I used to be in love with Hamburg. As a little girl, it was the highlight of my year when my mother and I would come here for a long weekend to visit my brother. We would go shop in the Hanseviertel where – forget H&M – all I wanted were some penguin shaped bath pearls at the fancy cosmetic store and lunch at Mövenpick. The latter was especially exciting as you had to take a glass elevator which had a view over the entire mall while it took you into ice cream heaven.
My brother's flat was in Eppendorf at the time and as old, grand, and beautiful as the entire area. I would roam the corridors, sneak into his studio, and play dress up if an unsuspecting stylist dared to leave some outfits.
These little memories made me fond enough of Hamburg to move there after I finished school. For two years, I had the best of times. I lived in a crappy apartment, had dates on its pullout couch before moving in with my best friend, I worked a few jobs, I danced, I saw the sunrise over the harbor, I fell in and out of love with boys and even some men, and did all the things one does when growing up. Nothing was constant except my partner in crime: Hamburg. Whatever I did there was a tingling in the air and in my stomach, I was infatuated with this city and everything it had to offer.
Then I moved to New York and grew up a bit more and with each new home after, Hamburg slipped a little further away from my mind and from my heart. My three great big love stories: Hamburg, New York, and Cape Town. I once wrote about them and how I have now gone back to my first love after many years and miles apart.
Hamburg and I, we have been reunited for over a year now and while it feels oddly familiar it also feels oddly out of place. Or rather, I feel out of place.
This ain't Hamburg's fault. The phrase it's not you, it's me, usually a lie has never ringed truer. I have changed, maybe even outgrown and overcome. But at the same time I have treated the city with disdain and the arrogance of someone who believes she has seen and done bigger, better, more. Or as my friend Marie said, I am simply spoiled by all the beautiful beaches I've seen since.
And maybe someone who wants to travel the world can't have a home, maybe I need to to feel this way in order to do my 'job'. However, my actual job for the next few months is to be here, work at an office, and stock up my bank account. I'm stuck with this old lover of mine whether I like it or not. And so I have decided to make the best of it and try to rekindle the flame. Having that said, I wrote a little list of things that made me fall in love with Hamburg in the first place and that I'm currently "reinvestigating" to find the spark again.
(And while this is not an insider's, let's be trendier than trendy guide, I highly recommend you check it out if you come to town for the first time too!)
Bistrot Vienna. A classic and an institution and for over 18 years my preferred first date spot, even though you gotta be careful - you may just run into former first dates while with new first dates; un/fortunately it is tiny and well lit. Their Wiener Schnitzel is always a winner as is the homemade pasta and calamari bread salad. They don't take bookings, so come before 7 pm to get a table.
Enjoy the rain. Unlike eternally sunny cities who seem to come to a complete standstill when it rains, the weather doesn't bother Hamburg locals much. So get an umbrella and some Hunter's and jump some puddles with the rest of the city.
Isemarkt. A bi-weekly market with the best choices of cheeses, fruit and vegetable, fish and meat, and anything else your heart might desire. Find stalls that sell tomatoes only, the best candles in town, and of course, my personal favorite, the pasta ladies!
Speicherstadt. Our very own new addition to UNESCO, this is the world's largest warehouse complex built on oak poles and is in important part of Hamburg's trading history and life as a port city. Whether you are a history buff or not, the area is insanely beautiful, so I highly recommend a little boat tour on the Fleets (canals) that run through the Speicherstadt and soak up the atmosphere.
Start at Speicherstadtmuseum, Am Sandtorkai 36
Music. Hamburg is a musical city whether that means Phantom of the Opera or the Beatles for you. Walk down the Reeperbahn and know that this is where history was made for them and many others. Don't be discouraged that it is also technically a red line district and rather take the amount of Bachelor and Bachelorette groups you see here as free entertainment. Check places like Grosse Freiheit and Mojo Club for concerts and events.
Luciella's salt vanilla ice cream. I used to live across the street which became an issue because that's how good their ice cream is and especially their salt vanilla flavor. Expect a line even when it rains.
Detlev-Bremer-Strasse 46, St. Pauli
Kaifu - Kaiser-Friedrich-Ufer. Welcome to Eimsbüttel, welcome to my hood. Now this is an area that you won't find in many guide books as this is simply a charming residential area. But if you want to do it like the locals, I guess, I'm one of them now, come for a visit. Start with a gym session at the Kaifu Lodge or a dip in the adjacent pool for some people watching, join the locals for lunch on the sidewalk at Vesper's and get your balancing skills together for some paddle boarding on the Isebekkanal. If the latter is not your thing simply stroll down Kaifu, feed some swans, and know this is as real life Hamburg as it gets.
Elbstrand. I will admit I was not impressed the first time I was here since moving back. The beach along the Elbe can simply not be compared to any beach that I've ever classified as beautiful. No palm trees, no white powdery sand, and no turquoise water. However, join the crowds on a hot summer's day around the Strandperle and watch the sunset to the backdrop harbor. Huge cranes and container ships don't lack a certain industrial charm. If you have a full moon lighting up the sky, some may even call it romantic.
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