Speicherstadt and a Few Other Hamburg Stops

I’ve taken a week off (not for the first time) around my birthday and decided to spend it here in Hamburg (for the first time!), being a tourist in my own city. It felt like I needed to connect to my city again. So here goes. A little over a week of doing all the things I’d been thinking of, and hopefully finding my way back to making these experiences a more regular occurence.

Today’s main goal is the Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s historic warehouse district, which is tightly connected to its fame as a merchant city, the “gateway” to the world. I decide to walk and my route takes me through Hamburg city center first. It’s still early and there aren’t any crowds mixing tourists and locals. The additional absence of a few construction sites I had become used to make for unobstructed picture-taking, for example of the stately Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.

From there it’s only a short walk to St. Nicholas’ Church (St.-Nikolai-Kirche), the tower of which is visible from various vantage points. Hamburg does not have a cathedral, though many churches, and this is one is one of the most famous architectural victims of both the Great fire of Hamburg in 1842 and the Allied bombing of the city in 1943. The tower, the space which the rest of the building stood on and the crypt are all that’s left today from former days, and now you can take a lift to the top of the tower for some spectacular views of Hamburg. On a clear day visibility is breath-taking. I’m also lucky this morning – tickets are 1 euro cheaper.

The Speicherstadt is only a few minutes away now on foot, and while I’m heavily aided by Google Maps, there are also signs just when I start to question myself. I’ve loved those signs every since I moved to Hamburg. There are several to a pole, clearly labeled, with arrows and distances helpfully listed as well. I know that would be the usual practice, but I still think it’s incredibly considerate and it makes me happy anywhere. They lead me right to my destination. Here we are.

This is definitely one of the typical tourist stops recommended in Hamburg. The Speicherstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a source of local pride. It’s also very popular among Instagrammers. I’m part of a uniformed crowd – sneakers, wind- and waterproof coats (just in case, you never know in this city), sunglasses, smartphone in hand, though I also see the occasional paper map. The Speicherstadt may seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually very easy to get around. Row upon row of enormous warehouses follow the line of the water, while side streets lead either to the very new HafenCity district or Hamburg’s oldest street, Deichstraße. Along the way I’d recommend stopping at the Speicherstadt Museum for a quick overview of what it was like to work here, especially in the earlier days of Hamburg’s warehouse history.

If you follow that straight line along the buildings and eventually turn left, you’ll walk right up to the Elbphilarmonie, Hamburg’s spectacular and newest concert hall. Another hotspot for Instagrammers and I also can’t resist taking another shot of this eyecatching structure. What I have somehow missed and which I discover thanks to the Speicherstadt Museum is that the “Elphi” was built on the site of the former Warehouse A, or Kaispeicher A. This was the largest and most up-to-date warehouse of that time, and it could also be approached by ships directly from the water. Like many other buildings in Hamburg, it also suffered the effects of WWII, and despite being rebuilt afterwards, due to logistical changes in the harbour it fell out of use. Today visitors and locals alike join a constantly moving line to get free (2 euros if you buy online) tickets for the Elphi’s observation platform, and that’s what I do as well to conclude my sightseeing.

A suprising number of people admiring the views from above were struggling to identify St. Michael’s Church, one of Hamburg’s landmarks and known locally as “Michel” (NOT pronounced Michel as you would in French, which I thankfully quickly discovered during my first walk there when I moved here). I refrain from butting in and acting like a smart-ass local…because I actually need a few minutes to find it myself among the several tower peaks along the Hamburg skyline.

It’s been nice to catch up.

 

Brunch on the Elbe River

“If someone falls overboard, please be sure to actively bring our attention to it,” our captain says. He’s not what I pictured he would look like – sunglasses, somewhat weatherbeaten, of course, a brick red woolen hat covering his head, no obvious uniform, both relaxed and business-like. We’re addressed with “Ihr” – the informal collective German “you”. The safety instructions relating to a possible sinking situation are new to me. “That thing with grabbing the life jacket collar before hitting the water so it won’t knock you out sounded a little complicated,” I remark to my friend. “We won’t need it,” she assures me. I need another sip of my sparkling wine.

Welcome to the Mare Frisium. The day turns gorgeous as we sail away from the Sandtorhöft dock, minutes away from Hamburg’s historical Speicherstadt (warehouse district) and the Elbphilharmonie concert house towering nearby. We all feel the shifting of the three-masted schooner underneath our feet as it glides along the Elbe river, and the floor actually still seems to be tilting underneath me as I type this. The Mare Frisium includes sleeping cabins and is used for events in Hamburg, as well as making appearances at annual events like the Hafengeburtstag (harbour birthday).

The vessel is beautiful and comfortable, with plenty of room for all those on board. The Elbe glittered in the spring sunshine, reflecting the blue of the sky above – a welcome break from April’s repeated icy rain showers and pellets of hail. Our route partly follows that of the traditional harbour boat trip, or even just that of the Hamburg transportation department’s ferry, so familiar sights popped up: Landungsbrücken, the harbour station and area; Elbstrand, the Elbe beach; Blankenese district and its own beach further along the river.

While the joys of contemplation and observation were part of the trip, the smell of fried bacon and scrambled eggs carried to us upon the fresh breeze did lead us to abandon them for a while in favour of the breakfast room on the lower deck. I immediately noticed cupcakes topped with swirly frosting I resolved to come back for later. Fresh bread, pain au chocolat, croissants, cheese, ham, various fried vegetables, smoked salmon, small boiled potatos, sausages, fried mushrooms in a creamy sauce, the aforementioned scrambled eggs and bacon – need I say more? I love a good buffet, but I love a good breakfast or brunch buffet even more.

Even though low-heeled, my ankle boots required slightly more careful navigation along the Mare Frisium, especially with a plate in my hand or on stairs. Sneakers next time. We ate outside, with attentive staff regularly passing by, fresh air being the best stimulant for a good appetite. I love brunch. Being a city person I do tend to sleep in during the weekend when I can, and then when I get up, I feel like eating a larger first meal than a typical breakfast, but still not in the direction of lunch, so brunch is the perfect solution, because it’s hearty enough to set you up for the rest of the day, but still lighter than a lunch might be. And I love breakfast food.

After the first food rush guests dispersed along the schooner, finding places to sit or lean against comfortably while watching green Hamburg shores pass by. Speed would occasionally pick up and we’d be roused from our slightly sleepy selves. The four hours of the trip felt like a week-long vacation.

The floor is still tilting, but in general I think I’ve got rather good sea legs. At least for a river ride. And if I get fed. Prost!