Monday, 4 November 2013

My favourite finds from a mini-break in Hamburg

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.

Train trauma

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.

Oh yes, maybe it was the great shopping that reminded me of NYC. Hmm. Well I was exploring the city with two Hamburger (tee hee) girlfriends and I had just (FINALLY) got my Erasmus grant, so can ya blame me?!

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
I absolutely LOVE department stores, and Hamburg has plenty to offer. Despite being able to afford very little there, Alsterhaus is the place to go for the most beautiful of things – it’s like Selfridges, ergo amazing (and expensive.)

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!)
Oh, and I also bought this pasta, because, well, just look at it. It's all Christmas shapes! I just know that's going to taste better than your average fusilli.

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
The fleamarket is in an area of Hamburg called Sternschanze, which is also full of falafel takeaways (yum) and cute boutique shops. Naturally, we went into pretty much every one we walked past, and alas I didn’t take down the name of each, but I do remember particularly liking everything in a shop called Frida – beautiful clothes and jewellery, and all from German designers I think. Wunderbar.

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.

I treated myself to a funky purple velvet skirt which you can see below. The jumper I'm wearing (borrowed from Caroline) is also from Monki, and I really quite wanted that too. Yes, we are all wearing velvet and a lot of glitter, but this was our Halloween outfit theme and I enjoyed it a lot.

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.

20Up is, I believe, the bar to be seen in, and thus not easy to actually get into. There's a dress code, so Caroline, Ellie and I donned our finest attire (we were channeling 'chic young professional') and hoped for the best. On a Saturday night. Seeing as reservations are usually made at least four weeks in advance and we didn't have one, I admit this was extremely ambitious.

Hoping to get in there early, we arrived at 5.20pm only to find the bar doesn't actually open until 6pm. Oops. No worries, off we popped for a little wander only to return at 5.50pm to find a ginormous crowd (Germans don't queue) of people in the corridor outside, eagerly waiting to get in. And they all seemed to have reservations. Ahh. Not ideal.

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.

Although expensive (10,50€ for the cheapest!), the cocktails were amazingly yummy. As a colada fan, I was recommended a Prinz, which was a creamy, coconutty, passion-fruity glass of deliciousness. We seemed to have made a friend in one of the waiters, who very generously gave us a portion of yummy nibbles each (everyone else had one per table haaa haaa), not to mention a strawberry daiquiri on the house with a straw for each of us.

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.

Pony Bar
Another restaurant with a fabulous view is Alex, situated on the edge of the Binnenalster overlooking the water. We went there for an epic breakfast/brunch buffet which included croissants, rolls, sliced breads, all the jams and spreads you could desire, cereals, fruit salad, rice pudding, chocolate mousse, jelly (naturally I totally went for the puddings), sausages, eggs, hams, cheeses and loads more that I can't even remember. 

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.

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