Germany’s second largest city has lots to offer and a weekend is not enough to see and do everything. But if that’s what you’ve got, that’s what you’ve got. Here are my tips for a Hamburg weekend break – Friday lunch to Sunday lunch:
Friday: Hafen City, Speicherstadt and Karolinenviertel
Stay at the cool 25hours Hotel Hafen City at the harbour, in the new and as yet unfinished Hafen City area. You’ll be just across the street from the übercool Überseequartier metro stop. But forget the metro for now and walk. Best way to get your bearings in a new city.
From Hafen City, walk across one of the many bridges to Speicherstadt, the old warehouse district and Germany’s newest World Heritage site. Heaps of things to see and do here people, including the Coffee Museum, Miniature Wunderland, the intriguing Dialog im Dunkeln and much more. You could spend several days exploring this area in full. But we only have the weekend, remember?
Have lunch at one of the many restaurants in Speicherstadt, then head for the hip Karolinenviertel, where you can easily spend the afternoon browsing cool, alternative little shops with resident designers: all the music, fashion and accessories you could want. Have a coffee break at one of the quirky little coffee shops, like Yoko Mono.
And dinner? Just a short walk away from Karolinenviertel is Sternschanze, where you’ll find the restaurant Bullerei in the middle of what was once the old meat market. It’s a large, lively place with lots of space to breathe, fun decor, pleasant staff and nice food. (I happily recommend the super delicious burrata.) Bullerei is a popular place, so be sure to book ahead.
Saturday: Altona markets, gorgeous music and the Beatles.
It’s Saturday: let’s explore Altona!
HafenCity is quiet on a Saturday morning, Altona is anything but. Emerging from Altona station, I’m suddenly surrounded by people out shopping and having coffee outdoors, despite the chilly, windy temps.
However tempting the selection, though, I’m not in Altona to shop, at least not in traditional stores. I’m looking for Marktzeit, the Saturday market in Altona Fabrik, a renovated 150-year old machine factory, now a cultural centre. At first, I get lost. That’s not surprising. Getting lost seems to be a speciality of mine. Google Maps points me in what turns out to be the exact opposite direction of my target. Sometimes, we just don’t speak the same language, Google and I.
Surprisingly, many locals don’t seem to know it either. I ask five different people, before I’m finally pointed in the right direction.
My saviour is a cheese seller in Der Ottenser Wochenmarkt am Spritzenplatz. Of course, one of the advantages of getting lost is accidentally stumbling upon the unknown, like this little organic goods market with fruits, berries, veg, cheeses, flowers and much more for sale.
But there it is, at last. Altona Fabrik.
Entering Altona Fabrik, I’m immediately struck with the cool interior – and the swarm of people. All of Hamburg must be here: browsing, meeting friends, chatting, buzzing, sitting on wooden benches with a glass of bubbly and macarons. Others go for Aurélie Barennes’ Französische Köstlichkeiten. Such a descriptive expression that. The closest translation is French delicacies. Yet delicacies don’t quite convey the meaning of Köstlichkeiten entirely; there’s a nuance here that’s simply lacking in English.
The scent of Roquefort wafts past my nose. Next to the cheese stand, I spot homemade chocolate.
Most of the foods here are organic, much of it vegan. My lunch today is a Sri Lankan cheese/mango chutney/almond roti, a kiwi banana juice, and, oh all right, just a wee homemade chockie. Perfect!
Continuing along, I pass a fruit seller popping a couple of slightly bruised apples into the half-price bin marked Fallobst: für Kompott, Smoothie, Saft, Haustiere – for compotes, smoothies, juice and household pets. (Fallobst: Another compound word that’s a bit difficult to translate. Literally, it means fall fruit, as in fruit that have fallen from the tree.)
Oil tastings are on offer at Feinste Öle aus Österreich – finest oils from Austria. Walnut oil is yummy. Further along, I see chocolate liqueurs, and homemade jams and chutneys from the quaintly named Frau Frucht & Herr Gemüse – Mrs Fruit and Mr Vegetable.
For the kiddies, there’s a large paint-and-make-a-mess table. Cool, jazzy tunes emanate from the stage, where a band is getting ready. Upstairs there’s a bistro and a gallery from where you can see the stage and the hustle and bustle downstairs without being in the middle of it.
I could amble about here a good while longer, but time, people. Time.
Tea Time Classics and the Beatles
I hop on the metro again and head for Laieszhalle where I’m in for a gorgeous treat.
Fellow blogger Alex Berger and I have been invited to hear a concert with Trio Adorno. Though the halls are grand and elegant, the concert venue feels intimate, like being in someone’s sitting room: a large, casual, randomly organised, yet oh-so-lovely sitting room.
The repertoire consists of Mozart’s lively Piano Trio in B-flat major (Mozart is always right, isn’t he, whether you’re happy or sad), and Dvořák’s Piano Trio in E minor, which I haven’t heard before. It’s a passionate piece of music. Lots of temper. I love it. Alex has written beautifully about the concert here.
Somewhat reluctantly, I leave early. Have to, if I’m to catch my next stop for the day: A Beatles tour in St Pauli, Hamburg’s infamous red light district.
Stefanie Hempel, a young, enthusiastic Beatles aficionado and a musician herself, created Hamburg’s Musical Beatles Tours. There’s often as many as 30 people along, but we’re only six out on this rainy winter evening. Our little group meets at Feldstrasse U-bahn station, and quickly head across the street, where Stefanie whips up a ukulele. She does this a lot. At first, I think it’s a bit corny, but after a while I happily sing along myself. Contagious it is. And Stefanie is a fun girl.
Our first stop is the Pacific Hotel, home away from home for musicians through many decades. In the lobby, Stefanie is overheard mentioning Liverpool. By a man from Manchester. As it turns out, this man is John Bramwell, lead singer in the indie band I am Kloot. An impromptu little concert ensues.
The tour then takes us to loads of Fab 4 haunts: Jägerpassage, the Indra Club, Kaiserkeller, the Top Ten Club, the Star Club and along Grosse Freiheit street. A tiny, windowless room at the back of the Bambi Kino, a children’s cinema, served as the boys’ sleeping quarters for a time. All their washing had to be done at the cinema’s public toilet. Can you imagine going to the loo at the cinema and bumping into John Lennon brushing his teeth?
Our tour ends at St Pauli Museum, a museum devoted the Beatles, but not only that. Hamburg’s various shady sides are on show as well, including a questionable-looking gynecologist chair and a cage complete with cuffs. On the museum stage, Stefanie gives a little concert and the six of us join in, some distinctly off key, but no less enthusiastic.
When I leave the museum, I stop to snap a photo of the building. But I can’t show it to you.
No photos, there are girls there.
Once, in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, a huge angry man screamed at me and ripped the camera from my hand for photographing the outside of Relæ Restaurant. Luckily, the head chef intervened, and the only consequence was the loss of every photo on my camera. Annoying, but not deadly.
At least the girl in St. Pauli is polite. We look at the photo together, she spots the girl in question and I delete it. As I walk down the street, I see them too, the girls. No stiletto heels or short skirts here, rather winter coats and scarves and moon boots. More sensibly dressed in the cold, these girls.
From Reeperbahn to – dinner! How about Mexican? If you’re American, you probably miss Mexican food in Europe. Well, Hamburg has plenty.
Sunday: Take to the water. And Fischmarkt.
That was a full day yesterday, wasn’t it? Still – got to take advantage of our measly 48 hours, right? Start the day at 0700 am at Fischmarkt. What, a fish market first thing on a Sunday morning? Oh yes! And count yourself lucky; in summer it opens at 0500am.
Hamburg’s legendary Fischmarkt has been around since 1703. This is where the late night revellers come after a long night of partying, nursing their hangovers with a fortifying fish sandwich and coffee. Fischmarkt is a fab place for breakfast – and for people-watching.
Afterwards, see Hamburg from the water. Perhaps you remember that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice, London and Amsterdam combined? That means you have ample opportunity for water fun: on the River Elbe, in the harbour, or sailing on Lake Alster.
So that’s it – a busy, fun-packed 48 hours taking in lots (but far from everything) Hamburg has to offer!
Enjoy your Hamburg weekend break
Disclosure: I’ve been in Hamburg a few times. My latest visit was part of a collaborative campaign between Hamburg Tourism and Nordic Travel Bloggers. As ever and always, I keep the right to write whatever I want.
Hop on over to this week’s Travel Photo Thursday for more travel inspiration.