Blankenese: A Lovely Retreat in Hamburg

Blankenese is a gorgeous district in Hamburg directly overlooking the Elbe river. I thought I “did” the Elbe for now after I walked around the Speicherstadt and Övelgönne, but you can’t ever really be done with one of the longest rivers in Europe, especially if you live in Hamburg, can you?

Blankenese is often described with the following adjectives, which I have been hearing since my student years: posh, chic, expensive, fancy, rich, affluent – you name it. I also used to think Blankenese was Övelgönne, shhhh. I’m not confused anymore. You can actually walk or cycle to Blankenese from where I stoppped during my walk in Övelgönne, just be prepared to cover quite a distance, though that’s also the cool thing about the Elbe beach that follows that whole walk – you can just keep going and going and going.

It’s easy to get to, taking the S-Bahn train being one example and then just getting out at Blankenese station. The trip wasn’t as long as I expected, in fact, I barely read two pages of the book I brought with me. The sun is shining (which always tends to get noticed with extra jubilation around here) and when I get out I’m reminded of my first impression from years ago – arriving here feels like you’re on vacation at some resort spot, provided it’s not winter. You can walk a little bit along what is essentially the high street here, come across the weekly market, stop to get some lunch (from the supermarket salad bar for me, and then eat on a bench by the water later).

My actual goal is the so-called Treppenviertel, or staircase quarter, which is conveniently pointed out by signs and doesn’t take long to get to. Hamburg is widely referred to as a flat city and that fact is true, except for Blankenese where it gets quite hilly by local standards. On my left gradually descending rows of pretty villas and shrubbery are interspersed with stairs that all lead down to the sparkling silver of the Elbe. I pick the nicely level Strandtreppe (beach stairs).

Taking any close-ups of all the pretty facades around is actually tricky. You might glimpse a nice view from higher up or further away, but when you get nearer, you discover that what you wanted to photograph is actually skillfully hidden by bushes, walls or fences. Which I respect. Blankenese used to be a fishing village and then changed to a popular getaway later in the 19th century, attracting wealthy families who in time decided to live there. Many of these families had ties to Hamburg’s maritime history and trading industry.

Once you arrive downstairs, it’s off to the right, along the water, with typically northern German landscape understatement all around: modest at first, beautiful and memorable upon a closer look. I’d looked up lighthouses in the Hamburg region before this walk, and this is one of them. It’s going to be demolished next year as soon as new ones are built.

Meanwhile, you can’t go all the way up to the top, but there’s an observation deck which is still high enough for this classic view of the Blankenese shoreline.

Advertisements

Övelgönne in Hamburg: What It Is and Why Go

The ferry 62 is attracting a huge crowd, because the sun is shining and this is the easiest way to essentially go on a tour of the Hamburg harbor. The ferries are part of the city transportation network, which means that you can either buy a much cheaper (compared to “official” tour prices) ticket either at the machine right on the boat or just board if you already have a pass.

The Elbe river sparkles in the September sunshine and I manage to get on right before the security staff stops the crowd behind me from entering further. Up the steps to the upper deck, of course, then I find a seat and listen to the swirl of various languages around me. The passengers are a mix of tourists and locals enjoying a typical Sunday outing in good weather after probably a late breakfast. Everyone is taking pictures of the same locations – the view of Landungsbrücken station from where we head off, the fish market building and the harbor cranes in the distance.

My stop is Övelgönne, which we reach less than half an hour later. It’s called a museum harbor since it is home to a number of old ships, which you see as soon as you disembark from the ferry and take a few steps.

Walk up along the bridge ahead, turn left and it’s like being on vacation somewhere, especially since the trees are still mostly green. Several pretty cafes and restaurants with tables standing outside follow each other – everywhere is full. But from here on out you can basically walk as long as you like, past many beautiful old porches and doorways, belonging to houses with clearly quite a bit of history.

At some point the road will fork slightly, and you can either go down to the Elbe beach and continue walking along the shoreline, feet in the sand (there’s also a wooden walkway right by the water), harbor cranes clearly visible, or continue straight on. If you walk down the Elbe beach, you’ll eventually come across this giant rock lovingly called Der Alte Schwede, or just Alter Schwede, literally meaning old Swede. The name is particularly amusing since the exlamation Alter Schwede! is used to express surprise, sometimes tinged with disbelief, and it’s very widespread here in the north. The rock, meanwhile, according to my quick research, is a glacial erratic, which means it was carried all the way over here on a fragment of a glacier, many moons ago.

If you continue straight on, you’ll find yourself on this lovely, wide path shaded by mighty trees. I’m reminded of my walks around the Alster river, only this area is more spacious, there’s no car traffic passing by and it’s a great bike route too. Regular signs pop up and from here you can turn into other beautiful parks.

Emerging from the green, the next stopping point is Teufelsbrück (Devil’s Bridge), with a small marina and ferry pier. This is the moment to consider whether you want to continue (probably best on a bike) to Finkenwerder, which is also one of the end stops for the aforementioned Hamburg ferry, or take the bus 111 back to the harbor or Altona station. Or the ferry. Or walk back to Övelgönne. You know what, I’ll just take the bus, everyone else do what they want.

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.