Let’s Go Exploring! Searching for Hamburgers in Hamburg

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FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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“Bring me your finest hamburger, my good sir!”

Sitting in a Hamburg restaurant, we thought we’d order one of their specialties for lunch. But our waiter gave us a blank stare.

“Ahh…” he stammers. “We don’t have…hamburgers.”

Now it’s my turn to give a blank stare. “This IS Hamburg right?”

“Yes.”

“So, aren’t you famous for hamburgers?”

His eyebrow is raised so high, I’m afraid it’s going to pop off his head. “No. That is American food. This is a German restaurant. American food is from America.”

So, apparently, going to Hamburg to eat a hamburger isn’t a thing. The residents of Hamburg don’t eat hamburgers. In fact, a hamburger is the name Germans give to people from Hamburg. Like Torontonians or New Yorkers.

Hamburgers don’t eat hamburgers. Instead, they eat fish.

Specifically Fischbrötchen, a delicious raw fish sandwich with onions and mayonnaise (I know, it tastes a lot better than it sounds) and Pannfisch, a pan-fried fish with a mustard sauce, served with sour rye soup in a cauldron. Soup always tastes better served in a cauldron.

The one we had was at Kartoffel Keller, a proper German restaurant with Hamburg specialties.

After discovering that Hamburg hamburgers was totally not a thing and that fish (or “fisch” in German) is their main staple of this city, we went on a Sandeman’s walking tour.

Our tour guide, oddly enough, is actually not German but an American from Miami who moved to Germany 5 years ago. Apparently he was so terrified of the tuition costs in the States, he decided to cross an ocean, move to another country, and learn German (which isn’t that easy to learn), and assimilate just so he can get his hospitality and tourism management degree for only 500 Euros a semester as an international student.

And now, even though he got multiple job offers to go back to the States, he ended up liking Germany so much he stayed and is applying for his German citizenship.

One of my favourite things whenever we got to a new city is to look for a Sandemans’ tour. Since the tours are free and guides rely on tips, they are usually way more entertaining than the boring tour guides that come with tourist packages. And our guide, Edoardo, didn’t disappoint.

We found out from Edoardo that of all the cities in Germany, Hamburg was the most heavily bombed during WW2. In what was known as “Operation Gomorrah”, the city was absolutely flattened by 9000 TONS of British bombs, dropped by 3000 aircraft over the span of 4 months. There was even one day when 2300 tons of bombs rained down on Hamburg in just a few hours.

As we walked around the city, we could see reminders of the destruction that happened during the period.

Stumbling Blocks

Walking around the riverfront area, we came across “Stumbling Blocks”—metallic squares embedded in the sidewalk, each with an inscription of a Jewish person who lost their lives to the Nazis. The blocks were located on streets where the person either lived or worked, and the idea of these moving art pieces is that as you walk, you will “stumble” and be reminded of all the casualties of war. So effectively, you are “stumbling” into their story.

I love when art tells a poignant story. I also love it when it tries to face plant you when you’re not looking. Take that, unsuspecting person walking to work!

Speicherstadt (aka the Warehouse District)

The largest warehouse district in the world, Speicherstadt, is an architectural marvel, with old-timey brick buildings rising out of a series of canals, home to museums, world-class coffee shops, and known for its romantic ambiance when it’s lit up at night.

That’s all nice and good, but I wasn’t there for any of that. I was there for their “ass coffee”.

I call it “ass coffee” not because it tastes like ass, but because it’s coffee that comes out of an animal’s ass.

No seriously. Speicherstadt is home to Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei, a place that serves the Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee, which is coffee made from partly-digested coffee cherries defecated by an Asian ferret-like animal called a “Asia Palm Civet”. And guess what? This ass coffee also has the prestigious title of “the most expensive coffee in the world”. Why anyone in their right mind would pay $35-$80 to drink a cup of anything that tastes and smells like a ferret’s butthole is beyond me.

source: By Rohit Naniwadekar [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

And as I lined up to get a taste of this sweet sweet “ass coffee,” I realized that if I wanted to get a cup I was going to be there for a LONG time as the line stretched out the door.

So alas, we didn’t get to throw away $35 for a taste of animal excrement. Which turned out to be a good thing because as I did more research afterwards, I found that out the coffee is supposed to taste amazing because the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes digest the beans and ferment it to the perfect acidity level. But as it turns out, most people who tried it think it just tastes bad. As in “Folgers-like, stale, dinosaur droppings steeped in bathtub water” bad.

*Phew* Dodged a bullet there.

Elbphilharmonie

Following the theme of throwing money away on frivolous things, after the ass coffee place, we came across Elbphilharmonie—a music hall that makes Carnegie Hall look cheap by comparison.

Originally budgeted to cost 70 million Euros, it ended up taking twice as long as expected to complete and when all was said and done, cost a heart-stopping $860 MILLION Euros! And 760 Million of those Euros came directly from taxpayers.

So you can imagine the Hamburgers not being too happy about this place—despite it having the reputation of best reverberation and acoustics in the world.

I wouldn’t want to be a Hamburger taxpayer, but man is it fun to enjoy the fruits of their excruciating labour as a traveller.

Miniatur Wunderland

A place straight out of Big Bang Theory alumni Sheldon’s dreams, Miniatur Wunderland is the biggest model railway attraction in the world.

With 9 sections, each an exact replica of a place in the world, you can visit the Swiss Alps, Austria, Hamburg, America, Scandinavia, Harz, Kuffingen, Italy and the Hamburg Airport in miniature scale.

Each of the sections are so detailed, it would take hours to fully absorb all the intricate details of each one—from LED lights simulating those of a real working city, to the life-like human figures doing their day to day work, to an actual miniature working airport simulating real arrival and departure flights. You’ll feel like you’ve been placed in an episode of “Honey I shrunk the kids.” Except the kids are German and their house cost 14 million euros—because that’s how much it costs to build all this.

This place kind of reminded me of the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo—it cost a ton of money to build, there’s absolutely no reason why it should exist, but the sheer attention to detail and level of mind-blowing entertainment makes it all worth while.

Not only did Miniatur Wunderland cost an insane amount of money to build, it also takes 300 employees to run on a daily basis.

Planten un Blomen

This garden made it feel like we’d been transported back to Kyoto with its perfect replica of a Japanese garden and teahouse.

And with a massive rose garden and playground, it’s the perfect place for your family after a long walk around the city.

St. Pauli

Kopa at the English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

For those of you who want the exact opposite of the wholesomeness of Planten un Blomen, head for Reeperbahn street in the St. Pauli area—Hamburg’s red light district.

With a name like Reeperbahn (which means “Ropewalk”), you’ll soon see why this seedier part of town is so popular, as visions of bondage dance in your head.

For those who like music and nightlife, St. Pauli’s is the place to be—especially given that the Beatles played in several clubs around this area. And John Lennon even once said “I might’ve been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg.”

River Elbe:

If you’re in Hamburg and want to cruise down the river, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, get on a 2-hour ferry and pay 15 to 25 Euros for the pleasure.

You’ll get the same experience with a 45min ferry ride for 6 Euros each. And if you buy a day pass for 12 Euros (which can be used for a whole family), it’s even less.

Simply take the 62 Ferry at Landungsbrücken Brücke 3 station, and you’ll get to enjoy a trip down the river without the rip-off prices of the tourist ferries.

 

Overall, we enjoyed Hamburg, especially the Sandeman’s tour, which gave us a great overview of the city. But even though Hamburg had a ton of things to do, I found it a bit too crowded and touristy for my liking. You know the tourists have taken over when you see signs advertising “The Lion King” musical everywhere—something that Amsterdam is also grappling with.

But with so many great attractions, historic sights and nightlife, there’s something for everyone in Hamburg. Just don’t stay too close to the touristy areas—unless you want to be kept up all night by drunk’n tourists.

Oh and yeah, don’t come to Hamburg for the hamburgers. That’s not a thing.

 

So how much did we spent? Because we got a place in Bremen, about an hour drive away, these were the only costs for our day trip:

Food: 22 Euros

Entertainment: 23 Euros for tour guide tips, 15 Euros each for Minitur Wunderland

Transportation: 10 Euros each for bus round trip, 6 Euros each for 62 Ferry, round trip

Total: 107 Euros/128 USD/165 CAD per couple for a day trip

What do you think? Have you ever been to Hamburg?



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34 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Searching for Hamburgers in Hamburg”

  1. i know a little german. she’s 3 feet tall but i’m nuts over her. that raw fisch sandwich looks fantastic. i hope it was herring. that st. pauli district looks cool too; the seedier the better. sandeman is good port.

    1. The raw fish was herring! Good guess. I’ve been a big fan of herring after Amsterdam. Definitely an acquired taste though.

  2. Your tour guide’s story reminds me of a friend of ours who pulled a similar stunt: she got a librarian job in Frankfurt on three weeks’ notice, put all but two suitcases of her stuff in big plastic bins (which have lived in our basement for five years), and hasn’t looked back. We’re meeting her in Berlin next month. She loves it out there.

    Thanks for all the tips! Especially the Beatles nod — my wife is a huge fan. Someday when time is not a concern and money less so, I’d like to pack our fancy formalwear and go transatlantic on the QM2 from New York to Hamburg (then ship all that crap back home and kick around Europe for a month with carry-on bags).

    1. Ooh a transatlantic tour from NY to Hamburg would be super cool! I’ve actually never been on one of those, but at one point I was looking into repositioning cruises as a way to cross the ocean.

      Enjoy your time in Berlin!

      1. We did a transatlantic cruise once that went up into the Faroe Islands and Iceland before making its way towards North America. Definitely a neat experience! (It also had a few stops in England and Ireland first too).

  3. Wonderful post. I was stationed in northern Germany a few decades ago (US Army). And yeah, no burgers to be had. However, I discovered an Argentinian steak house in Hamburg and would go on quarterly (at least) runs there to score a really awesome medium rare steak. Fond memories. 🙂

    If you get a chance, try a currywurst. I like them much better than a bratwurst. German mustard is too hot/pungent for my liking. I still buy curry ketchup at a local grocery store near my home. That stuff is good on sausage, fries, old socks, etc.

    I was back there (Germany) a few years ago on business and wanted to get my currywurst fix. So, I found an imbiss that offered Currywurst with pomme frites (French fries). I asked if I could substitute kartoffelsalat (potato salad) instead of fries (even with a upcharge)?

    Nope. Go figure. 🙁

    I still enjoyed my currywurst (but left the fries on my plate).

    1. Oh yeah, we’ve been pigging out on currywurst non-stop since we got to Germany. I with on the curry ketchup over the German mustard. Weird that they wouldn’t let you substitute fries for kartoffelsalat– but then again the Germans are a stickler for the rules. As my German friend likes to say “It is forbidden. So many things are forbidden here in Germany”.

  4. I’ve never been to Hamburg. Seems like a nice enough city, but the lack of hamburgers is disappointing. You’d think they could turn it into a local joke or something — to have a good laugh at the tourists.

    I’ll give the fish sandwich the benefit of the doubt, but ass coffee? Ew!

    It makes you wonder — who tried that the very first time and what were they thinking. Makes me think it was a practical joke or a drunken dare.

    1. When I was stationed in Germany, I did find a few places that sold “hamburgers.” They ranged from disappointing to horrific. Best to stick with the wursts, schnitzels, spuds, and of course, beer!

    2. They should totally have hamburger stands as a joke for the tourists. Free money for our ignorance! Win-win!

      Yeah, I have NO IDEA how anyone ever got turn animal droppings into coffee. I bet it started off as some sort of stupid dare…

  5. Oh wow – another awesome write up! You’re making me seriously regret that Germany is one of the few Western European countries I haven’t visited yet. I’ll need to change that ASAP. It’ll also take from now to that trip in the far future to prep myself to drink “ass coffee”…and longer than that to decide to shell out big bucks for it lol. Eh – or maybe I’ll just skip that like y’all did. Decisions decisions!

    1. Yeah, definitely check out Germany. It wasn’t big on my list either back when we were working, but how, having spent half a year here, I’m really loving it. Especially the spas.

      Yeah, I’d skip the “ass coffee” and put your money towards Pannfisch instead. I have a feeling whoever “invented” the coffee is having a laugh at our expense (literally).

  6. Sounds like you guys had a great time.

    Since the Sandeman’s tour is free, what is the appropriate amount to tip the guide? How long are the tours?

    We’ll be in Germany next month so we may give it a try. Thanks

    1. I’ve done the Sandemans tours in many European countries. I too highly recommend doing the free walking tours on your first day in a city where ever it is offered. It gives you a great history lesson and provides you with familiarity of some locations. Tips totally depend on if the guide was good or not (typically they are very good) and people tend to tip about 10 euros per person.

    2. We usually give around 8-10 Euros a person if the guide was okay to pretty good. Around 12-15 Euros a person if they are amazing. So I say 10 euros a person on average is a good bet.

      The tours are around 2.5 hours to 3 hours and start at 11am or 2pm in the afternoon.

      If you end up going to Berlin, look for a Sandeman’s tour with Sam Nobel (a British expat). He is, hands-down, the best tour guide we’ve ever had in the history of all tours.

  7. Currywurst! Yup! Was almost affordable in Switzerland!

    I’ve been to some parts of Germany, but not Hamburg.

    So, about white elephants, we have our own in Montreal: the Olympic Stadium was projected to cost C$134M, actually cost C$264 by opening day (unfinished), and finally cost C$1.6B.

  8. Been many times but always for a conference. In the winter the Weihnacht Markts (x-mas markets) are very cool.

    Re: hamburgers in Hamburg.
    I’d stick to Döner Kebab for delicious cheap eats.
    Though I did find a hamburger at one of those fancy hipster brew pubs once.

    I’ll definitely check out the river boat next time I’m there, thanks for the tip.

  9. We always do the Sandeman’s tours too. Its a great way to get your bearings, learn some history about the place you are visiting, and meet some new people too… Overrun with tourists? That’s not my cup of ass coffee, I mean tea.

  10. The travel series on your blog is really fun. I’m vicariously there with you and appreciate all the less touristy tips and the breakdown of expenses. I have some questions around planning and logistics, especially since it’s not a vacation but a lifestyle for you and Wanderer now. How do you decide where to go to next? How far in advance do you plan for the next country/city to visit? For long term travel, do you have it mapped it in advance and budgeted? Or is it part opportunity based and plans changed when a great deal comes up? Also, has safety been a concern to parts of the world where there’s a big income gap from North America? I’d love to take a sabbatical to travel for 1-2 years with my partner. But it won’t happen unless we plan it and budget! A travel planning post would be a great addition! Danke!

    1. Great questions! Okay, so how we decided where to go next: we usually start by planning the flights a few months out. This year we picked Germany because of the working holiday Visa. After that we find Airbnbs (about a 2 weeks to a month out in advance) –usually we start with the well-known cities, and then ask the airbnb host for recommendations on less-known, off the beaten path places. So I would say it’s partially planned, and then filled in, as we go, when we get good recommendations and as we learn more about the country. We’ve also been known to change plans to meet up with friends around the world.

      As for feeling unsafe in inexpensive places–surprisingly no. The only time we felt unsafe was in the States. Everywhere else we’ve gone to was perfectly safe. Merida, Mexico was so safe it was almost boring. Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, Ha Noi too. The scariest thing in SE Asia is the traffic, but I don’t have to worry about guns everywhere. The “everything is unsafe” outside the States and Canada is overrated and blown up by media.

      Best of luck with your sabbatical planning! “It won’t happen unless we plan it” SO true! It’s going to be amazing though, I’ve never regretted any of the places we’ve travelled to.

  11. Great post!
    I always wanted to visit Germany and Austria so I started taking German language classes.
    Right now, things (life/health) are on hold but your description about your time in Germany reassures me that it is the place to visit. Thank you very much.
    Godspeed!

    1. That’s why I think travelling is important too–I love being schooled by locals on my ignorance 🙂 If we don’t go, we never learn 🙂

  12. I have to virtually laugh at this post because today, I made the humble determination to stay on track with weight loss by cutting down enormously on meat consumption.

  13. Do ya’ll ever miss not having pets or a house plant? I LOVE to travel but miss the trappings of home life eventually.

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