If the truth be told, if it was not for our plans to meet up with the Van Den Booms in Grapel we would most likely not have travelled to Hamburg this year. However, Hamburg is not far north of where our friends Helga and Jean-Pierre live in Germany and it was a quick and easy start point to our entry into Deutschland from Switzerland.
We flew into Hamburg and were met on arrival by Jean-Pierre with a big sign reading Welcome Kristen and Damien, complete with a large red kangaroo. I have not seen Jean-Pierre for well over a decade now so it was lovely to see him again.
However, for our initial foray into Germany we were not in fact going straight to Grapel with JP. Helga and Jean-Pierre had arranged for us to stay with other friends, Christian and Christine and their boys in their home in Hamburg.
Christian and Christine had stayed with my family about two decades ago when they were honeymooning in Australia.
Christian arrived at Hamburg airport not too long after us and we went with JP to Christian’s home. We were given the royal treatment on arrival as Christine had arranged a lavish spread out on their back deck. So we went about chatting and getting to know each other. Once we all relaxed a little the conversation flowed and we enjoyed an easy afternoon. Christian kindly offered to take Damien and I on an orientation drive around Hamburg so that we could get a feel for the city and where we might like to go sightseeing the next day.
It was a great early evening tour and Christian made sure he pointed out all the most relevant tourist locations. We stopped for a brief walk down to a section of the canals and he pointed out the fancy home of Joop! Complete with young models doing a fashion shoot in the front yard! That night was to be the Germany vs Denmark soccer game in Euro 2012 so there was a lot of locals getting ready to view the match in various locations around the city. As we drove along the harbour there was a large group of young things getting amongst it with loud dance music and booze – it looked like it could be a long night for them!
Hamburg harbour is quite an imposing sight with all the industry going about its business. We drove alongside the ships, containers and other industrial structures that seemed to dwarf us in the car. Then, as if out of nowhere, sailed the impressive monolith of the Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise liner. Christian did some very swift driving to race the liner and we pulled up just in time to quickly walk down to the harbour to wave at the cruising passengers as they floated on by.
Once back at Christian and Christine’s home we settled in to watch the game. Germany were the victors. It was definitely the right result for our location at the time!
The next day we set off for our sightseeing tour of Hamburg. Our first stop was to be the Miniature Wonderland. A friend of mine sent me an email before our world tour of the Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg and I was amazed at the level of detail and the size and scope of this tiny world of moving parts and realistic scenes. I was sold on the idea of seeing this fantasy land – for big and little kids alike. The thought of visiting this place helped to cement the idea of staying in the city in our minds. I remember being rather chuffed at the time we made that call as how often have I looked at some sort of amazing this or that in a forwarded on email and had the ability to say, yes, next year I think I shall go and visit that city in that country and see that amazing thing? Probably never!
And the Miniature Wonderland did not disappoint! It was completely enthralling. There were several floors of rooms filled with miniature versions of countries and cities around the world. One of my most favourite parts was the Hamburg airport, complete with planes that flew in and out of the airport. One of my other most enjoyable moments was watching the 20 000 strong miniature revellers at the DJ Bobo concert. The scene itself was impressive, especially as night fell in the Wonderland and all the music lovers switched on their cigarette lighters and the stage flashed neon lights and sound into the crowd. It looked just like a real concert. However, the reason for me loving this scene particularly was the fact it was a DJ Bobo concert. My mate Rob back home simply loves DJ Bobo! I had secretly thought with amusement that he must be their only fan, as prior to Rob, I had never heard of this DJ Bobo, with its silly sounding name! Chris, his wife and I used to joke about Bobo on our long drives around NSW when we worked together as Assessors. With much enjoyment and mirth I sent a postcard to Rob and Chris of the DJ Bobo concert to show Rob that he had fellow fans in Deutschland! Rob was impressed and said that perhaps he should move to Germany where he could be with his kind ha ha!
After we reached saturation point at the Miniature Wonderland we left to eat our sandwiches on a ledge with a view of what remains of St Nikolai Kirche. During WWII, Hamburg was one of the fire storm cities as it was almost entirely destroyed by the Allies. St Nikolai has been left as it was after the extensive bombing of the city in the 1940’s . It serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the city as well as for the Jewish people who lost their lives under Hitler. Although just a small portion of this Cathedral remains, it is still an amazing sight. It is sad that such a beautiful building was ruined as it would have been magnificent in its day.
We were keen to go on a tour of the Alster Lakes and canals so wandered in that direction via the medieval and ornate Rathaus. We made our booking for the next available canal tour and then sipped on coffee at a café with a prime location overlooking the Binnealster Lake. Fortunately for us the somewhat inclement weather of the beginning of the day evaporated as we boarded our cruise and we enjoyed a blue sky view of the city by boat. Hamburg is very grand and it was a pleasant way to take in the city from another perspective that cannot be afforded if one simply drives through the streets.
The endless hours of day light that abound in Northern Europe at this time of year meant that we still had plenty more time to fit in even more of Hamburg into our day. Next we went for a stroll through the Planten und Blomen which Christine had recommended we check out. We had envisaged finding a nice place to stop and read our books for a while but the wind picked up so we contented ourselves with a walk instead. It was a fantastic garden, with many plants in bloom. It is a very well thought out and designed park in that there were several interactive sights where kids (and adults!) could play games with water cannons or step across large man made ponds on strategically positioned stepping stones. There was one section that had been created as a series of levels of ponds with neatly manicured collections of water lillies that had me wondering whether it had been designed this way as a salute to Monet.
As we were walking through the Japanese garden section we chanced to spot a little squirrel which was a nice treat. It was feeling a little cold so continued our walk towards the Reeperbahn in St Pauli for some nice warming Goulash for dinner. No visit to Hamburg is apparently complete without a visit to Europe’s biggest red light district. Even though it was a Monday night the place was buzzing with people. We weren’t sure if this was the norm or if it had more to do with the fact that there was another Soccer game on that night. Nonetheless, it provided an excellent swathe of humanity for us to kick back and watch pass by from our position outside one of the bars. When we had met some Hamburgers in Laos they had said that this was a great people watching area, and they weren’t wrong. Damien commented on how he loves how Europeans arrange the seating in the cafes and bars so that all seats face the footpath. Europeans it seems understand and accommodate the human pleasure of “people watching”.
However, you don’t just come to St Pauli for the people watching, it is also lined with strip joints and sex shops and apparently a notorious brothel street. So feeling the, “When in the Reeperbahn…” vibe we decided to sneek a peek at one of the sex shops. Let’s just say that the mind boggled at the things we saw in there!
Anyway, our unexpected night out on the Reeperbahn ended up being the entertaining and fitting full stop on our epic tour of Hamburg. As it turns out, I am so glad that we ended up visiting this city as it is truly worth it. Hamburg is a beautiful city that does grandeur with style, with a little bit of grittiness and naughtiness thrown in for good measure. I for one would happily come back to visit again.