Hamburg rocks…and don’t fear the Reeper

Hamburg rocks…and don’t fear the Reeper

Let me start my saying that Hamburg is a big city. And I didn’t fall in love with it. The one thing it seemed to lack was charm. But it did grow on me during the short weekend break that I spent there. It might not be on my list of places to take Mrs L to immediately. But that’s not to say I didn’t have a cracking time. I always do.

Initial observations

With 1.7 million people living there we are talking about a city three and a half times the size of Liverpool. I mention Liverpool because there are similar maritime histories and the obvious Beatles connections. On first impressions it is a wealthy city, but there are large and obvious pockets of real deprivation.

View from hotel

On our first evening, we walked from our hotel to the city centre. We went through St Georg which has a strong immigrant population. I can quite honestly say that I have never seen so many kebab shops in my life. Steindamm could be renamed the Sheeshbahn. Upon reaching the main Hautbahnhoff area the number of homeless people seemed to outdo even that of Berlin – view my blog on Berlin here.

But immediately to the west of the station, the main shopping area provided a stark contrast with a mix of chains and high end designer shops. The difference between having nothing and everything in Hamburg is about 50 yards.

We wanted a safe bet for our first drink of the visit. Having done our homework, we chose the Paulaner bar opposite the main railway station. It wasn’t quite what we expected but a pleasant enough venue. However, there were a few too many loud Brits for our liking!

Paulaner

Paulaner

Transportation

I love Germany for its transport. They make it so easy for residents and tourists alike to spend less time getting around and more time doing the stuff they want to. You can buy an all day travel pass for the city for just 9 euros. If you’ve got a few chums with you, it rises to just 13.80 for up to five people. Remarkable value for money.

U-Bahn

Everything is so clean and regular. You can get from east to west or from north to south across the entire city in a matter of minutes. Even throughout the night.

Not only that but the all day travel pass will allow you to take the 25 minute journey to and from the airport. And at a weekend, it’s valid until 6am the following morning. Just brilliant.

Station

Staying there

Given that this trip was a boys outing with my university pal Mr G, luxurious, atmospheric and romantic lodgings were not the top of my agenda. This time it was all about location and value. I chose the Novotel Suites in St Georg for a number of reasons:

  • It was 5 minutes walk from the S-Bahn station with a direct route to and from the airport
  • There was a U-Bahn station within 20 yards for transportation across the city
  • It cost us £55 for the room each night – bargain
  • Unlike most hotels in Germany, it had two beds.

Novotel Suites Hamburg

View from hotel

I have had to share a double with another mate in Germany before. But given that we would have a few drinks on this trip, I wanted to make sure that if either of us woke up confused and amorous, there would be a certain distance between us!

A real bonus was that just two minutes walk from the hotel was one of the most simplistic yet ingenious examples of housing design I have ever seen. A slice of imagination has turned a rather dull building into a bit of a talking point. British architects take note!

Hamburg street art

The Rathaus area

The town hall is a beautiful, impressive building both inside and out. With a picturesque courtyard, art installations and an elegant bar/restaurant it is well worth a quick visit, particularly if one of your party needs to pay a trip to the…ahem…facilities.

Rathaus

Rathaus interior

Rathaus bar

The surrounding area stretching to the Alster Lake in the north east and the Strandkai/Hafencity dock area in the south is a mix of impressive buildings and architecture.

Hamburg

Hamburg

Hamburg

Having the water so close on both sides of the town centre gives the place an open feel and it is easy to get away from the hustle and bustle within a few minutes.

Alster

Alster

Alster

I have to say that the famous Chilehaus did not do it for me or my traveling companion. Distinctive it may be but I found it soulless and actually preferred the police station next door!

Chilehaus

Police station

Evening drinks

We visited a couple of bars in this area and a brew house on Friday evening for some much needed fodder – more on that later. We  dropped into Klimperkiste, apparently a favourite haunt of the Beatles back in the early 60s. There was nothing special about the place but it does have the easy-going atmosphere mentioned in all the reviews.

Klimperkiste

Klimperkiste

We managed to make it into Meyer Lansky’s during Happy Hour. This cocktail bar, named after an American gangster, was absolutely kicking. The helpful chap at the door found us a couple of seats at the bar and we perused the extensive menu. No beer in here. And so despite Mr G reprimanding me for partaking in cocktails on my recent sojourn in Warsaw (read about it here), we both bit the bullet and ordered items that were both refreshing and mind-altering in equal measure.

Cocktails

The docklands and regeneration

This area is now dominated by the new Philharmonic building which only opened a couple of days before our visit. Striking and individual I suspect they are hoping that the building becomes Hamburg’s equivalent of Bilbao’s Guggenheim, drawing millions of visitors from both home and abroad. It was more than six years late and approximately €500m over budget. It was also packed to the rafters with visitors so I suppose it was worth the wait.

Philharmonic

Philharmonic

This is the area of the city that reminded me of Liverpool more than anywhere else as you can see from the pictures. The area has an upmarket feel and café bars and restaurants are dotted around. The water breaks up the buildings and walking around was a real pleasure, despite the intermittent snow.

Hafen City

Ship

Hamburg

Hamburg

Hamburg

The ‘burbs

I like getting out of the city centre to see what life is like for the people who really live there. When on a boys trip this usually occurs when we are on the hunt for a pool hall. While most Polish cities have more pool halls than St Georg has kebab houses, in Germany they are a little harder to find. In Hamburg we were faced with two options – 3 miles to the north or 3 miles to the east. Looking at the U-Bahn options we decided upon east and we were rewarded with an enjoyable couple of hours at the Vegas Lounge.

The area was certainly more Cas Vegas than Las Vegas (look up Cas Vegas and Ponte Carlo if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

Vegas Lounge

From the outside, the building looked like a youth club. Inside, the tables has lost the bloom of youth but were more than adequate. And the place was empty.

Pool

The first customer to follow us in was fairly burly and sat smoking at the bar, looking over in our direction every so often. He made a few calls and at one stage I wondered if he was arranging for ‘the lads’ to come down and relieve the ‘English dudes’ of their wallet contents.

On reflection I think he was on the phone to the bookies, placing numerous football wagers. The large screen in the hall didn’t show the football. Just the scores of every single match taking place across Europe and the ever-changing betting odds.

Just as a final note in this section, we played 9 ball pool like in the Mosconi Cup. In this photo I’m gloating at leaving Mr G in an impossible predicament. Just how is he going to hit the red ball from here?

Impossible shot

PS Playing pool with varifocal glasses is also impossible…as I found out during the first five frames!

The brew houses

We dined in a couple of brew houses in Hamburg and the experience was typical of my previous visits to Germany. There was a good selection of local brews on offer which lubricated us delightfully. The food was typical German fare – lots of meat! It was hardly refined but tasty, good value and excellent preparation for further liquid refreshment.

On the Friday evening we chose the Brauhaus Albrecht because of it’s central location. It was busy but the typical Germanic efficiency on display meant that table turnover was rapid and we were seated immediately.

Hearty dinner

On the Saturday, Blockbrau was our unanimous choice – we had both researched it prior to the trip and were not disappointed. A cavernous place on at least three floors, large vats adorned the upper levels while a band on the ground floor added atmosphere and a smile to your face.

Blockbrau

 

St Pauli and The Reeperbahn

Reeperbahn

Reeperbahn

I’d read quite a lot about the Reeperbahn and I have to say that it’s not my kind of place. It seems to be stuck in a time warp and is targeted at the stag market with its overt opportunities for partaking in nefarious activities. Even the local souvenir shops seemed to be displaying their 7 euro Hamburg crack pipes front and centre.

Souvenir Shop

We did find a Warsteiner pub on the main strip (pardon the pun) which had an oddball clientele and even more oddball staff. They did however sell us the biggest beer of the weekend which took an age to get through.

Warsteiner

We did pass on the Zwack Unicum however.

Zwack

We also found a couple of bars just off the Reeperbahn to while away a couple of hours. The first had a mainly male crowd – given that the radiators were on full blast, I’m not sure if the staff were looking forward to us shedding a few layers of clothes if you know what I mean.

The second was a smoking bar called Tippel 2 which was a pleasure. For those not aware, there are still smoking bars in Germany. Being a non-smoker I still take the opportunity to visit at least one per trip as they tend to have an easy going vibe and a bag full of characters.

Tippel 2

Tippel 2

Tippel 2

This was no exception with graffiti everywhere and a definitive allegiance to the local football team, St Pauli. I remember St Pauli being a Bundesliga team from the mid 90s when my younger brother had a video of 501 Great German goals.

Despite languishing at the bottom of the second division, St Pauli is supported by a raucous local following and is more en vogue than SV Hamburg, home to Kevin Keegan in the late 1970s following his Anfield days.

FC St Pauli

FC St Pauli

Whilst not enjoying the Reeperbahn per se, we could see the attraction of the St Pauli area and its inhabitants. Fiercely proud and almost independent of Hamburg, the place seems a lot more authentic than it’s dominant neighbour.

As you would guess, St Pauli is home to a lot of street art. This, I did enjoy.

Street art

Street art

Street art

Street art

Most impressive of the lot was the mural on one of the stands at the football stadium. ‘Some people think of dreaming as a waste of time. We have a different tradition.’ A great outlook on life.

FC St Pauli
At night, the Reeperbahn buzzes with activity and while there are ‘promo’ people all over the streets it felt quite safe. During the day however I found it fairly intimidating – while waiting for my colleague who was in need of a quick pit stop, the number of unsavoury characters, high on something or other, seemed to outnumber ‘normal’ folk.

Then again, with my shaggy beard and strange ways, I fitted in seamlessly and wasn’t bothered by anyone!

Reeperbahn

Reeperbahn

Reeperbahn

Reeperbahn

Hamburg Rocks

So why does Hamburg rock and what elevated this trip to something truly memorable?

On the advice of occasional travelling companions Mr and Mrs T we decided to give Zwick a go. The pictures didn’t look much but Mr and Mrs T certainly know how to have a good time so I took their recommendation as a safe bet.

Zwick

We were not disappointed. Arriving at 10pm on Saturday evening, we only left shortly after 3am. We had more dunkel (me) and JD & Coke (Mr G) than I care to remember – the receipts showed that we spent more on liquid in there than on food for the entire trip!

The staff were excellent and friendly. We were perched at the bar and even though the place was full, we seemed to be ordering more frequently than most of the other guests. Lizzie and Dennis were stars. In fact Dennis was even wearing a Dallas Cowboys cap, much to my pleasure, and Washington-loving Mr G’s disgust.

Zwick staff

The band were even more excellent. We discovered later that The Electric Toy Boys were in fact Zwick’s house band. They played three sets of rock covers over the course of four hours. Here’s a slice of the Boys in action.

Electric Toy Boys

At one point, what we think must be a planted fellow rocker in the crowd, started assisting the bass player, before taking over the instrument – not seen that before.

The crowd was just as excellent. A mix of ages, everyone was just here for a good time. There were a few oddballs, none more so than what appeared to be the main chap from the UK version of the TV show ‘Off Their Rockers’. I’m not sure if he was in fancy dress or just dressed fancily.

Off his rocker

Final thoughts

So there you have it. A weekend of fun and frolics in Hamburg. I think we made the most of our short time there and I’m sure that I’ll return there at some point, but probably not for a few years.

I’d love to hear from people who have been to see if they share my views on the city. Also, if anyone is planning to go, drop me a line with any questions and I’ll try to help. 48 hours doesn’t make you an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve got enough of a flavour to point you in the right direction.

Auf wiedersehen Hamburg, you rock!

Hamburg Rocks

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