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.
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).
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.
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.