Free and Hanseatic Hamburg (!)

We’ve been enjoying a few days of warm fall weather and it is nice to revisit some of these summer weekends. Our visit to Hamburg and Bremen was in early August, two Hanseatic shipping cities in the north.  Both cities were autonomous until about the 20th C. when they were governed by a guild of powerful merchants– which may help explain the official name, Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. There is a ton happening in Hamburg, we only saw a slice of it, it is very edgy and fun!

It is the #2 largest port in Europe (Rotterdam is #1)

Hamburg is a Stadtstaaten– It is a city and a state

  • It is the #2 largest city in Germany 
  • It is the news & media capitol of Germany
  • Prostitution is legal on the Reeperbahn
  • Everybody visits Miniatur Wunderland
  • Fritz Kola, My second favorite german beverage is made there


Here we go! 36 hours in Hamburg

We settled in for a 7-hr ride via Meinfernbus, a long distance travel bus with awesome low fares. The bus stopped in four other cities along the way and a dinner break at a rest stop Burger King. In Hamburg, we checked in with the night porter at our hotel and went out.  We were headed to an area that promised at least one all-night kitchen— Sternschanze . We visited this neighborhood once and it was scattered with cool shops, apartments, fun bars, and Hamburgers! (in this case, locals)


Altstadt (Old City)

We pushed an early start the next morning. Most of the activity we found in the Altstadt was in the square of Hamburg’s Rathaus (City Hall).



Neustadt (New City)

We stepped into a coffeehouse in the Neustadt for a recharge. I ordered an espresso and started to shift my bag for loose coin. The barista responded “you should enjoy first”, meaning that we should pay when we were ready to leave. I am accustomed to a certain pace when it comes to prepared food.  Here I’ve noticed that people will sit at the same cafe with a single kaffee and Stück Kuchen in the middle of the afternoon like they have nowhere to be for days. I am starting to come around to this sort of thinking.  I tried to sip my espresso as slowly as I could. We motioned that we were ready to bezahlen and headed toward the S-Bahn to spend the rest of the day in St Pauli.



St Pauli:  Reeperbahn, Port of Hamburg, Elbtunnel, Stadtstrand


The most infamous part of St Pauli, and perhaps all of Hamburg, is the Reeperbahn; where street prostitution is legal at certain times of the day. Most of the action is on GrosseFreiheit (freedom street), and one sidestreet —- Herbertstrasse, which restricts boys under 18 and all women. Everybody is sorta curious about the red light districts in Europe, right? This district is fairly regulated. The Reeperbahn is mostly bars and [strip]clubs and felt somewhat like an amusement park— we didn’t see anyone standing in windows like we did in Amsterdam, and nothing as swanky as the Moulin Rouge.

There is a lot more to St Pauli than the Reeperbahn. One of Hamburg’s city soccer clubs, FC St Pauli, in the bundesliga 2, has a loyal following. A couple of years ago they published a set of left-leaning principles focused on social responsibility and attracted even more fans.  We made a quick stop at the team store to browse the goods and pick up some souvenirs.





Port of Hamburg

We left the Reeperbahn and walked toward the Elbe. The city is about 70 miles from the North Sea but a confluence of river channels make it an ideal transport hub. One cool way to get around in Hamburg is by water taxi! You can buy a single ticket for 1.50€ which works for subway, bus, or boat.

Below the Elbe is an old narrow tunnel (Alte Elbtunnel) that was constructed below the water table of the river in 1911. It is modern thoroughfare for tourists, bikes, pedestrians — and, wedding photography! Derek willingly/unwillingly took this picture of me holding my FritzKola at the entrance.  Afterwards we ate fish sandwiches along the wharf, we tried the northern staple, a Bismarck– pickled herring on brotchen (a bun).  This is as close as we got (not very close at all) to the original hamburger, or frikadelle.


Summer in the City (Beaches)

I cannot believe that I haven’t mentioned the city beaches yet!  What better place to relax than on the water.   Germans live along rivers.  What’s missing.  SAND! Sand is missing.  The cities in Germany have the most ingenious outdoor summer bars– Stadtstrand, white sand city beaches. 🙂






The iconic red brick warehouses of the Hamburg skyline are in the Spiecherstadt.  The warehouses are along a network of canals that allowed shipping vessels to unload and store goods before distribution.  Interesting (to me), the signage in this area is in deutsch and chinese. This is also home to the:

Miniature Museum.

The top recommendation from every source we encountered was that everyone must visit the miniature museum.  Initially were were on the fence, take it or leave it, but after seeing the crazy line out the door we thought ‘there must be something good in there’.  Well, well– we soon learned that you just can’t go on a whim. People reserve tickets days in advance, it is quite popular and they admit maybe only 100 patrons/hour. They were booked until 10pm!  At the end of the day we just couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of Miniatur Wunderland.  We came back at 10:30pm, and we got in! We were not alone. It is open until midnight – this is a bigtime operation!!!



One room told the story of Berlin over 1500 years– this replica shows the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


A high level of detail conveys not only landscape and architecture, but also a civic element: scenes of protest, leisure, festivals (Oktoberfest!) family life and a lot of commerce.  Multimedia and automation are integrated too– planes take off and land, the lights dim and brighten (day/night), and trains are on the move.  They had a temporary installation where they asked the leaders of Germany’s numerous political parties to describe their ideal community– then the key principles were translated in miniature scenes. Really cool!


And, we bought a car.

Not a full size car.

This is the model that Derek drives everyday, a VW Passat wagon.  Until next month when the lease is up.  After that it will be just a little piece of history and a toybox model. Crossing our fingers for another station wagon.

On to Bremen—-



One comment

  1. Dear Kate and Derek Wonderful!! Your German adventure is really interesting…love it!!

    Of course, we missed you at Ian’s and Colleen’s wedding but know you had a grand time at Molly’s. Wish dustances weren’t so great–would have loved to have seen you when you were home. All’s well here–Syl will be moved in with me by the end of Oct…I still have oodles to do–I may be ready!! It will be nice once it’s accomplished.

    With much love and God’s blessings, Gram

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