Lüneburg Day 2

It does all start with breakfast. A breakfast makes or breaks a hotel stay for me, and as long as I made the effort to save for this trip, I’d like my favourite meal of the day to justify it. And did it ever!

I came downstairs to see a small, but well-stocked breakfast space – always a winning point for me, with sensible food placement and convenient containers. Various hams, cheese, fruit, bread, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, bowls filled with vegetable salads, smoked salmon and other fish, home-made jam and two types of peanut butter to choose from – I was in breakfast paradise. The walls of the restaurant are also decorated with older illustrations of Lüneburg, always a nice touch when you see something local. I was so full that I had to pass on sampling any local dishes at lunchtime. Waste not.

I started my sightseeing with a visit to the local Water Tower, which you can see from a lot of points in the town. It’s open every day and a non-discounted ticket is still very cheap, 4,50 euros. A great tip if you are undecided about visiting museums during a shorter trip. A lift takes you up to the 6th floor, where you climp a few more flights of stairs on your way to the observation platform with its stunning view of the well-preserved red-tiled roofs and old brick houses of Lüneburg. You might be asked not to visit the second floor, where weddings sometimes take place. Going back down, I’d recommend checking out the exhibitions on site, such as the many facts on water supply history, in Lüneburg and beyond (did you know that boiling water for hygienic reasons became common ONLY in the second half of the 19th century?), and also the Japanese artefacts on display, honoring the partnership between Lüneburg and Naruto.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Lüneburg’s pretty streets, stepping in to shops and enjoying the easy distances between everything. If this place is already so picturesque, seeing it in other seasons will definitely be exciting too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Advertisements

Exploring Lüneburg: Day 1

Lüneburg is a gem of a town in Northern Germany and perfect for a weekend getaway. It’s small, easily accessible, quaint, extremely historical and simply pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 1 was arrival and settling in day, so there are no detailed notes on sights and snacks as of yet, but there will be. I caught the quicker train among the regular ones leaving from Hamburg every hour, and before I knew it I was exiting Lüneburg station, small but busy, and almost automatically walking towards the town center. Memories from day trips in previous years come back and I’m excited to spend more time here. You can’t get lost in Lüneburg, which is comforting to remember even when I do my trademark loop while looking for my hotel.

Zum Roten Tore is comfortable and cosy. The immediate change of pace from big city to small town is made more obvious by the fact that I get a traditional room key with a heavy key ring and that when you people-watch you get an occasional relaxed hello.  I came prepared from Hamburg, which means I took an umbrella with me, but I’m touched to discover a large white one in my room.

It’s already early evening, so after a snack I walk around, familiarizing myself with the streets and landmarks I’d like to explore later. It’s January and not raining, one cool shop follows the other and I can’t get enough of the gingerbreadness Lüneburg first impressed me with all those years ago. Not a tall building in sight and people are actually walking slower. The weekend is upon us, shoppers take leisurely advantage of winter sale season and increasing numbers of laughing teenagers gather in groups on Am Sande, the main square. It looks like various pub crawls are about to start and I move away to walk along the surrounding streets made up of brick houses with sometimes slanted windows and walls.

One of Germany’s most famous soap operas, Rote Rosen, is filmed here, and the broshure I just read tells me I might run in to some of the actors if I’m lucky. I just checked out some clips on YouTube to polish up and find myself being drawn in…

 

Labskaus: Another Hamburg Mystery

Hamburg, my love, you continue to delight, surprise and occasionally baffle me.

If you live here, you find yourself talking about local things to people. Local things include local dishes. Northern German cuisine is perhaps not as readily recognizable or identifiable as some others, but it exists, solidly and reliably. As with many things in the North, and that means Hamburg too, it needs some time to be discovered, and then you might feel like testing it out.

This is how I found myself looking at a large plate with Labskaus neatly scooped in the middle during my lunch break in the lovely Kleinhus Cafe und Weinbar. After many years of countless jokes, discussions with friends, incredulous exclamations, perusing articles online and trying to decide ja or nein, while all the time not having a clue what set Labskaus apart, the moment of truth was finally upon me.

Labskaus is a bit of an enigma for anyone who didn’t grow up here. Why? Simple. It looks like a mound of raw meat ground to mashed potato consistency with fried egg on top, and a side helping of gherkins and pickled herring fillets also known as rollmops. Something about the combination just makes some of us hesitate. Historically it was said to be a popular dish among sailors in Northern Germany, and the mashed consistency made it easy to eat since many of them had bad teeth.

Fast forward a few hundred years later to some wary diners. The meat is salted, not raw, it just looks that way in some cases, most likely due to a generous helping of beetroot and carrots. The dish might differ slightly in different restaurants. It’s warm, filling, and easy to eat. Don’t let what might look like a small-sized portion fool you, the helping is more than enough.

It all comes down to this. Labskaus by no means tastes how it looks…but it still looks the way it looks. Or some of us (me) overthink things. Guten Appetit!

Magnolia Trees in the Rain

I touch the tip of my shoe to the surface of the puddle from yesterday’s rain and watch the rings on the water spread petals from the cherry tree nearby. And that sums up spring in the lovely city of Hamburg. It blooms, it rains, it blooms some more and it rains again. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Good Friday is upon us with its much awaited time for rest and some peace, so I pull a Lizzy Bennet and go scampering about the city(side). Actually, I’m starting small. There’s a stack of real paper maps, yes, lying around at home. I’ve collected them during various outings because they were free and looked nice, which in my opinion are two of the best reasons to take something with you.

I’m always game for a walk around town and I’m also curious about testing my map-reading ability anew. Also, my phone chose to die right before I went outside, so no Google Map insurance this time.

Off down Grindelallee I go, the Hamburg University campus behind me, and the intersection between Bezirksamt Eimsbüttel, Hallerstraße and Beim Schlump ahead. On any other day this street is teeming with cyclists, students, locals, shops are open, bakeries are working fast and the buses 4 and 5 speed past every five minutes. Today’s quiet is an interesting contrast to the usual noise and bustle, and I let it sink in as the map successfully leads me to my next turn, on to Hallerstraße. It’s a very legible map, with little illustrations and a list of places to stop at on the back.

Hallerstraße is a charming residential street, rhododendrons and cherry trees on front lawns adding to its beauty. I stop to read a sign in front of the first building in the gallery below – it says the house was built in the Neo-Renaissance style and the “generous apartments” cater to fine tastes. I’m sure.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Consulting the map, I turn left on to Rothenbaumchaussee and make a mental note of numerous pretty side streets to explore in the future. I pass elegant villas and new-looking apartment buildings, as well as the occasional purposeful parents shepherding their energetic offspring in to a car, most likely on the way to an Easter dinner with the grandparents. The headquarters of NDR (Northern German Broadcasting) are also located in the Rothenbaumchaussee.

After walking straight on for a few more minutes, I reach Klosterstern, and though I can get on the subway from there, I choose to walk some more, turning on to Jungfrauenthal. Other street names in addition to this one are indicative of the area’s earlier ties to religion and the church: Innocentiastraße, St. Benedictstraße. It’s raining a little and the air smells wonderful in these cosy streets lined with trees, more (I’m assuming also Neo-Renaissance) apartment buildings and plenty of bikes chained up in front of every door.

Isestraße is next, and when I reach the Hoheluftbrücke station, instead of continuing to where I started the walk, I turn on to Schlankreye, then Gustav-Falke-Straße. Brick buildings typical of Northern Germany line these streets, and I conclude my exploration with the discovery of two schools, one of which turns out to have a charming courtyard. All I can say is, if my high school had looked like this…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I feel as if I have only scratched the suface of my surroundings, because I have all these questions: why were the buildings built the way they were? What used to be there before? Did any famous people live here? What was it like to walk around here 50, 100 years ago? My romantic imagination enjoys the remaining sense of mystery.

The nicest surprise during this walk, though, have been the many magnolia trees.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!