Arriving in Hamburg, Germany
Germany was our third and final country on the itinerary for our first tour of Europe in 2018. By the time we arrived we had already visited Brussels, Ghent and Bruges in Belgium as well as Amsterdam in the Netherlands. From the moment we exited the train station in Hamburg I could tell that this city was quite a bit different from the European cities we had just seen. Hamburg doesn’t attract the amount of tourists that the others do and the walk to our lodging felt dark and a little dodgy. Hamburg lost a lot during the war and lacks some of that old world charm, what remains or has been built since is covered in graffiti.
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Settling In - The Altona District
The Air BnB we booked for the next three nights was very cozy, located in the quiet district of Altona. There were boxes of apples and another very fragrant yellow fruit (I later found out was a quince). The fruit was put out to share and was free for the taking. I grabbed one of each. The smell of the quince filled the entryway and halls. We were several stories up and after a day of traveling we were happy to drop our bags.
Free of our luggage, we headed towards the nearest bar for a quick cocktail while we figured out where we wanted to eat dinner. The bar we found had a mix of German and American influences. It felt like many restaurants we encounter here in the midwest that have more seats than they will ever fill at one time which leaves you feeling a little strange and out in the open. We ordered a drink each and mapped out how to get to the restaurant we had chosen for dinner. We failed to check the hours and upon arrival we found that it was closed. So we hit up the Arepas place we had seen along the way, what a happy accident that was! We got the food to go, went “home” and ate in front of the television that spoke to us only in German.
The Speicherstadt District
The following day we had plans to meet up with our friend later in the afternoon so our morning was wide open. We started the day off with some coffee drinks and a light breakfast at this cute little cafe that was part vintage clothing store. For the record, the bite of waffle I had here was much better than the one in Bruges. Sorry Belgium…
Hamburg was the only city in Europe where we experienced much of a language barrier. We knew a few phrases in each of the languages we might encounter but didn’t have a chance to use any of them until Hamburg. Even while communicating could be a little difficult, the people were overall very kind and understanding.
After breakfast, we headed towards the Speicherstadt District to explore the historic warehouse area and to go to the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest exhibit of miniature cities and model trains. This was not my idea and while I am usually up for anything, I had a feeling this was going to be pretty nerdy. I was so wrong! The Miniatur Wunderland is amazing! It is so much more than I could have even imagined. The place is massive and the tiny working cities are loaded with a breathtaking amount of detail. The sky changes from day to night, there are moving ships, cars, and even a functioning airport complete with takeoffs and landings. My favorite thing to do was peer into all the windows and look for drama among the tiny residents. I could go on about this place but you really just need to experience it for yourself. Keep in mind that it is perhaps Hamburg’s busiest attraction, and there is no way you will be able to see it all in one visit. You will need to buy a ticket for a particular time and depending on how busy it is (and it will be busy) you may not be able to go in right away if you just show up.
Our friend, Malcolm, came over to our place as soon as he got off work. We had some celebratory beers at “home” and just took some time to catch up. Malcolm has been living in Germany for several years now but we know him originally from Omaha, Nebraska. The plan was to go out for dinner first, then we had tickets to see a concert at Knust - a former slaughter house turned indie music venue.
Malcolm did an excellent job of showing us a good time in Hamburg. We had dinner and craft beers at Atles Madchen. The place was packed and it so was so nice to sit back and share some beers with our friend who happens to also be a great story teller. The beers were tasty and the conversation was easy.
After dinner we headed towards Knust as we wanted to get to the show a little early so we could be near the front. We grabbed a beer each and took our places about 1/3 of the way back from the stage. This place filled up! The second story was full clear to the back. Even the side hall had people craning their necks to see the show. The concert was great and the atmosphere was really fun.
Our other friends mentioned they might stop by the venue quick just to say hi. We were happy they did since the concert had become incredibly hot with all the bodies, lights and dancing. We met them outside and after lots of hugs we decided we had time for one beer. We found a quiet pocket in the corner of the bar and had a lovely reunion.
We met our friend Julia exactly one year earlier during a trip to Nicaragua. We must have hit it off because we have remained long distance friends ever since! It was so nice to see Julia in person again and we enjoyed getting to know her boyfriend, Barry. We already had plans to spend the following evening with them, so this short and sweet get-together was a bonus!
After the concert, Malcolm wanted to show us the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s entertainment district. The street was lined with bars, night clubs and neon lights. Being the night before Halloween, there were masses of young people dressed up in costumes, giving the district an eerie yet comical feeling. We found a pop up outdoor bar near the center where the Christmas Markets are held each year. A great thing about Europe is that they embrace outdoor seating well into the fall when the temperatures drop. Blankets are placed on each chair and there were portable heaters near the tables. It even started to mist on us and we didn’t mind.
Brunch and Boats
Our friend crashed at our place after the night out in the Reeperbahn and come morning we were starving. He suggested Klipp Kroog for brunch. Klipp Kroog is a gorgeous cafe with a diverse menu that includes vegetarian and vegan options. The smoothies were delicious! Also, the pumpkin soup special was fantastic! We all ordered a version of this sampler plate which included 3 different breads, cheese, a salad, nuts and the option to add a selection of sliced meats. So simple yet so good!
After brunch we walked back “home” where we all hung out before having to say goodbye to our friend Malcolm. We then took the train towards the harbor where we were meeting up with J+B. We connected at the Port of Hamburg and decided to walk the harbor, grab a drink and time it so our boat tour would include the sunset.
J+B treated us to a guided boat tour of the harbor. The tour started along the harbor, went through some of the canals of The Speicherstadt District and then out to the port. Hamburg has the third largest container port in Europe and it provided a neat contrast from the canals. The container cranes were massive. Our boat had all glass sides and roof, there were places to stand outside, but it was quite chilly so having the option to go back inside was welcomed. The tour also passed by some of Hamburg’s biggest attractions such as the relatively new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which was stunning to see lit up at night from the water.
Beer is Cheaper than Water
Staying hydrated in Germany and really much of Europe is a challenge. Restaurants do not offer the never-ending glass of tap water I am accustomed to in the States. You can order a bottle of sparkling water or for half the price you can order a pint of beer. My frugal, bargain-loving (and beer-loving) self just couldn’t justify the expense so I brought along a water bottle when possible. Luckily, many German beers are light and the food was always plentiful.
After the tour we were looking for some authentic German food for dinner. Our first attempt ended up being our only bad experience in all of Europe. From the moment we entered this restaurant the service felt off. We started by ordering a drink each, there was some confusion with the menu and to make a long story short, we left after being told that we “could drink outside with the dogs”. This all went down in German so I don’t exactly know everything that was said, but if looks could kill….
Happy to be on our way, we found a new place to eat and had a great meal together! We surprised each other with gifts and it just felt good to be in the company of wonderful friends. We ended the night at a bar J+B had found the day before, Gröninger Privatbrauerei, located in the heart of old town. They were excited to take us down into this cellar of one of Hamburg’s oldest breweries and it provided a bittersweet end to our time together. Afterwards we enjoyed a quiet walk around Hamburg’s old town before saying goodnight and goodbye.
Inspiration - Hamburg, Germany
My inspiration for Hamburg came to me before we even left the States. I wanted to surprise my friend with a gift I hoped she would truly treasure. Julia happens to be in love with her adorable pug, Louis. He is a very handsome guy and I had a great time painting his likeness. I think she liked it! Okay, I know she did. (There were tears…)
Prost! To Friends!
We enjoyed our time in Hamburg. It has a lot to offer visitors and locals alike, and it has the authentic feeling of a real working city. What really made Hamburg great, to me, was the time spent with friends and experiencing the city from their point of view. It was a great place to kick back while being able to really focus on and enjoy the company of others.
While we are at it, Prost! To Louis! Just look at that face, those sweet eyes… Would someone please just give him something to eat?!
This trip took place during the fall of 2018. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.