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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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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