We were excited to visit Hamburg. How cool is it that people that live there call themselves “Hamburgers” and that the origins of the hamburger patty are actually from the Hamburg steaks immigrants brought with them to America.
Hamburg, it turns out, is a complex, and in many ways dark, port city that we didn’t connect with initially. The lines between the neighborhoods are blurred and we found ourselves in incessantly seedy, dirty parts of town very quickly and unexpectedly.
Some people were not very welcoming and it was cold, wet and flat. We saw amazing architecture but most of it was filled with chain stores.
The warehouse district was serene and beautiful in an eerie ghost-town sort of way. The port was full of cruise ships, broken beer bottles and litter and we just couldn’t get a handle on what we were experiencing. We fought our urge to leave and ventured deeper and further into the history of Hamburg.
We found ourselves in one of the most interesting neighborhoods we have ever seen. The sun strong-armed its way through the clouds and we spent the day on an enticing sandy beach. We picnicked on the beautiful beach as the container ships passed almost close enough to touch.
It was a bit of a twilight zone. Literally 5 minutes from the “red light” district, is the Blankanese Borough. We had organic coffee at an enchanting beach side cafe and serpentined up the cobbled staircase, peeking into villa life on the steep hillside.
Once at the top of the hill, overlooking the Elbe, we discovered a labyrinth of streets, lined with unique and varied architectural masterpieces – private homes that cars can’t access.
It was incredible that all of these homes, only accessible by foot, grace the hillside. In the car-free silence, every birdsong is audible as is every leaf rusting under every tree. As we came out of the maze of homes we were in the center of Blankanese, a bustling, wealthy, iconic area of Hamburg.
Cities take time to discover. We retuned to the heart of the Hamburg that evening and had amazing Chinese food we could not have found in Blankanese.
We have learned that just when we feel like turning and running from a city, we need to do the opposite if we want to truly experience what it is about.
Hamburg was not easy for us, we probably won’t return any time soon. We will never forget our unexpected day at the beach and how many European cities have a layered and complex history. These cities can barely be absorbed in a lifetime, let alone a week or a month.