Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Hamburg - third time lucky?

I started writing this piece, whilst onboard ship, hence the somewhat confused timeline, but it refers to what would be my third visit to Hamburg, even though the previous two occasions had been little more than fleeting glimpses of the city. More of that later, and for now here’s a look back at the events of a week ago, last Tuesday.

Our ship berthed in Hamburg, shortly after 7 am this morning. It had taken several hours to navigate upstream, from the mouth of the River Elbe to the port, but I went out on our balcony and watched as a tug turned the ship around and manoeuvred it into our berth for the day and night.

Unfortunately, the turnaround meant that instead of a nice view of the Hamburg waterfront, we found ourselves facing instead, a view of Hamburg’s massive container terminal. This is a major part of the bustling port, which is the third largest in Europe, after Rotterdam and Antwerp. Every way you look there is row after row of massive cranes lifting containers off the decks of the largely Chinese-owned ships. COSCO was one shipping company, with Evergreen the other, although the latter is Taiwanese rather than belonging to mainland China.

Eileen and I didn't rush to get out of bed, or indeed get ourselves ready that morning, and in fact were really decadent having spoiled ourselves with breakfast in bed. This indulgence represented the second morning running, but with the whole day in front of us, in which to explore the town, there seemed little point in rushing, and it seemed best to let the early birds off first.

Quite a few passengers were leaving the ship, with some having sailed all the way from New York, but later in the day many more would be joining us, for the voyage to the fjords. Others, like us, would be going ashore. We hadn’t booked to go on any of the excursions, and instead would be taking advantage of one of the shuttle buses that conducts passengers to and from Hamburg city centre.

We had various items of paperwork-identification to take with us, but as it happened the only things, we needed were our passports plus our ship’s ID card. The latter is a credit card-sized piece of plastic which, as well as being the key to our room, acts as currency on board the ship. Cunard operate a cashless, “card only” system whereby the card is linked to an individual’s credit card, with all spending debited against the latter, at the end of the voyage.

We left our room sometime between 9.30 and 10 am and headed down to the gangway that would lead us off from the ship. Our ID cards were swiped as we disembarked, and the process would be repeated, when we re-embarked later. Our NHS Proof of Vaccination certificates were not required, although our passports were. I asked for mine to be stamped, a request that was granted, with a slight sense of amusement on the part of the officer in the booth. We then made our way to onto one of the “buses” that would take us into town.

I use the term “bus” in its American sense, as the vehicle we boarded was a comfortable, luxury coach, and the ride into the city centre enabled us to see more of the massive container area, before crossing one of several bridges over the Elbe river. I learned on a subsequent trip, that the river splits into two distinct streams to the west of the city, and these then re-join further east. This means that Hamburg is sited on a huge island, and its proximity to the water means the city has more bridges, and canals, than Amsterdam – a fact our guide was only too pleased to point out.

As hinted at in the title, this was my third time in Hamburg, but would I manage to see more than on the previous two occasions? The answer was a definite yes, but I was starting from a very low bar, as those two earlier visits had both been rather fleeting in nature. The first took place in the mid-1970’s when, as a student, I travelled around Europe by train, making full use of the Inter-Rail ticket. We had journeyed from Copenhagen, and had a brief overnight stop in Hamburg, before travelling on the following morning. 

We were running on a tight budget, so had opted to stay at one of the city’s Youth Hostels, a grim and foreboding establishment that appeared to be run on tight military lines To give a flavour of what I mean, we had to be back at the hostel by 10 pm, as the doors were locked at that time. It was lights out at 10.30 pm, and reveille the following morning at 6.30 am. This scuppered any chance of a night on the town, but also meant that we missed out on opportunities for sight-seeing were considerably reduced.

Consequently, apart from the rather austere youth hostel, the only memories I have of that first visit to Hamburg, are of walking along part of the infamous Reeperbahn and feeling decidedly on edge. Apart from that I don’t even recall the city’s main railway station. (We drove past it in the shuttle bus, and it didn’t look the slightest bit familiar).

My second visit to Hamburg, occurred approximately eight years later, and was a short business trip. I travelled there, with my then boss, for a meeting, having caught a flight the evening before. I was only present because I could speak a bit of German, and in the end my linguistic skills weren’t required. To make matters worse, although my boss was a person who normally enjoyed a few beers, he decided he was too tired to venture out that evening and grabbed an early night instead. I ended up having a couple of beers in the hotel bar, and then doing the same, so I saw nothing of interest that the city had to offer.

Returning to the present day, the shuttle bus, dropped us virtually opposite the imposing Rathaus, or town hall, “More rooms than Buckingham Palace,” said the guide, continuing with her little game of one upmanship! Leaving rivalries aside, the Rathaus certainly is an impressive building, standing out amongst a sea of modernity, most of which is surely the result of the devastating WWII bombing campaign, conducted by the allies.

We found a nice little, independent café, just around the corner, and sat out at a pavement table, enjoying a coffee. The sun had started to peep out from behind the clouds, adding its welcoming warmth to the proceedings. Afterwards, Eileen fancied shopping for some food and cooking related goodies to take home with us, so after checking on Google, I noticed there was a REWE supermarket, in an arcade, just a couple of blocks away.

REWE have outlets all over Germany, of varying size, and given its city centre location, this was quite a small one, tucked away in the basement of the arcade. It seemed a popular spot for office workers to buy lunch from, or perhaps a few groceries to take home after work, but we found everything we wanted. For Mrs PBT’s these were various herb and spice mixtures, that we have bought before in Germany, which don’t seem to be available back in the UK. For me, it was some tins of beer for drinking in our cabin, onboard the ship.

In common with other cruise lines, Cunard frown on passengers consuming their own alcohol, and given the prices charged on the boat, this is perhaps not surprising. However, having picked up six different brands of locally brewed pilsner, all for less than €1.00 each, I was quite willing to risk it being confiscated. Because of the times we live in, all bags, plus passengers were scanned, airport style, on re-boarding the ship, but fortunately my small stash of cans were either unnoticed, or just ignored.

Talking of beer, we decided it would be nice to find a pavement cafe-cum-bar, where we could sit out and enjoy a beer or two, and Cotidiano Alter Wall, tucked away at the side of the Rathaus proved the ideal spot. Cotidiano are a small restaurant chain, with outlets in Munich, Stuttgart and Regensburg, along with the one we visited in Hamburg. We’d already decided to have a late lunch when back on the ship – it was all-inclusive, after all, so it literally was just a couple of beers, plus a soft-drink for Eileen, that we were after.

Having said that, as we sat waiting for our drinks to arrive, the food that was being brought out looked really good, but we stuck to our guns and I enjoyed two slightly different beers from Ratsherrn Brauerei, a relative newcomer on the Hamburg brewing scene, having commenced production just 10 years ago. I sampled their Pilsner, plus their Hamburg Hell, and whilst both were good, the latter had the edge over the former.

As planned, we took the shuttle coach back to the ship, but this wasn’t to be my last trip into Hamburg. On the cruise back to Southampton the Queen Mary 2 again docked at the port, to off-load the substantial numbers of German passengers who had cruised up to Norway and back with us. The ship also picked up travellers who would be sailing onto New York.

On that particular morning, I embarked on a pre-booked excursion to the charming little, medieval town of Lünenburg. On the way back, and before returning to the cruise ship, we had a drive-by coach tour of Hamburg, with commentary by our knowledgeable tour guide, plus a couple of occasions when our driver stopped, for a few photo opportunities. This short tour helped fill in a few more of the gaps in my knowledge of the city and acted as a fitting farewell to this busting port city on the river Elbe.



BryanB said...

There's some really good beer bars in Hamburg, but I guess you were a bit pressed for time.

Did you mean Lüneburg, where we used to live? I think it is sometimes also called Lunenburg. The old centre is pretty, rumour has it that it escaped severe damage during the war because the British planned to use it as their post-war HQ! A couple of years back while going for a walk, we found a rather derelict old house on the edge of some woods just south of the town. I looked it up later, and it's the villa where Monty had his HQ and where he took the surrender of the German generals in the west.

BryanB said...

Interesting spread of cans there, by the way. Two "Nordisch" Pilsners (Jever from East Frisia & Flensburger from up near the Danish border - Nordisch/Northern beers are typically a little more bitter), a couple of macro Pils, then Grevensteiner is a sort of historical reinvention of an unfiltered Landbier (country lager). The only real local is the Astra, easy drinking though not really bitter enough to be a Pils, nor malty enough for Helles.

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Bryan, whilst it would have been good to have experienced a few of Hamburg’s beer bars, we enjoyed what we saw of the city. As mentioned, this was far more than on my two previous visits.

With regard to the cans I bought, I purposely stayed local, and particularly enjoyed the Flensburger Pilsner, which is a beer I have had before. The Grevensteiner was amber in colour, and quite malty in taste.

I checked the spelling of Lüneburg online, and yes this is the correct German spelling, but the town is also known as Lunenburg, in English, so with the exception of the umlaut, my spelling was correct. It’s an interesting story about General Montgomery, and the British Army, as I knew that he accepted the surrender of the German forces in the west, on the nearby Lunenburg Heath.

We crossed part of the heath, on our way to Lunenburg, and our tour guide told us how the state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), in which the town is situated, had been established in 1946, by the British Military authorities.

My father did part of his National Service in the area – “Playing soldiers, out in Germany,” as he used to put it!

BryanB said...

Oops. I read up on it again, and the villa there - Villa Mollering, which was recently demolished, I see - was indeed where the German delegation went, but it was 'merely' the British 2nd Army HQ, and the German generals had to be redirected to Monty's tented TacHQ a few km away.

The Grevensteiner would be my choice. (-:


If you think someone asking a pub to turn on heating is stupid because of climate change then you shouldn't go to Hamburg at all - think about all the carbon you're responsible for.

Paul Bailey said...

That ties in Bryan, with the famous photo of Monty in his tent, putting his name to the surrender document, after the German generals had signed it. Field Marshalls Jodl and Keitel, presumably?

Paul Bailey said...

said - whoever you are, why not man up and reveal your real identity, when posting your critiques, instead of hiding behind a not very clever pseudonym?

Dave said...

Think of how long that guy has been waiting to say that inane comment Paul. Man, some people need to get lives.

Paul Bailey said...

Agreed, Dave. The man certainly needs to get out more!

BryanB said...

According to militaryhistories.co.uk, the delegation that met Monty was General Admiral von Friedeburg (representing Keitel and Dönitz), General Kinzel (Field Marshal Busch's chief of staff), and von Friedeburg's staff officers Rear Admiral Wager and Major Friedel. They were joined by general staff quartmaster Colonel Poleck for the actual signing. And I'm not sure I actually needed to know all that - hah!!

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the update, Bryan. It's always good to know what happened in history, and after doing a spot of digging of my own, I un-earthed the following.

The cessation of hostilities at the end of WWII, was rather complex, with two official signings. General Jodl signed the unconditional “Act of Military Surrender" in the French city of Reims on May 8th, whilst General Keitel signed a similar document in Berlin, on the following day.

This second ceremony was to placate Stalin, who wanted the surrender signed in the capital of the former Third Reich. Also, and quite understandably, he wanted the sacrifice that the Soviet Union had made in terms of both troops and civilians, when it came to defeating Hitler, properly acknowledged. Phew!!