Hamburg and other North German adventures with Hastings Battleaxe.

They all blur into one – Rathauses, Hauptbahnhofs, Doms, Schlosses, Grosmarkts… We are just back from Germany, starting in Hamburg, then on to Hannover, with visits to Braunschweig and Hildesheim.  Walked miles, had traumatic encounter with aggressive street person, equally traumatic encounter with German sat-nav Frau..

Hamburg – the Waterfront

      Our Ibis hotel in Hamburg had the advantage of being close to the Hauptbahnhof. Too close. The railway lines were about 50 metres from our window, which you couldn’t open because of the train noise. The air-con wasn’t working. Why choose this place, one asks, and having chosen it, why not change rooms, hotels even? Well, we had managed to arrive at the start of the German Whit weekend – or Pfingsten as they call it. The city was packed, and hotel prices were way above the usual – hence the low-rent Ibis. Not much sleep for the three nights we were there.
    However, Hamburg is a really attractive, interesting place – Battleaxe would totally recommend it as a city break destination. We wandered for miles round the city – much destroyed in WW2, but now much restored and with some surviving old buildings. As well as being a major port on the Elbe, Hamburg is built around a series of lakes, canals and inlets, which makes it very photogenic.

Bit like Amsterdam
New and old

    Just briefly thinking of WW2, it is sobering to remember ‘Operation Gomorrah’, the Allied bombing of Hamburg in July 1943. RAF raids caused a devastating firestorm that killed 42,600 people and destroyed 215,000 homes.
    A vaguely connected thought – can’t anything stop our cretinous politicians using the word ‘Hitler’ to make meaningless points? First, we had idiot Ken Livingstone, and now vile buffoon Boris Johnson. Are they that stupid not to know that the ‘H’ word will inevitably offend large sections of the public? Trouble is, Boris has sufficient low cunning to believe that the ‘H’ word will provoke certain witless sections of the population into knee-jerk support for Brexit….
    Grr, back to Hamburg. We visited the ornate Rathaus (City Hall). German cities were/are very big on civic pride. So were we, once. Why don’t they open the ornate Birmingham Council House to the public? What about Manchester Town Hall?

Hamburg Rathaus

    We went on a fantastic boat tour of the harbour, on a New Orleans-style paddle steamer. The boat was obviously reproduction, but the huge churning paddle wheel at the back was incredibly scary to look down into, and its greater height meant that we had an excellent view.

The Louisiana Star – pseudo but fun…

    It was all totally riveting – getting up so close to the huge container ships we see trundling up and down the Channel from our windows at home in Hastings, the ships undergoing repairs in dry docks, the machinery, the fancy waterfront architecture.

    Our visit to the Kunsthalle, the main art gallery, was also excellent. It was much bigger and better than we expected. They had a fantastic collection of Caspar David Friedrich, including his famous ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’.

    Hamburg has incredible shops, including whole streets of the most high-end brands you can get – Hermes, Dior, Cartier, Chanel, Missoni. Like most German cities, it seems incredibly civilised, very clean and very affluent. But, also, there are many rough sleepers and streetpeople, and unpleasantly aggressive beggars (of which more later).
    Like Berlin, there is clearly a strong alternative culture – squatters, activists of all descriptions. We wandered into the middle of a large, fortunately peaceful protest in favour of refugees.

    No visit to Hamburg would be complete without the obligatory walk down the Reeperbahn. What a seedy, run-down place. 
    Unfortunately, the worst incident of the whole trip happened here. I noticed a dog, apparently on its own, playing with a traffic cone. Innocently, I photographed it….

Looks innocent enough….

    It belonged to a group of beggars sitting on the pavement a few yards further on. A young, manic man flew at me, shouting and demanding money for photographing his dog. He shoved a collecting tin in my face. Furious, I shouted ‘Go away, leave me alone’ at him, and turned to walk off. He chased me up the street, screaming ‘bitch’ and then spat in my face. Philosopher shouted at him also, and he too was spat at. I was shaken up, but more angry than frightened. The other passers-by just gawped at us. We retreated a few yards to decide what to do. The young man came at us again, so we retreated further, and a doorman at a nearby erotic peep-show directed us to the nearby police station. We reported the incident, and the police asked if we wanted to press charges. Given that this would have, presumably, taken up much of the rest of our time in Germany, we declined. They assured us that they would go and tackle the street people, but we sensed that for whatever reason, the German attitude to aggressive begging is different to ours…
     Big mistake to choose Whit Monday to catch the train to Hannover.. The train was packed, the aisles were jammed and there was no chance of a seat. To make matters worse, we had to make a platform change two minutes before the train arrived, which meant the orderly queues of reserved ticket holders standing by their appropriate car stopping places were ruined, and people just crammed on anyhow. We, not understanding the station announcements, were among the last people to struggle on board…..
     However, I love huge continental stations. The train announcements for Copenhagen, Prague, Brussels, Paris, Berlin etc makes one feel like a proper traveller.


     Hannover, being a business city, was of course deserted for the Whit holiday, and I had booked the 5 star Hotel Kastens Luisendorf for less than 100 euros a night – much less than the Ibis in Hamburg. What’s more, they upgraded us to a superior room. What blissful peace and luxury. Deep carpets, crisp white linen, bone china, attentive staff… Tom came to meet us at the hotel early evening, and we consumed bloody mary, whisky sours and the like.
     Hannover is spacious, clean, and affluent. Life started up again the next day, and the streets filled with suave Euro-businesspersons in immaculate suits and well-dressed women with carrier bags from designer stores. Sleek black Merc and Audis cruised between the almost-silent trams. I did wonder about this Europe business. Do the Germans actually care one way or the other about us silly Brits? Why on earth do we think we have any global significance?
     We hired a car to drive ourselves to visit some surrounding towns, or cities, as they turned out to be. The car, a Kia Rio with remarkably poor visibility, had sat-nav but we couldn’t understand the German to make it work. Tom has been working in Germany for at least 7 years now and is fluent – Philosopher has quite good German also, but in both cases, their vocabulary seems to totally desert them in times of stress….. after much effing and blinding and random button punching, she barked German instructions at us, but then directed us into roads closed due to road works. I got up my Google maps navigation, only to find the app totally hijacked by a taxi advert…….
     ‘Jetzt links abbiegen…LINKS…zwiete rechts…RECHTS…’ shouted Frau Sat Nav, uselessly, her little map arrow whirling like a windmill. We were in and out of that Hauptbahnhof about three times, up and down the tram lines, into the taxi rank…. Emerged from that only for Frau SN to order us onto an incredibly busy autobahn.  The other side of the motorway looked like Operation Stack – an unbroken line of lorries crawling – where? German traffic has got nearly as bad as ours….
    ‘If we’d wanted to visit Braunschweig, we could have gone on the train’, someone said…..
    Eventually arrived in Braunschweig (Brunswick) with nerves in shreds. I had thought it would be about the size of  Lewes, turns out it was a large city more like Coventry…..  I can’t think of much to say about the place, or the next place, Hildesheim. They had old centres with medieval houses, old Rathauses, cathedrals etc. Hildesheim had a 1000 year old rose tree?

   We walked miles…. Somewhere I had good tomato soup,  somewhere else a cup of tea, and somewhere else still, the car got stuck behind a van delivering sofas. Poor Philosopher had to reverse a long way down a narrow back street accompanied by more shouting from Frau SN.
   Eventually, we learned enough about the sat nav to avoid the motorways, and travelled along a quiet road lined with lime trees. North Germany is totally flat.

    Talking of tomato soup, you’ll remember that following the gall-bladder op, Battleaxe has been on a low-fat diet? Well, how much do the Germans love their fatty food?  Everything was fried, greasy, creamy, buttery, sausagey, fatty, cheesy, smothered in mayo and/or sour cream. Skim milk? Nein – only fullfat! I had quite a lot of difficulty in finding things I could eat, and for lunch, resorted to smuggling a banana and a breakfast roll with a hard-boiled egg or a bit of plain meat.
    On the other hand, they have incredibly clean loos, and are a very kind and helpful people.
    Finally, if you are wondering what Tom does in Germany, read the earlier Berlin post. We did ask him how the Institute reacted to the news about gravitational waves being discovered for real. I imagined them running down the corridors like in that film about Alan Turing with Benedict Cumberbatch. Not so. They had known for ages before the news became public….
    Last pictures: the Hamburg Chilihaus – 1930s German Expressionist architecture.



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