Well, almost a day off, I did a bit of cycling (28km), some to get to St. Pauli and the hostel where I was staying, and then a quick sightseeing tour of the city. Routes and stats below:
After a somewhat restless night I had a bit of a lie in, I didn’t have far to go after all, but was still up and ready to go by about 10.00. Yannick, who I’d met the day before, pedalled off on his way to Puttgarden, to get the ferry over to Denmark; one of the routes I’d considered, but from the other direction.
Good luck with your tour Yannick; hope the new saddle works and your leg improves. Nice to know I’m not the only one who encounters bike issues that can have knock on effects.
It was only a short ride into Hamburg centrum, and pretty straightforward in comparison to some cities (mostly British ones). After riding past an Ikea, who’d have thought it, I passed the Specialised bike shop Yannick had mentioned yesterday, where I’d hoped I might be able to get new inner tubes and fix my stand. Unfortunately like most shops in Hamburg/Germany it was closed on a Sunday; cool Fat Bike in the window though.
It’s actually quite refreshing to see shops closed on a Sunday, and a city calm down a bit. I know for a lot of people it’s very convenient to be able to shop on a Sunday, especially if you work the rest of the week. Still think it would be nice if everyone could have Sunday off, and give everything a rest; restaurants, cafes and pubs aside, need them to stay open for calorie loading purposes!
I made it down to the River Elbe, and realised I’d forgotten to take a photo of the online map showing the location of my hostel.
I didn’t want to use any more data roaming, after clocking up a rather large unintentional bill, so went to the tourist information office instead and got a free local map. Not sure if I’ve already mentioned the rather unexpected bill I got from Vodafone, however I thought I could use the free data test drive I’m on, which gives me unlimited data until later this month, in Europe with the £3 a day Eurotraveller deal. Unfortunately it turns out I can’t, and that the £3 a day deal only applies to the 3GB standard data I get each month; I really wish they’d told me this in the shop when I said I’d be going to Europe for 6 months. Needless to say the resulting bill is a lot more than my standard £19 a month, but I’ll just have to put it down to experience and move on. I did talk to a Vodafone rep about it online, and they gave me an extra 2GB of data for this month, but wouldn’t refund what I’d already been charged for because apparently it says the test drive isn’t included somewhere on their website.
Anyway, back to Hamburg; loads of bikes around again, including lots for hire like the ones below.
As is normal with all the European towns and cities I’ve been through so far on this tour, you can cycle on most pavements, with a lane allotted to you, and you have right of way most of the time. Really very impressed with cycling in towns in Scandinavia and Germany; good signs most of the time too.
Using the map from Tourist Info I located the street the Backpackers Hostel is on, in the St. Pauli area of Hamburg, and slowly made my way there after checking out a bit of the waterfront and Fish Market. I also rode down the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s Sinful Mile, centre of a lot of the city’s nightlife and Red Light District; maybe Europe’s most famous Red Light District.
Reeperbahn means Rope Walk, as it’s where the cities ropes used to be made in the 17th and 18th centuries. Close to the river I expect all the sailors used to pile into the Reeperbahn to spend their money after being at sea for ages, and hence the entertainment area took shape. It’s really quite a bizarre place with theatres, restaurants, a big market and bars, intermingled with sex shops, strip joints, and McDonalds, as well as Currywurst stalls! I also noticed a lot of people living on the street, quite literally, a theme repeated throughout much of Hamburg, which is a big contrast to the obvious wealth of the city, with a lot of millionaires living here.
The Backpackers hostel is on the side streets of St Pauli, in a quiet area. Upon arrival I was greeted by Tanya, who manages the joint and is very friendly and helpful. I couldn’t check in until 15.00, so relaxed for couple of hours enjoying a local beer, Astra, in the sunshine. Beer in Germany is so much cheaper than Scandinavia, where I didn’t really drink, and Astra is excellent at €2 or less a bottle. I also got talking to Alex, who was staying at the hostel and offered to show me around later. He’s a veteran of Hamburg having lived here for several months a few years back, and is passionate about the city. He was just visiting for the weekend this time around, and recommended a local kebab shop, so after checking in I nipped out to get some food, being forever hungry as usual.
The Kebab was excellent, probably the best Doner I’ve ever had; delicious lamb surrounded by crisp bread, with salad and a yoghurt based sauce, all for €4. Whilst enjoying it I had a walk around the back streets of St Pauli.
There are a lot of Turkish immigrants in the city, many having moved here after the Second World War; I think they helped rebuild Hamburg after much of it was destroyed by the RAF and USAF. I read that in one operation called Gomorrah, the RAF and their US counterparts bombed Hamburg with incendiaries, creating firestorm that killed over 40,000 civilians and practically destroyed the city. It felt a bit odd wandering through the narrow streets, years after those terrible times, thinking about such things and what it would have been like in war-time.
It’s a very relaxed area now, especially in the sunshine, and has a very Bohemian atmosphere to it. There’s a lot of graffiti too, and not all of it good. People were sitting out in cafes, or just on the pavement, chatting and drinking coffee or cold beer.
Post Kebab I had a bit of a rest, then went out for a cycle around the city, heading to the centre and some of the parks. As well as the impressive looking town hall the parks were lovely, along with the lakes and waterways. Tourists abounded, as did street performers, expensive cars, and as mentioned before homeless people.
Being on a bike I could see a lot of Hamburg quite quickly, so was back at the Hostel in an hour and a half, in time for a quick shower then to meet up with Alex to head out for a few beers.
Alex proved an excellent guide, his passion for Hamburg coming across as he walked me around St Pauli and down to the waterfront. He showed me the house where the Beatles lived at a point quite early on in their careers, when they were resident in the city for quite some time. I think Hamburg proved quite a formative experience in shaping the band and their music.
If you didn’t have someone to show you, you probably wouldn’t find this vine shrouded doorway, and know this world-famous band once lived here; as always local knowledge is much better than any guidebook in getting to know a place.
We also walked past the Kaiserkeller, where the Beatles used to play, including at least one gig that went on for 12 hours. I think they played one show here with toilet seats around their heads for some reason.
From a cultural point of view I guess no visit to Hamburg would be complete without a wander through the Red Light District, a slightly odd experience having not encountered anything quite like it before.
We walked through fairly swiftly, ignoring the invitations from various ‘shop’ windows and their employees!
After a walk along the waterfront we headed back into St Pauli for a few beers, and a Curryvurst. An excellent evening was had taking in a few different bars, one of them very English (the London Pub), and chatting about travelling, life, the universe and everything.
Alex also introduced me to a few of the local spirits/shots including one called Mexicana, which is like a Bloody Mary but with chilli, and different degrees of chilli depending on the bar; it was lovely. Here are a couple of others I tried, both warming.
Feeling decidedly merry we headed back to the hostel, stopping for another kebab on the way, just cos they’re so good here; I did mention I’m always hungry when cycle touring didn’t I?! It was nice to chill out with a few of the other residents in the common room; a few Australians over visiting Europe with their guitars, and one guy who works for VSO and has just got back after several months in Malaysia and China. Hostels are great places to meet up with diverse and interesting people, and to find out about new places you then add to your list of destinations you want to visit someday.
So a late night, but a great night, and many thanks to Alex for hosting it and bringing the city to life. Back to cycling posts tomorrow.