We didn’t know much about Hamburg, Germany before our visit. It’s where we got hamburgers from, right? (It actually is!) But once we’d seen the city and made a couple new friends, it was incredibly hard for us to leave.
The Hamburg Train Station is big. So, as has happened too often, we were caught unprepared. We scrambled around looking for Christian, who was our next host, among a flood of people who’d just gotten off of work. I tried calling him from a pay phone, but it just kept repeating something German. I shamefully asked a bystander how to dial and we finally came together. We then headed downtown to meet his girlfriend, Teresa, and to stuff our faces with some food.
We ate at Jim’s Burritos and it was incredible. Mexican food has been few and far between on this trip, and Angela was going through withdrawal. The menu was vegetarian friendly, even offering cactus as a meat substitute!
With our stomachs full, we headed down to the harbor (Landungsbrücken) to watch the sunset. We walked in a long underground tunnel that ran beneath the harbor to get there. Part of me was worried the waters above could come ripping through the walls at any moment, but it was worth it.
Once on the other side we hopped up on a concrete wall alongside the harbor and just talked. A few teenagers holding 40oz bottles of beer strolled past us. In Germany, drinking is legal once you are sixteen, and so is drinking in public. The conversation shifted to our encounter and Christian mentioned that, of course he loved it when he was sixteen, but now believes the legal age is too young. Explaining that “kids just aren’t ready for it.”
On the way back we started talking about another sharp contrast between our societies. In Germany, gun ownership is very tightly regulated. Stemming from complete disarmament after WWII, guns have not found much of a place in Germany. Generally, only licensed hunters and police officers are allowed to possess firearms. People here feel much differently about them too. Christian explained, “I have held a gun in my hand, and it is not right. Not the power it makes you feel.” I struggle with my own position on the matter. I went to hunting classes, and owned a rifle as a teenager. I know the feeling he describes. Regardless, I can’t imagine the U.S. shifting it’s current policies any time soon.
The last stop of the night was Strandpauli. It is a bar along the harbor with an outdoor area mimicking a beach resort with sand covering the ground. Beach chairs and fire pits were scattered throughout so we grabbed a spot and settled in. We had a couple drinks and then the cold night air convinced us to head home for the night.
Christian is a writer, but not just any writer. He writes for Gruner & Jahr, Europes largest publishing company, GEE, a gaming magazine, and is an editor for the nationally broadcast Gaming TV show, Reload! At his home, he has a wall of video games and an array of game consoles. I was a kid in a candy store. I hadn’t played for months, not since this whole crazy trip began, and I was ready to throw down some Halo!
The following afternoon we explored more of Hamburg. Our first stop was Planten un’ Blomen. It’s a park with small ponds, walking paths, and incredible botanical gardens. “I like to come here when I have a bad day,” said Christian. “It’s just such a peaceful place.” It would be hard to stay upset among so much beauty. These gardens were perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. The rich soil and high humidity here in Germany make it a great place for plants. That’s why my great-great grandparents were farmers here! That’s also partly why Germany, like the U.S., has incredibly cheap food.
Lunch was interesting. We went to Karolineneck which had picnic tables outside so we could enjoy the weather. When our food came out, a couple things were mixed up. Christian explained he had ordered something different. But our server decided he was wrong, and proceeded to argue with him. She got angry and insisted he had ordered what she brought out. Christian was doing his best to be polite, and she eventually agreed to get what we ordered, but then stormed off muttering under her breath. We were all stunned. At least it was a nice day out?
After lunch we headed down to the St. Pauli district. Like Amsterdam, there is a Red Light district along a road named Herbertstraße. He didn’t show us down that street and let us know that women are frankly, not welcome. “Angela might catch a bucket of water,” he said. There are prostitutes selling themselves in the windows along the street, and apparently they don’t appreciate competition. So, we moved on. We saw the the night club where The Beatles played and first began to gain notoriety. As we walked, Christian told us that riots had broken out nearby in Schanzenviertel just a few weeks earlier.
Looking back, we’ve missed riots here and in Greece, and the massive earthquakes in New Zealand all by just a couple weeks. We’ve been extremely lucky.
Later that night, we headed out for some very good pizza (and German beer of course) at Pauli Pizza. We sat outside at a table watching the streets fill with all kinds of people. It was mind boggling to me that I could get a to-go cup for my beer in the middle of downtown. As we got ready to go out for more drinks, we were all on the same page. Our spirits were high. Tonight was going to be a fun one.
We wound up at 3 Freunde, a cozy cocktail bar where we met up with some of Christian’s friends. The atmosphere was balanced, not stuffy, not hipster, just modern, and fun. The cocktails were delicious – which also made them dangerous. There were about 6 of us by the end of the night and I don’t think there was a sober person in the entire room. We had a blast. Thank goodness for public transit. We ended up passing out on the couch at Christian’s place while watching Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And that was a perfect way to end the trip.
We are going to miss this city, Christian, and Teresa, very much. We had all became instantly close friends, so we were sad to say goodbye. But the show must go on. We were off to the train station and on to our very last couch. This one was easy to book as we were invited by our German friends we’d met while CouchSurfing in Australia!