Travel review: Mini-break from Bristol to Hamburg - Love, Love You Do Hamburg!
PUBLISHED: 14:56 20 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:27 24 April 2017
Features writer Karen Richards travelled to the German city of Hamburg to sample its many delights, soak up its maritime history and immerse herself in the 24-hour culture.
Hamburg might not be in everyone’s top five choices for a go-to city break but with its stunning and eclectic architecture, rich industrial heritage, buzzing nightlife and famous German hospitality, added to the convenience of a flight time as quick as getting from here to Scotland, it absolutely should be.
The first thing to strike me about the major port city in North Germany, apart from how soon I was actually walking around it after stepping into the plane at Bristol Airport, was how vast and sprawling a place it is, but then it is the second biggest city in Germany and the eighth in Europe.
And with so much to see there was no time to relax in our luxurious rooms in the Hyperion Hotel, in Amsinckstraße, as our party had to follow our tour guide to check out the pretty harbour-side area, called HafenCity, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which sits on the river Elbe. And we were soon there, being either a 20-minute walk or even quicker by underground train, using our Hamburg Cards. Hamburg Tourism was keen to show off its newest and most impressive building, a concert hall called Elbphilharmonie. And no wonder, as this feat of modern architecture, cost a whopping 789million Euros to build and had been hampered with delays and setbacks before finally opening its grand doors in January. A glass structure atop a former warehouse building, it stands 37 metres above ground level and affords a breath-taking 360° view of the city and harbour from its plaza which is open to public viewing.
More impressive for me is the district known as Speicherstadt, the largest warehouse district in the world which is also now a big area of the city which is relatively unused since the way free trade in the port city has changed. However the beautiful red-brick buildings bedecked in glazed terracotta ornaments, built between 1883 and 1927, handled one-third of the world’s carpet production, and stored other goods including cocoa, coffee, tea, spices, maritime equipment, and electronics. Since being partly-destroyed by bombs in the ensuing World War Two, they are now mostly redundant, as they do not lend themselves to redevelopment, apart from a few which have become museums and tourist attractions.
The highlight of the whole trip was meeting the wonderfully quirky Stefanie Hempel, founder of the original Hamburg Beatles Tour who took us around the streets, backyards and clubs of St Pauli which were frequented by the fab four, or five as there were then, when they lived in Hamburg in 1962 before hitting the big time. I had no idea how much Hamburgian culture shaped their early years and even styled them to become the icons we still revere today. It was abundantly clear how much of her life Stefanie has devoted to her passion for the band, meeting many of their friends and family and incorporating their anecdotes into her tour. What none of us were expecting however was when she produced a ukulele and at sporadic intervals breaks into a song in the middle of the street, completely nailing it and engaging with the surprised passers-by. This absolutely made the tour for all of us.
The Hamburg nightlife is a sight to behold, with the districts of the aforementioned St Pauli and the famous Reeperbahn coming alive after dark, brightly-illuminated and rammed as they are with stag and hen party-goers and other assorted revellers taking full advantage of the adult entertainment and 24-hour drinking culture.
I need to mention the food at this juncture as we ate at The Hamborger Veermaster, the oldest and beautifully atmospheric eating place on the Reeperbahn, where we experienced typical Hamburg cuisine. I opted for a sort-of corned-beef hash which was pickled, accompanied by beetroot and rolled herring. This was good, but so too was the currywurst at a food shack on our tour of the North of the city, which took in many quirky shops and small green areas accessed via back alleys. However the best meals we had were at an art-deco-style Restaurant called Nil, in Neuer Pferdemarkt, and Oberhafenkantine, billed as the most crooked restaurant in the world. The leaning house is tucked away under a railway bridge connecting the Oberhafenquartier, Hamburg’s rough warehouse area turned into creative spaces and the Deichtorhallen, which houses contemporary art galleries. We all agreed the Hamburgian harbour-workers food we had was delicious and even if sitting on slanted tables made me feel a bit disorientated it was an amazing experience.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Germany if we didn’t get to sample what it is most famous for – beer! So begrudgingly(!) we trudged to Ratsherrn Brewery, in the aptly titled Lagerstraße at 10am on a Saturday morning to have three full glasses of its finest lagers plonked in front of us to try. I hadn’t realised they could all taste so wildly different and listened intently to the description of how it is all created and manufactured, whilst downing the amber (or red!) brew which happily washed down the massive breakfast the hotel had furnished us with. It was not for the first time that weekend that I was reminded how much I love my job!
Similarly, I was just as excited to visit a chocolate factory the next day and I was not disappointed. Chocoversum, in the old part of the city near the harbour warehouses, is a glory to behold, housed in one of the original red brick buildings several stories high which could have been used as the basis for the story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being exactly how I imagined one to look and smell! Our guide Pia, who is originally from Cardiff, is understandably very proud to be working there and enthusiastically explained how chocolate is made there, using traditional methods and old machinery. We then got to make our own bars and I have to say mine was the best I’ve ever tasted and only wish I could buy the brand now I’m back in the UK.
Another must-visit while in Hamburg, apart from the early-morning fish-market, is the world´s biggest model railway called Miniatur Wunderland. Not being a big-fan of these I was happy to give it a miss but I was persuaded by our tour guide to give it a go. I was so happy that I did as it is very impressive, with rooms crammed with models of many cities of the world, including the one we were in, complete with a mesmerising opening of the Elbphilharmonie model down the middle, to reveal the apartments and concert halls with music within, plus a working version of the airport. The lighting periodically dims to show off the cities by night which I wasn’t expecting and it was an enchanting touch and I thoroughly recommend a visit.
In fact, I would thoroughly recommend Hamburg in general as I feel I only got to see a tiny snapshot of it, with plenty of it left to see another day, and another day there will be.
Getting to Hamburg could not be easier, with a direct route from Bristol Airport via BMI Regional taking about an hour and a half.
Flights from Bristol to Hamburg with BMI Regional visit the website cost just £95 each way, and fares are inclusive of 23kg hold luggage, complimentary drinks and snacks on board, allocated seating and speedy 30 minute check-ins.
Using leading hotel comparison platform HotelsCombined, it was easy to find the perfect hotel from over 480 options in Hamburg.
Leading price comparison platform, HotelsCombined.co.uk (www.hotelscombined.co.uk) returns the best prices on hundreds of great value hotels in Hamburg including Hyperion Hotel Hamburg, double rooms from £102 per night, based on two adults sharing room only accommodation.