JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH RENATA GREEN FROM HAMBURG, GERMANY!
Renata Green was born in the former CSSR, raised in Hamburg and calls the world her oyster. Considering herself a poverty jet setter, she spends every penny she earns at her job in journalism on travelling. Being enthusiastic about languages and an art aficionado goes nicely with her passion for exploring places.
Hamburg, Germany second largest city, is not very high on the tourists’ lists: There is the hip and funky capital Berlin, there is the cliché loaden Oktoberfest at Munich – and then, maybe, let’s go to Hamburg.
That’s surprising since Hamburg is so omnipresent in the world: No matter where I travel, at some point I always spot a container with the writing Hapag-Lloyd or Hamburg Süd; these containers had left our port – Europe’s third largest industrial harbor.
And if I really don’t spot one of these large containers, I go to the next drugstore and there I see a small one: NIVEA – the skin care product was invented in 1911 in the very city of Hamburg and has treated skins around the globe ever since. And every time I hear a Beatles tune, it reminds me that the Fab Four started their career here on the infamous Reeperbahn in Hamburg’s red-light district St. Pauli.
Hence, even if you’ve never been to Hamburg, it’s probably been part of your life at some point, anyway.
So, when are you coming to visit?
Which is the best time to visit Hamburg and why?
Summer – definitely Summer! And although this year, we experienced an unusually hot Summer, this is by far not the norm since even Summers can be cool and even rainy. We are close to the Northern Sea, after all, which has a – rather negative – impact on the climate here.
Do we care? Hell, yeah, we hate it!
But then, when the Summer is like in 2018, our life is one big celebration: Hanging out in one of the many parks. Sailing on the Alster lake. Enjoying drinks and each other’s company at one of the beach clubs on the shores of the river Elbe; we even have a beach stretching from the hip Altona neighborhood all the way to Wedel in Schleswig-Holstein. It’s not the Caribbean, but maybe the second best thing.
What is the most convenient and favored transport of Hamburg?
Public transportation is – as in most Germany cities – great: I live about two minutes from two different bus lines and about five minutes from two different subway lines. Practically every even very remote corner of Hamburg is covered by any form of public transport.
While individual tickets can be a bit pricey – about 2 to 3 Euro per trip – there is a range of special tickets that make you save a lot of money. First of all, there is the day-ticket: It will cost you €uro 7,20 for the entire day and €uro 6,40 for the day if bought after 9 a. m. It’s good for one adult and up to three kids age 6 to 14. Alternatively, there’s a group ticket for up to 5 people any age for €uro 12,00, but only valid after 9 a. m.
There is also a tourist option starting at €uro 10,50 for a single person and a single day that grants you discounted access to some attractions as well as at restaurants and shops.
There are actually certain routes by public transport that save you a city tour: To get a grand view of the Port of Hamburg, take the U3 – between the stops St. Pauli and Rathaus, the ride is on a viaduct along the harbor front and between the old countinghouses before the train dives under the surface, granting you a last glance at the chamber of commerce and the top of the town hall.
You get another incredible view from the commuter train S-Bahn between the two long-distance train-stations Dammtor and Hauptbahnhof: The train crosses the Lombardsbrücke bridging the Alster lake from where you see the inner Alster lake to your right – including the town hall – and the outer Alster to your left where in Summer the Hamburgers are sailing by.
The third sightseeing option by public transport replaces a touristy harbor cruise: At the Landungsbrücken pier, just hop on the ferry #62 towards Finkenwerder. Yes, it’s included in your regular ticket since it’s the ferry that carries the Hamburgers from the Northern shore of the river Elbe to the South and back.
It takes you along all the sights like the harbor (obviously), the Fischmarkt, the new and modern Docklands, the Museum Harbor with the old ships and boats, the yacht harbor at Teufelsbrück, the Airbus plant all the way to the former fishermen village Finkenwerder.
There you can just wait on board since the ferry will return to Landungsbrücken after a couple of minutes.
During the week, subways and regular buses stop running around midnight, after that there are night-buses that do not go that often and don’t cover the city that gapless. On weekends, however, the subways carry the party crowds across town also at night, so taking a cab is hardly ever necessary. Even the airport is connected to the city center by a S-Bahn line that takes you from there to e. g. the main station in less than half an hour.
What are Hamburg’s top three must-visit places?
This question cannot be answered since everybody likes different things, right?! Me, for instance, I can spend entire days at museums whereas other people don’t leave a place before they haven’t sampled every local delicacy.
Hence, allow me to rephrase the question to most special places, and that for me would definitely be the Old Elbtunnel. It has been connecting the two banks underneath the water since 1911. Vehicles are allowed weekdays from morning till evening, Saturdays till 4 p. m. – and Sundays not at all so that pedestrians and cyclist can cross the almost 500m long tunnel undisturbed 24 meters beneath the surface of the mighty river Elbe.
Once you reach the other side, you are rewarded with a highly instagrammable view of Hamburg’s entire harbor area.
It’s all about the harbor: Sunday morning 5 a. m. – whether you are still awake or yet – it’s Fischmarkt-time. Hamburg’s famous fish market is one of the most quirky traditions: Locals and tourists, nighthawks and early birds alike meet at the huge market around the Fischauktionshalle, the former fish auction hall, to stock up on flowers, veggies, and other produce and…fish. If you’re up for it, you can get a hearty breakfast snack like a fish sandwich or enjoy a free jazz concert inside the auction hall. For some visitors, this is a fun start for the day, others are happy that after the visit to the market, they can finally go to bed.
After you have been to the deepest point – practically under the sea – it’s time to take a look around from above and the most traditional option is the tower of St. Michaelis church, Hamburg’s most important landmark – called Michel by the locals. You can climb the 452 stairs – which should take about 12 minutes. However, you can also take an elevator on the 1st floor, but be aware that you have to climb 52 stairs in any case. The tower clock is the largest in all Germany.
Once you’re at the Michel, make sure to visit the Krameramtsstuben, the Grocers’ Apartments. The tiny houses on this narrow alley located across the street from the Michel were formerly homes for widows of members of the Grocers’ Institute. The timber-framed houses were built in17th century and are now housing small shops, galleries, and restaurants.
What are the best day trips from Hamburg?
This question is not fair since there are so many outstanding day trips from Hamburg that if I list them all, you will hardly spend any time in Hamburg. Mind you, we are close to two oceans – that means we are close to beaches and islands: Less than an hour from the Baltic Sea, about two hours from the Northern Sea with the East Frisian Islands and the North Frisian Islands. I’m not driving, so I guess I’m the perfect consultant for visitors who often don’t have their own vehicle.
Actually, the Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s train company, makes day trips easy and very affordable: For about 25 Euro you can travel an entire day by train within every federal country; but you are only allowed to take the regional trains, not IC or ICE. The best part is: each further person pays only 4 Euro, up to 5 persons can travel on one regional day ticket. Due to its central position, Hamburg is automatically included in three tickets (Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, and Lower Saxony (that includes also Bremen)) – so the world is yours; at least this part of the world.
A really cute little town is Lübeck, located about 70 km north of Hamburg. The regional train leaves by the hour and takes you there in less than 60 minutes. Lübeck has many historic buildings and incredibly cute courtyards to offer. Two Nobel Prize winners – writers Thomas Mann and Günther Grass – were based in Lübeck and their museums can be visited. Niederegger marzipan is famous and at their flagship store, it comes in the cutest shapes. Before you actually drop from shopping, get a coffee and a piece of their delicious cakes at the café on the upper floor. Once you’re done with Lübeck, hop on the bus and in 20 minutes you’ll reach the Baltic sea at the long beach of Travemünde. To get back to Hamburg, you can take the train right at the Travemünde station.
A very special day trip will take you to Cuxhaven, a town at the North Sea where you can spend the day in a typical “Strandkorb”, a wicker beach chair, on their lovely beach. As the tide gets low, you can cross the mudflat hiking 12 km to Neuwerk, an island politically belonging to Hamburg. The island is tiny – it has 39 inhabitants and you can walk around its 3 square kilometers in about one hour. A ferry will take you back to Cuxhaven.
There are other lovely towns full of the typical North German red brick Gothic buildings and narrow cobbled roads like Stade or Lüneburg. You can even spend a day in the city of Bremen which is only an hour from Hamburg or take a day trip to Berlin: 90 minutes by the ICE fast train.
What’s Hamburg’s most celebrated holiday?
Of course, it is Christmas! From the beginning of November on, Christmas market season is on. Many boroughs and neighborhoods have their own, small markets. Churches like the Swedish, Danish, and Finnish seamen’s churches are organizing their national markets. In the city center, on every square the smell of candied almonds, deep-fried donuts, and, of course, Glühwein, mulled wine, makes you drool.
While all this is to be found in other German cities, too, Hamburg has one very special Christmas market, the Santa Pauli, located on the infamous Reeperbahn right in the red light district. At this market, chocolate and cookies come in….unusual, not very Christian shapes, snacks and drinks have pretty kinky names, and from 7 p. m. there are free shows to be enjoyed in the stripper tent.
Not your idea of a silent night and especially holy night? Neither mine – but it’s definitely an alternative for those who are a bit tired of all the sugarcoated German “Gemütlichkeit”.
What the Hamburgers love to celebrate – and I do not – is the annual harbor anniversary. Three days – the second weekend in May, the entire harbor front is packed with stands and stalls selling every kind of food you can imagine, beer and long drinks are served by the pitcher, there are carousels for the kids – it’s a zoo. On the river Elbe, though, the ship parades are really beautiful and I think for everyone who does not live in a harbor city, this must be just dreamy.
Which is the most happening area in the city of Hamburg?
National tourists are coming to Hamburg mainly for two reasons: Hamburg is Germany’s musical capital – The Lion King alone has been performed in the tent (yes: it’s a very fancy tent) in the middle of the harbor since 2001. And then they come for the kinky nightlife around the Reeperbahn.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, today world-famous Reeperbahn started out as a ropewalk, i. e. an area where they made ropes for the seafaring. This of course, attracted sailors and boatsmen, the guys were thirsty and lonely, they went to bars, they met these painted girls, one thing lead to another…you know how it is.
It became the red light district and got the nickname ‘most sinful mile’. Today the Reeperbahn and the adjacent streets are a wild mix of sex shops and brothels, but also of trendy clubs and bars, restaurant and theaters. Although you might get to see irritating things, it’s far too frequented to be dangerous. Beware of pickpockets and most of all of the scam when you get involved with strangers at – erotic – bars.
A more trendy, hip area is the neighborhood around the subway station Sternschanze. I think that it’s been the most drastically changing part of Hamburg: It used to be a very working class and cheap student neighborhood, then it became more and more alternative and hippie-ish yet slightly trendy. Eventually came a time when it was an unpleasant drug trafficking spot. It recovered, become very hip with a slight residue of the far left and alternative scene. It’s a mix and it became really world famous because of the riots in the aftermath of the G20 summit last year. If you remember images of burning streets – they probably were taken at the Sternschanze.
But by now it’s been cleaned up and trendy and hip again.
What food do you recommend to tourists in Hamburg?
Well, Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city and an international port, hence we have every kind of food. There are many, many Turkish and Asian diners and restaurants. There is the Portuguese district next to the harbor. There are amazing Persian and Arabic restaurants around the main station Hauptbahnhof.
And there is fish.
My favorite fish restaurant is Daniel Wischer. It is now located next to the town hall where they serve all sort of fish dishes to enjoy at the restaurant, on one of the benches outside, or to go. If you order their fish and chips to take away, you’ll get it in a paper bag with a funny newspaper design – you know, as if you’ve bought it at one of those British chippies. The food here is always excellent: fresh, tasty, plenty; no wonder – Daniel Wischer has been frying fish since 1924!
Where to head for shopping in Hamburg?
Actually, the entire city center is a shopping area: There are all these chain stores that you find in basically every larger city. Same goes for luxury shopping on the Neuer Wall: Chanel, Prada, Yawn! (Just for the record: Latter is not a brand, but my attitude).
What would I stock up on if I weren’t from here? I think it’s cosmetics. Germany has the best range of drugstores – maybe after the US, their drugstores are pretty awesome, too. But ours are cheaper. All these mid-range brands like L’Oreal, Garnier, or Nivea – cheaper. But Rossmann, dm, and Budnikowsky have also their house brands which are amazing – and amazingly cheap. So I would definitely stock up on gels and cremes and shampoo and facials and….you name it.
Budnikowsky is a real Hamburg traditional: In 1912, Iwan Budnikowsky opened his first soap store, and today, every Hamburger shops here.
It is also a great place to buy Hamburg-themed souvenirs: They have a range of stuff in the red and white design taken from Hamburg’s emblem, the red and white Hammaburg. There are pens and diaries and of course T-shirts and bags and household appliances like bowls and cups and salt and pepper shakers and much more and all this at an unbeatable price.
So that was it for Hamburg from my side. Of course, we have museums and theatres and the beautiful town hall that can be visited. But I think that much of Hamburg’s charm lies in the unspectacular, a bit hidden things. Hope I was able to inspire you to come to see us very soon.