Hamburg, Germany – Travel Review
by Richard Jones
John Lennon said: “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.” A strange thing to say, considering he was once seen in the German city with a toilet seat around his neck, wearing only underpants.
During the early 1960s, the soon-to-be world-famous Beatles honed their skills in Hamburg, Twisting and Shouting in various clubs along Große Freiheit. Some of those venues still exist – including the Indra Club where Lennon and co first played – but a lot has changed since the Swinging Sixties.
When the Beatles first arrived, Hamburg was emerging from the ruins of the Second World War and had a reputation as a place of vice and criminal activity. Nevertheless, throughout its history, the seafaring city has always welcomed merchants and travellers with open arms, living up its nickname ‘Tor zur Welt’ (Gateway to the World).
“Phenomenal place for an evening out”
As with most ports, sailors arriving on shore leave would traditionally head into the city to shake off their sea legs by getting their leg over in the multitude of insalubrious bars and brothels. Hamburg’s once notorious red light district has softened considerably since its heyday, but the strip clubs and legalised prostitution remain.
As does the hedonistic party, with the city recently named among the best places in the world for a short break. And at the centre of its nightlife is one of Europe’s most notorious streets – the Reeperbahn. A 24-hour theme park of neon, I found it to be a phenomenal place for an evening out, with old sailors’ pubs and modern discos peacefully coexisting with erotic bars and sex shops.
Locals mix with rowdy stags and hens ‘on tour’, against a soundtrack of football chants, rock covers, cheesy euro pop and house music. But despite the impression I may be giving, Hamburg isn’t all seediness and sleaze.
“Getting around is easy”
Tucked between the main avenues, there are sidewalk cafes, stylish boutiques and cool bars frequented by youthful hipsters, bohemians and some of Germany’s more well-to-do residents. Indeed, Hamburg is one of Europe’s wealthiest cities – one in 38 of its residents are millionaires. And over the last couple of years, it has experienced an unprecedented visitor boom, especially in summer when the temperatures are warm, days are long, and café and bar terraces fill up along the Elbe River.
Getting around is easy and cheap also, thanks to the typically German efficient U-Bahn, S-Bahn, ferries and buses. Unlimited travel with a Hamburg Card is around €10 per day. There are also plenty of hotels to choose from in the city, although my tip would be to steer clear of the Reeperbahn and head a mile or so out for value-for-money luxury accommodation.
I stayed at the Adina Apartment Hotel Hamburg Speicherstadt located on Willy-Brandt-Straße. The rooms here are ultra comfortable, with washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves in some rooms, meaning you can unwind in private after a long day sightseeing on the harbour, or a hard night partying in St Pauli.
“Aura of mystery”
The hotel’s Storehouse restaurant and bar also serves up a terrific breakfast and dinner, while the indoor pool and sauna is an oasis of tranquillity.
The area surrounding the hotel, the Speicherstadt, on the famous Spiegel Island between Deichtorhallen and Baumwall, is also an interesting one. At nightfall, the area has an aura of mystery, as the warehouse complex’s red brick buildings and steel bridges are artfully illuminated by 800 spotlights.
Also worth a visit adjacent to the hotel is the Gröninger Privatbrauerei, a 300-year-old cellar where we got merry with wooden barrels of Gröninger Pils lager, and chomped down on pork knuckles and pretzels.
“Outdoor viewing platform”
A walking tour is also a must in Hamburg, especially one which takes in the main shopping area in the Jungfernstieg, the magnificent sandstone Rathaus, St Michael’s Church, and 1920s Brick Expressionism masterpiece, the Chilehaus.
Saturday night, meanwhile, is the perfect time to head down to the beach bar at Dock 3 and sip on pina coladas and mojitas with friends while watching the sun set over the harbour. After that, the Hans-Albers-Platz in the Reeperbahn is the place to be, as thousands dance the night away to live music in the London Bar and The Academy.
If you manage to make it to the early morning, like I did, you will be rewarded with a sunrise on the Elbe, and a tray of battered scampi and huge breadcrumbed cod sandwich from the famous St Pauli Fischmarkt.
Since the opening of Hamburg’s new landmark, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, with its wave-like glass façade and ‘Elphis’ outdoor viewing platform, in early 2017, the HafanCity area has become the city’s main daytime tourist hotspot.
However, I’m afraid not even the promise of music from Hamburger composers Brahms and Mendelssohn in one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world, can detract from the appeal of the Reeperbahn, and its ties with the Beatles.
If you’re going to visit one place in Hamburg, it has got to be the area surrounding the Beatlesplatz, where the the Liverpudlian band are immortalised in sculpture. George Harrison once said: “Hamburg bordered on the best of Beatles times.”
And from my 72 hours in Germany’s second largest city, its easy to see why the Fab Four (or Five back then) were so captivated by the place. To quote a Beatles song title, albeit one from later in their careers, I can’t wait to ‘Get Back’ to Hamburg one day.
Richard Jones travelled with EasyJet (easyjet.com) who offer flights to Hamburg from Manchester from just £45 return.
The Adina Apartment Hotel Hamburg Speicherstadt offer rooms from €135 per night. Please see adinahotels.com
For more information about short breaks in Hamburg, please visit hamburg-travel.com