Hamburg – Friday 25th to Tuesday 28th March
Our arrival into Hamburg was easy and stress-free, having been given good instructions by our Airbnb host (it makes such a difference!). We were greeted by warm sunshine and an apparently easy going people. This was a welcome contrast after the coolness of Osnabrück. We arrived at the apartment (£46 per night) and met Ashley, from Trinidad and Tobago. She had only recently moved to Hamburg with her German boyfriend, Marcus, after his posting to Trinidad came to an end. Wisely, we think, she decided not to move in with him straight away, but found another place so she could develop an independent life for herself in a new country.
After popping to the supermarket to top up on vegetables, we decided to stay in for the evening to work. We have to make sure in our travel plans we give ourselves enough time to sit and work. After a relatively early night, Phil is up again with insomnia, so keeps going from 2am to 5am. Bleurgh.
Saturday we also set aside as a work day, so as a reward we gave ourselves the evening out. We decided to go and see the Reeperbahn and Sankt Pauli. We were fortunate with our Airbnb that we could walk everywhere, so strolled down into town via an enormous fair – it puts the Goose Fair in Nottingham to shame! Astonishingly, to us, it also felt very safe and friendly. Unlike any such event in the UK there were no barriers, and hardly any visible security; just seeing that people were trusted to behave made us feel more at ease. Also, unlike many fairs in the UK, booze was plentiful and easily available, something we definitely noticed in a few revellers (Phil helped pick a woman up in the road who had definitely been enjoying herself!).
The Reeperbahn (Hamburg’s Red Light District) is an unusual place. It’s part rough, part seedy, part poor, and part gentrified. Sex shows vie with hipster bars, and upscale restaurants sit across the road from drunks’ bars that never close. We couldn’t get a table at the restaurant we had intended to visit, but across the road are rewarded with an absolute gem of a place.
Alles Elbe, on Hein-Hoyer-Straße is a great little teutonic tapas bar, which we’d recommend to anybody visiting Hamburg. For dinner we had a handful of small plates, each served with a slice of dark bread. We had gherkins with courgette and apple ketchup; feta with home-made pesto; camembert with walnut tapenade; and, the icing on the cake, lumpy lard that tasted like pigs-in-blankets! Yum! Phil had a Kehrwieder: a beer brewed, so the legend says, by the two finest master brewers in Germany, to a different recipe each year, and mighty fine it was, too.
All bridges now come with padlocks, apparently:
Sunday was walking tour day. Free walking tours are a great way to see a new city. You turn up, have a guided tour, then at the end tip your guide however much you think is right for them. Our morning was spent with Tillman, taking us through the history of Hamburg’s great fire; the Allied bombing of the Second World War, which destroyed 70% of the city; and the history of Hamburg’s place in the Hanseatic League.
After a picnic lunch beneath St Michael’s Church, we crossed the city to meet our next tour guide, Ralf. He took us along the banks of the Elbe to Hafenstraße, where squatters beat the mayor to retain rights for the local poor. Then our guide took us to the Reeperbahn and into Sainkt Pauli, and told in no uncertain terms we should avoid some of the bars we nearly went into the night before! He finally ended up on the subject of the Beatles. Why, 60 years on, this is still quite so important, I’m not sure, but he was entertaining nonetheless.
Hannah finds a bridge with no padlocks:
Monday gave us Phil’s highlight of the trip so far: Miniature Wonderland. If you ever find yourself in Hamburg, go here. Miniature Wonderland takes an almost obsessional approach to model railways, which take on a whole life of their own. Whole cities and scenes are laid out in miniature, from Vegas to the Vatican, end everywhere along the way. There’s even a working airport! We were in there for hours searching out little easter egg scenes hidden within the landscape. I cannot recommend this place enough. It’s Northern Germany’s most popular attraction, apparently.
After a minor panic where we lost each other (Hannah had gone for a tea), we headed to The Old Commercial Room for lunch. A bit of a cliché, really, this quirky/traditional spot has hosted numerous notable people. We sat on the same table Right Said Fred had once used. Phil continued his currywurst quest, and Hannah tried Labskaus, which is kind of a pink paste that tastes of corned beef hash.
After lunch we walked to and through the Elbe Tunnel and had a Nogger Choc (think a Feast, but better). Then back through the tunnel to visit the new €800 million Elbphilharmony concert hall.
Phil poses in a café:
On Tuesday we were due to meet some people to interview for the documentary. However, just as we sat down for a coffee to wait for our appointment, Hannah got an email saying they didn’t want to be on camera. Not ideal documentary subjects, then. With the sun shining, and a few hours to kill before our train, we end up strolling along the shore of the Außenalster. This artificial lake, formed by damming the Alster river, is now Hamburg’s pleasure lake. With the sun shining, the Hamburgers were starting to take to their boats, and lunch along the shoreline.
Then it was time to head for Denmark, where we’ll be spending the next month. The train journey (£32 each) was easy and comfortable. However, at the border we were stopped by the police, and a Syrian woman and her child were ejected from the train, as one of their documents had expired. This was really awful to see. We take for granted sometimes how easily we can get documents and visas and passports. But coming from a country where the bureaucracy no longer functions, this poor woman may have not been able to get more up to date documents. We cannot know her story, but it gave us pause for thought.
Fanø – Tuesday 28th to Friday 31st March
We got into Esbjerg station and were just in time to grab a ferry across to Fanø (£3.50 return). We were staying in Nordby, the northern village of three on the island. There is a beautiful sunset as we cross the strait… and below it, an ominous rolling fog back coming in off the North Sea.
Our Airbnb host is outwardly pleasant and our room, at £28 a night, is pretty, but we never quite felt at home. The quality of our accommodation has been decreasing since our early success in Amsterdam. We felt like we had to tiptoe around, and on our first night head out into the cold fog just to eat our sandwiches. She had a lovely dog though, Trille, which kept Phil happy.
On Wednesday we hired some bikes and decided to cycle the length of the island. So, shrouded in mist, we set out on our first cycling adventure of the trip. The landscape is made etherial by the fog; grass covered dunes and pine forests appearing from nowhere. We cycle to Sønderhø: supposedly Denmark’s prettiest village. Personally, I prefer Nordby. We are on the island off-season, so everything is closed. After a picnic in the mist, and a walk to the beach, we cycled back up Fanø to a playground in the woods. There we played on the frames, met a sly fox. and discovered our first bunker.
The Fanø Fox:
Fanø is peppered with German WW2 bunkers, though there was never much call for them during the war. On Thursday, out on a rainy walk (our bums were too sore from the 30km cycle ride the day before) we happened upon an enormous complex of them on the North Western coast. Sad that they arose from such an awful period, but amazing to see them still standing, sentinel-like, after more than 70 years.
The weather remained uninviting on Thursday afternoon. So, with everything closed on Fanø, we caught the ferry back over to Esbjerg, and found a great pub, Industrien Bar, to sit and play UNO in. Hannah enjoyed it so much she accidentally tipped the barman 500 kroner, instead of 50. I bet he was well happy with his £50 tip for the night! Just down the street we found Det Arabiske Køkken, and had a delicious mezze before heading back across the strait.
Sonder Omme – Friday 31st March to Saturday 14th April
The day we leave Fanø, the sun is shining and the air is warm. Typical. We catch the 44 bus (£8 each) to Grindsted, where we meet Frederik and Kristen, our Wwoofing hosts for the next fortnight. More on that next week…
Hannah and Phil x
Also published on Medium.