and non-vegan options.
As a final deed of the day before catching my flight home, I decided to visit the Hamburger Kunsthalle, a museum focussing on North German, Flemish, Dutch, Italian, and French artists, ranging from medieval times (where I spent a dysproportionate amount of time in) to contemporary art. They also featured several exhibitions, including Kamikaze by Philippe Vandenberg. I am usually not a huge fan of modern art, but this exhibit spoke to me as it showed the raw emotionality of the artist.
Overall, I really enjoyed visiting the Hamburger Kunsthalle, although the room layout was slightly confusing, especially since there were multiple buildings with no easy way to get back, and the restaurant didn’t offer any vegetarian options with not very friendly service, so I wouldn’t recommend that – go to one of the other (many!) great wee cafés and restaurants in Hamburg.
After completing nearly 40,000 steps in less than two days, I made my way home to Scotland, an experience richer.