Hamburg (20 – 23 September 2012)

Our journey to Hamburg started with a brief but enjoyable wait in the DB lounge – free for 1st class passengers. There we enjoyed free drinks and sandwiches (and we later found out it also had free WiFi, which would have been helpful to realise earlier!). We then headed towards our platform only to have a brief panic as there had been a platform change due to renovation (note – impressively the only changed platform of about 6 from when Greg bought the tickets a few months previously). However we were soon speeding towards Hamburg and chatting a little with our compartment companion, who was a Hamburg resident and obviously very proud of her city.

Our hotel, the Lindner Park Hotel Hagenbeck, in Hamburg was located out on U2, one of the many underground lines. We were right next to Tierpark und Tropen-Aquarium Hagenbeck (Hagenbeck Zoo and Aquarium), a fact reflected in the hotel which was heavily animal themed (almost Disney style). We were staying on the third floor, which was Asia. And when waiting for the lift you could track its floor progress on a map via continent rather than number! The styling continued to the small sauna complex up on the top floor, which was Polar themed; which felt very appropriate for the cold water bucket! It did have WiFi, but as a chargeable extra – a theme which we didn’t expect but seemed common in Germany.

Hamburg is a city which has grown up as a major port and the vast harbour is one of the cities’ defining characteristics (it’s noted that Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined). We began our visit to Hamburg with a visit to Hafencity – effectively on an island, not that you’d know it. We headed for Hamburg’s top tourist attraction – Miniature Wonderland. This houses the biggest miniature train set in the world and you really have to see it to believe it. The track threads within and between several rooms (over two floors – and yes the trains move between floors), all with separate themes – Switzerland, Bavaria, Knuffingburg, Hamburg, Scandinavia and America. Each had a distinct flavour with different landscapes, buildings and little people (250 thousand figures in all, all hand carved). There were over 30 computers controlling the intricate movements of trains, cars and planes and the control room looked more complicated than for a real train station! Did I mention planes? Knuffingburg had an airport within it where planes taxi to the runway, take off, land, head to their stand and offload passengers – this section even has an arrival and departure board! In keeping with that theme, later we ate in their cafe, in airline style seating.

After Miniature Wonderland we made our first big mistake of the holiday, when we headed to the harbour and made a snap decision as to which cruise to take. Not only did we have to rush back to a cash point to get more money, but when our (pricey) two-hour cruise of the cruise began we realised the commentary was in German only and we might have well simply sat and travelled round on the ferry, which was free with our Hamburg Welcome Card. This put us both in bad mood, but is a good excuse to promote the Welcome Cards which were common in most cities. In Hamburg we bought a group card (valid for up to 5 people travelling together, cheaper than two individual tickets) for 3 days for 35 euros. This covered all our transport costs within the city and gave 10-40% discount at more than 150 visitor attractions. The harbour cruise went past some impressive sights, which would have meant much more if we understood what we were seeing. Never-the-less we got some sense of how very large the harbour was, with some seriously industrial ships and shipwork making busy use of it.

After the cruise we headed to ‘Planten and Bloomen‘, which is a pleasure garden in the center of the city. It was very impressive – less parkland than Munich’s English Garden and more in terms of flowers and colourful planting. Stand-out sub-sections included the Japanese Garden, the Apotiek garden and the Rose Garden – which was quite the loveliest rose garden I’ve seen, as it complemented the many roses with other colourful flowers too. After a wander round the garden it was time for dinner and after narrowly arriving too late for a table at the Parlament in the basement of the Rathaus – Town Hall (the couple before us got the last one) we ate at a German steak chain called Block House, and shared a beef burger and rib-eye steak between us. It was very nice, although rather pricey and their waiting system sucked. We hence headed home and enjoyed a steam and sauna in the small, but perfectly formed, hotel facility before bed.

The next day we took a short stroll from the hotel straight across the park to the Zoo. Our visit commenced with the Tropical House and Aquarium, which was probably the best of its type we have ever seen. The whole Zoo was founded by a visionary who 100 years ago proposed a different type of Zoo where there were no cages and instead used natural barriers. And where animals from the same area could share areas as much as possible. The current zoo reflects this open ethos, and we were delighted to enter into a section with Lemurs who were climbing around before our very eyes. I’ve never been so close to them before and both Greg and I found the experience delightful. From there we entered the tropical house, which had many exotic birds flying freely around and a large water area patrolled by a couple of Nile crocodiles. All in all it was highly immersive and impressive.

The main zoo proper was more mixed – we were less impressed by the areas for the larger animals – such as elephants, bears, tigers and lions. These felt like older enclosures, which need to be improved (and ideally merged for less species). However the crowning jewel was Ice World, recently opened and home to a polar bear, penguins, sea lions, fur seals, and a walrus amongst others. These areas were very creatively done and the penguin habitat was particularly outstanding, giving these birds more room and interesting diversions than anywhere we’ve seen before.

After many happy hours exploring the Zoo we headed back into the city and briefly explored a street fair where various stalls had sprung up, including a great many street-art style shirts. We then took a quick look at an old tunnel (St Pauli (Alter) Elbtunnel) which was built under the Elbe about a century ago and which is still used by pedestrians and cars to this day, with the cars travelling down to the tunnel in oversized lifts.

From here we headed out about 20 mins on the subway to Blankenese, an upmarket residential suburb where we enjoyed a leisurely walk down to the harbour-side past interesting (and expensive) shops and ate at a wonderful fish restaurant call FischCLUB on a permanently moored boat. Here we enjoyed a romantic meal watching the sun set over the harbour, and partook of an excellent meal of veal with tuna dressing, pumpkin velouté, Dorade (Sea Bream) fillet with potato cakes and chocolate Panna Cotta with blood orange sorbet / Creme Brûlée with cassis sorbet. All in all a splendid end to the day, city and this week’s holiday.

From Hamburg we enjoyed a final train trip to Berlin, with the company of a friendly older American couple who were exploring Europe and headed to Berlin from Copenhagen. We swapped stories and took pleasure in the last time we’d be enjoying 1st class German rail hospitality as we headed towards our flight home. In keeping with Germany’s pervasive beer theme I discovered that even the ticket inspectors helpfully carry bottle openers – which allowed me to enjoy a final beer as we sped towards Berlin airport and our flight home to Bristol. Farewell Germany and cities 8, 9 and 10!

Next stop..  Venice!

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1 thought on “Hamburg (20 – 23 September 2012)

  1. Pingback: Cologne (Sept 18-20) | The 40 Project

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