Recent discoveries: Hamburg is a fabulous city. Germany is a huge country. Deutsche Bahn (the German rail network) is pants.
We’ve just had Herbstferien here in Bavaria, AKA half term, AKA a week off school, AKA I was obviously never going to sit around at home the whole time. No, sir! Making the most of having friends dotted round Germany (on whom I can impose myself), I pootled off to Hamburg to see my lovely uni friends, Caroline and Ellie, both of whom are spending their years abroad there.
I say pootled, but it was more of a trek than a pootle really. Yeah. Hamburg is faaaaar away from Bayreuth. Although I live in pretty central Germany north-south-wise, Hamburg is way up north and Germany is blimmin’ ginormous. Deceptively so, actually. So my pootle to Hamburg took over seven hours.
We Brits tend to think the German rail network is amazingly efficient, and – if it were to live up to stereotypes – it really should be. But alas, Deutsche Bahn is really rather annoying. I shan’t go into a huge rant about it as so many of my fellow year abroaders in Deutschland have already done so, but I’m pretty sure 75% of the trains I’ve taken have been delayed. And y’all know I’ve been taking a lot of trains! In fact, I feel a bit like I spend half my life either on trains, at stations or on the Deutsche Bahn website.
But anyhoo, I had my iPad loaded up with multiple episodes of The Great British Bake Off, an array of snacks (which obviously didn't even last half the journey) and as I watched Germany whizz past outside, it really wasn’t too bad.
A good deal later than scheduled (classic Deutsche Bahn), I arrived in Hamburg, excited to meet up with my hostess, Caroline. Alas, this turned out to be a fair amount trickier than it should have been. Hamburg station is ginormous, my phone was dead (classic iPhone battery #firstworldproblems), Caroline was seemingly unreachable… Long story short, I was in McDonalds for an hour, panicking, using the free wifi on my iPad and frantically facebooking people in an attempt to find out where Caroline was. Caroline, on the other hand, was doing laps of Hamburg station and getting the officials to blast THREE tannoy announcements for ‘Mrs Rachel Hosie’ out over the whole station, which I did not even hear as I was in McDonalds. Shame, as I bet it would've been hilarious.
Eventually, we found each other, Ellie arrived too and we all devoured burgers, fries, milkshakes and brownies to calm ourselves down. Panic. Over. Phew.
Having spent three whole days exploring Hamburg, I’m not going to do this blog post in a ‘we did this then we did this’ structure, because we’d be here all year (and ya know how much of a rambler I am anyway, sorry,) but rather I’m just going to share my favourite finds from the trip. A very mini-guide, ya might say.
The city as a whole
Aww man, I loved Hamburg. It was SO worth the trip. Hamburg is Germany’s second biggest city, home to a lot of the national media (obviously I got excited at seeing their snazzy offices) and is a massive port too – boat trips, bridges and canals-a-plenty.
There’s a fabulous mix of sleek modern architecture and beautiful old buildings, and it’s such a buzzy city. I’m not sure if it was because there was a Starbucks round every corner, but something about Hamburg actually reminded me of New York City. Although ludicrously expensive (4,10€ for a small drink!), we just had to treat ourselves to their autumn flavours - Pumpkin Spice and Salted Caramel lattes, anyone? There's nothing like Starbucks and shopping to give a gal a good dose of city life.
Maybe that’s a good place to start. The shops.
Of course, Hamburg has all ya chains, both designer and high street, but we decided not to spend too much time there. Well, we tried. Bayreuth is slightly lacking on the shopping front, so a couple of cheeky trips to Urban Outfitters and Zara may have occurred in Hamburg. The main shopping areas are around Mönckebergstraße and Jungfernstieg.
|Pretty shops along the waterside|
Knowing me as well as she does, Caroline took me up to the top floor of Alsterhaus overlooking the pretty Binnenalster (lake thingy, along with the larger Außenalster) where you will find the most incredible foodie delights. If I was rich, I would do all my food shopping there. And oh, the Christmas gifts!
As it was the beginning of November, everything had literally just turned über Christmassy, and unsurprisingly, I was loving it. Christmas trees in all the shops, decorations galore and tons of enticing festive treats were calling out to me everywhere we went. Just about managed to resist.
OK, except these earrings. But aren’t they great? I think a new pair of Christmas earrings (as well as a novelty jumper) every year is becoming an annual personal tradition.
|Cheeky Urban Outfitters treat (and you still get a student discount in Germany yay!)|
Speaking of Christmassy things, I also purchased myself a super bargainous and super adorable antique/vintage/retro/old Christmas Coke glass from the fleamarket (every Saturday morning.) It was a mere 1€ which was jolly pleasing indeed. I love fleamarkets, and I seem to be developing a habit of buying old German Christmas kitchen things (see my post about Frankfurt the weekend before…)
|This picture does not do justice to my glass' cuteness|
Another of my favourite new German shop discoveries is called Monki, and I am a huge huge fan. Lots of gorgeous-and-ever-so-slightly-edgy clothes (naturally, we Bristol girls felt right at home) at sehr affordable prices, with a really fun vibe. The interior of the shop, the receipts and even the shopping bags are all just very cool.
Eating and drinking
On the 20th floor of the oh-so-snazzy Empire Riverside Hotel, 20Up is the 'gastronomic jewel' of Hamburg's bar scene. Or so I was told. And having been fortunate enough to experience it myself, I'd have to agree.
Still, we waited until the doors opened and after the first few smart-looking people had given in their coats and were inside the oh-so-sought-after bar, I casually sidled up to the man by the door. I'm not sure quite what I said or how I said it, but somehow I managed to wangle us a prime table with a view over the whole of Hamburg by night. Genuinely have no idea how that happened. Maybe the man was charmed by my stilted German, maybe he just took pity on me, but it doesn't matter - WE WERE IN! (And ridiculously happy to be so.)
Unsurprisingly, the drinks in 20Up are extremely pricey, but you're also paying for the incredible view, the stylish ambiance and the chic setting. We felt like the Made In Chelsea cast could have walked in at any moment and had an awkward yet glamorous conversation.
Needless to say, we were loving life.
Despite being a somewhat less glamourous setting, I also loved the relaxed vibe of Pony Bar. Mis-matched furniture, comfy sofas, free table football and DJs created a delightful atmosphere for my first evening in Hamburg. I also love the fact that it's a cafe in the day but moves seamlessly into a bar as the evening descends.
And all for a not too shabby 8,80 €.
Oh, and I can't write about food in Hamburg without mentioning Franzbrötchen. Caroline introduced me to them and I am jolly glad she did. Every region in Germany has its local baked delicacy, and Franzbrötchen are Hamburg's.
They're cinnamony pastry cakey things of deliciousness. Yes, that is my best description. Slightly chewy, sweet, and almost like a croissant crossed with a sweet bun, Franzbrötchen are just very yummy indeed. And if the original isn't exciting enough for you, there are all sorts of variants to tickle your taste-buds, from marzipan swirls to cheeky fruits, chocolate chips and nuts. YUM.
Now I know what you're probably thinking: 'Rachel, did you just shop, eat and drink your way round Hamburg?' And I cannot lie to you, dear readers, that is mainly what I did. HOWEVER... I did do a spot of sightseeing, both from the upper-deck of a bus on a city tour (got free tickets, didn't I?), and just wandering round by foot.
|This is a museum. I didn't go in as I was too busy shopping, but I still appreciated its beauty.|
I really recommend going on a bus tour (even if you don't have free tickets), as it was a fab way to see the outer parts of the city that I probably wouldn't have visited otherwise. I particularly enjoyed cruising down what's known as Millionaires' Street and admiring some of the most incredible houses I've ever seen. I'm talking seriously beautiful here, people. There are a few bus tour companies, but we went on the Top Tour which was great. (Their website is here.)
|The Rathaus (town hall)|
The Hamburg Rathaus is an absolutely incredible building and deserves a fair bit of admiration in itself in my books.
Another must-see in Hamburg is the Reeperbahn. Don't know what it is? Ahh. Well. It's going to sound weird (and it is weird), but the Reeperbahn is basically a street full of strip-clubs, sex shops and bars. Hamburg's Red Light District, you might say.
Did I enjoy my time there? Well, not as such, but it's very famous and needs to be seen anyway. I did enjoy all the bright lights though.
|Just off the Reeperbahn|
But that's the interesting thing about Hamburg, there are so many different areas to explore, and I really enjoyed having the time and opportunity to do so. And oh, how lovely it was to see some of my old friends! New friends are brilliant, but there's nothing quite like meeting up with people who know you.
I had a fab trip, only slightly dampened by ripping my trousers in the bum as I crouched down on the platform on my journey home. I blame the Franzbrötchen. How sad I am not to have my skinny red cords anymore, but thank the lord I was wearing my big new coat, and you know what this means, don't you? Time to go shopping for a replacement pair!
I'm Hamburg's newest superfan.