Descending down the 200th step in a daze from no sleep the night before, I looked up at the mighty engineering feat that ricketed with sounds of lifts holding glimpses of flash cars being brought to the surface. In the cooling air, I wrapped my arms around myself and wondered how such a regular event can just take place with no fanfare. My friends, I was in the Old Elbe Tunnel.
Serving as a link between the banks of the River Elbe, I compared it to the Euro Tunnel, only not so long. You can easily walk the length providing you didn’t get in the way of drivers who chose to take this route with the help of hydraulic lifts.
It was quite the experience and I wouldn’t have discovered it if it wasn’t for the help of a local. My friend, Bente who I met in New Zealand, made me promise to come to Hamburg when we were both back. Earlier on, she took me to her favourite brunch place and with some cajoling from her, she made the chef rustle up some meals that wasn’t on the menu. That’s the power of travelling with a local.
Bente, already earlier in a Hamburg sex shop that morning, changed my perceptions of German people in the space of an hour so I really was looking forward what more tricks she had up her sleeve.
With the tunnel trip over, she ushered me on the Hop on and off River Cruise for a jaunt up and down the River Elbe to sightsee the city from its most natural feature. I confess I didn’t talk to Bente much being too busy being awestruck at the dynamic maritime landscape that highly complimented Hamburg’s busy German port, which is the biggest of its kind in the country. Snap-happy I was and I loved the photos.
The River Cruise isn’t that expensive and their prices can be included in your day ticket that can be used on all modes of public transport within the city such as the metro.
Another local tip Bente imparted secretly with a sotto voice is Hamburg’s very own premier beach! This had me flabbergasted. A well-known Port far into the river and there’s a beach. Stunned, I truly was yet I didn’t quite believe her. A Northern European Country with a coastline on the freezing North Sea? (Wait, my favourite beach in the UK is the same…) Getting off at a river stop, she was right. A swathe of sand laid before us and it was hubbub of locals playing with their children, dogs and perhaps sunbathing to get that ink back into their skin. But what was even more impressive as you frolicked in the river, you are afforded the site of barges and cruises sailing past on the deep waters. You knew you were in a special place.
Polishing off an ice cream, my stomach still rumbled. Bente took this as a sign to get me some coffee and afternoon dinner. I nodded my agreement perhaps too much. Jumping back on the River Cruise, we reached the other end of the line to HafenCity where a multi-million pound project was taking place to build a whole new district for Hamburg’s modern citizens and to attract more investment from both national and foreign contributors. However, in a time of economic recovery, many residents have complained of the Schmitz Münzesheimer Lück complex, housing a new Opera Theatre, that has run over budget on many occasions and that it is too much of an excess. A prime example is that for a glass covered building, each window has a unique design different to others. So you can understand the disgruntlement! But being a fan of modern architecture that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in its surroundings, I admit that I do actually like it even in its uncompleted state when I visited. The surroundings even looked charming.
Stomach still rumbling but the call of nature more a priority, Bente used her local powers to take me to a hidden toilet stop. In Germany’s Tea Museum. Now I was floored. Germany does tea?! I’ll never forget the week-long battle with my Munich hotel owner to get a decent cup of tea. First, I wanted a tea bag, not an herbal one, then milk not cream, and so on that made me give up with dark mutterings to the coffee lovers of Germany. But here I am, in Hamburg, a German port and they have tea. Praise be to Jesus! After a discreet stop in the toilet, I was utterly entranced by the tea on display…breakfast tea that is. Unfortunately, not a Yorkshire Tea bag in sight. Sigh.
But any attempt to guzzle any of the delicious brown water was avoided as I was dragged away kicking and screaming to the Warehouse District (Speicherstadt) next to HafenCity for afternoon tea. I calmed down when I saw the history of the coffeehouse. Set in old shipping warehouses, you can see the coffee shops have taken advantage of the space and utilized it to their advantage yet retained the original charm. Even walking outside around the Warehouse District will have you wondering what happened in times past.
However, the coffee didn’t stop me wanting to hibernate after being awake for 36 hours since I left London so a path was beaten back via the metro back to Bente’s place in a daze. I can’t remember much. I spaced out.
Even in my stupefied state, I really did enjoy exploring Hamburg the local way in their everyday life. Thank you Bente for a great time and now I need to sleep. Just wake me up when it’s time for food…(and wine).