Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Germany: Hamburg

View of Hamburg and its mixed of historic and modern

I spent a week in Hamburg this month on business. I had about a day and a half to enjoy the city itself. I took a small pocket camera with me, so the photos in this post are not the greatest, but since they are mostly tourist shots anyway, I suppose it does not matter.

A view of the North Atlantic after 6 hours of flying. I took a bunch of pictures of England and Scotland from 38,000 ft, but with my small camera, none of them were worth posting. It was fun to see though. Lots of farm lands and few trees.

We took the subway from the airport into the city. This platform was in "the burbs" and surrounded by beautiful trees just starting to turn.

In my wanderings about the city, I must have been stopped at least 4 times by people asking for directions... Woe ist.... I can not believe I looked that German and normally don't like to look approachable in crowded urban settings. The first two times I was suspicious that it was a distraction and that my euros were under threat. After a while I got used to it. I quickly learned to say Ich sprecht nicht Deutsche!

My hotel was right next to the trade center and the iconic radio tower of Hamburg. It was impossible to get lost as long as it was in view.

My hotel also boarded the expansive botanical gardens. Many of my colleagues chose to run through them for exercise.

Hamburg is very modern looking and does not have the historic allure of other European cities. The reason is simple. The charm, history, and most of the people of Hamburg were wiped-out by the Royal Air Force in WWII during a fire bombing raid in July of 1943. Hamburg had always been an important commercial port and in WWII its harbor, oil refineries, and U-boat docks were continually targeted. The July raid was different though. For 8 days, 3,000 aircraft dropped 9,000 tons of bombs, including incendiaries. A hot dry spell that month aggravated the conditions. A tornadic firestorm swept the city. The operation caused at least 50,000 deaths, mostly civilians, and left over a million other German civilians homeless. I overheard some Brits on an English-speaking tour talking about this with some measure of pride. It is hard for me to comprehend how this level of enmity can remain after all these years. I did not live through the bombing of London, however, nor the landings at Normandy. I have no memories of the Vietnam war, which seems like ancient history although it is not. Wars have existed throughout history, and allegiances come and go. Such is the transient nature of human relationships. It seems wasteful to focus on old enemies and old wounds when the hot breath and malevolent gaze of our current enemies is directly ahead in the dim shadows of the future yet to be.

Views of Hamburg from a top St. Michaels

Looking east towards all the churches. St. Michaels is the farthest west.

When you are in down between the buildings, it is hard to know a harbor even exists.

I do not want to put in writing the number of pounds I gained on this trip. You would think walking for 7 hours would drop pounds, but I love German food and did not hesitate to enjoy myself. German breakfasts are the best in the world. Hearty dark bread, stinky cheeses, salamis of various sorts and dried or stewed fruits. It was difficult not to over indulge. Our hotel also had wonderful loose leaf teas, so I did not have to go without my morning Green Tea either. I tried at least 7 different German beers on this trip which has undoubtedly added to my waistline, but confess I did not like any of them. I am more of a wine drinker anyway and the beer all had a bitter aftertaste. After a while I switched to Riesling, at which the Germans excel. I had some average dinners of Schnitzel and pasta and some exceptional dinners of local fish or pork. The former came from one of the fish places harbor and the latter from a place right next to the St. Michaels. Regional food was hard to come by. We were staying near the university and most of the restaurants were Italian, Indian, or Middle Eastern.

Shots of various older buildings

Music Hall

St. Jacobs

Very modern Hamburg with the ruins of St. Nicholas in the background

The King Tut exhibit happened to be in town while I was there and I was able to get a ticket after work one day. What an unexpected treat! I thought at first the pieces were all reproductions because there was no glass or visible protection between the antiquities and the people. The were real though. The artistry is like nothing in our modern era and the interlocking shrines are a marvel to behold. This exhibition is traveling around the world. I missed its US tour and am fortunate indeed to have been in Hamburg during its 30-day run.

The ruins of St. Nickolas

Now a war memorial, the burned out shell of Hamburg's cathedral is raw, jagged, and grim. Too often we tear down or paint over such damage. This place was solemn. A moment of quiet solitude and you could hear the stones begin to weep.

One solitary chunk of wall

Old cobblestones

I did wander through Hamburg's world famous red light district, St. Pauli. Frankly, I found it rather tame compared to other places in the world (e.g. the Philippines and Thailand). The zone is quite large, however, and the various sex shops, peep shows, and other more sedate entertainment venues are quite numerous. All the prostitutes dressed the same. They all had long bleached blond hair and white leather boots with white accouterments. You can tell they are playing upon the German stereotype.

Area around the Rathaus

The Rathaus, Hamburg's parliamentary building


Modern street with old building in the distance

Flags at the Binnenalster pier

Looking across the Binnenalster. There are ferry boats that travel up and down the lake.

Swans in the Alsterfleet canal

Fountain in the inner courtyard of the Rathaus

Fountain detail

Before the trip, I had checked out the forecast and perused some web cams to see what the locals were wearing. Everyone had a coat on, which made me bring mine and a scarf. I also brought turtlenecks and long sleeved shirts. I would have been better off with short sleeved shirts and a rain coat. The humidity blowing in from the North Sea was high and five minutes of walking had me breaking out into a sweat. All the locals were bundled up, however, in dark jackets and ubiquitous scarves. It just amazed me. I guess our climate here is colder than we think. Fifty percent of the women were wearing boots and all the shoe stores sold them in droves. I love boots but that is something else you don't see people wearing in the states.

Church of St. Michael. 5 euros gets you a tour of the crypt, a peek at the ongoing interior renovations, and a trip up the tower for 360° views of the city.

Two different pipe organs

The interior. The renovations looked close to completion.

The low ceiling of the crypt. Early church goers found burial in a church crypt to be less malodorous than burials in the church floor itself. The crypt contained displays on copper and how copper roofs are manufactured. Most of the churches in the city were having their roofs replaced.

A stone relief in the crypt

Bronze statue of St. Michael, the church's namesake. The statue is quite large. You can gaze on the backside of it from the window behind.

The steeple from a nearby church with interesting bronze statues

After a particularly hefty meal one night I did get up and go running the next day. I ran from my hotel down and around the Aussenlaster, a large man-made lake. The lake is lined with beautiful homes, sailing docks, Weeping Willows, and flower gardens. My route was 6 miles long and had I known that I was going to spend half the night walking, I would not have run as far. By the end of that day I was quite foot sore and there was not a spa in sight!

Another statue from the church mentioned above

How did they find out?

Wandering around Hamburg is easy with a map and I must have crisscrossed the old part of town a dozen times. I spent one afternoon shopping. I bought a nice dressy winter coat and a scarf. I have a drawer of these that I never seem to wear here in the states. I was surprised at how quickly I was learning German. This was a good thing for outside of the clerks in our hotel, I did not run into many English speakers. This was contrary to what others had told me, but I found even clerks in museums did not speak much English.

A bread/sandwich shop I passed while out walking. I never did find it again even though my stomach grumbled for it.

The door knocker on the door to church of St. Peter.

Travel across the Atlantic from Denver is brutal and exhausting. I am not sure Hamburg would be my first choice for a European destination but as a business excursion it was ideal. Our hosts were gracious, our hotel well situated, and the city entertaining. It highlights were the perfect size for my limited free time. Another half day and I might have seen it all.


Valerie said...

What an intriguing post!. I loved all of the pictures. The sky from the airplane had me captivated. The buildings and city scape, even the pipe organs, so very interesting!

I am so afraid to fly, I fear I will never see the beauty of Europe. My mothers side of the family was from Germany and so I have always been interested in that part of the world.

Such thought provoking and enlightening writing. The part about WWII is so true and sad that people hang on to and even revel in the battles that took place. I too think it is so important to remember, but with solemnness. I think I would weep if I stood at the ruins of St. Nickolas.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your photos.

Nina said...

I enjoyed reading this. It was a really good idea to check out some webcams for an idea of the weather and what to wear. Too bad it didn't really work out! I certainly can't blame you for eating as much as possible. Bread and cheese for breakfast? Come on!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful pictures and remarks on your trip.
Brings back memories from yesteryear. Pupper Bear

Anonymous said...

Great pictures and it does sound like a beautiful city.
As for the WW II thing - unfortunately, that appears to be something the British are infamous for (at least in Europe, Australia and Asia) and I've heard people say it has a lot to do with the end of WW II also being the end of the British Empire / Britain's status as a world power. I guess watching the rest of Western Europe (including Germany) pass you by (economically and in the standard of living at least up to the 1990s) is something that is quite hard to accept and might've led to some of them dwelling so much on the past and being comparatively bitter.

Carola said...

Coming from Sky Watch Friday on found this post.
Your post about Hamburg is wonderful. Nice photos and a good view on how you felt in this beautiful city. You write very detailed about different aspects like history, food, architecture. Your look is precise. I like it and I can understand. Was it your first time in Germany?
I'm from Germany and I have traveled to all continents. Denver had a special atmosphere, we liked it. And we found a pedestrian zone, untypically for the USA.

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Carola,
Actually, I lived in Germany for 3 years as a toddler. I picked up an affinity for the language early on!

I will be back in Germany this year for several weeks on business. Hopefully, I will have more stories to tell.

I know what you mean about Denver's pedestrian zone. Most American's don't like to walk anywhere. Here in Colorado though we like to abuse ourselves with long walks in the mountains.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for sharing these photos and comments. I´m a Mexican woman, trying to find some information about several cities in Europe and luckily I found your interesting blog.
I agree with you about the beauty of this city destroyed, as so many others, in WWII. I would add to your report the good humour of the Hamburg people. I love Germany and Hamburg is one of my favorite cities.
Thanks a lot again, and have a very good return to Germany.
Mariv├ęs Villalobos