Germany in a month, Day 2-3: Hamburg

Hamburg, the Venice of Germany

You might be wondering.

Why start from day 2?

Turns out I’m arriving in Copenhagen to start my German trip – a round trip from the north back to the north. That’s why day 1 (particularly long due to time zones) was simply sitting on the plane, then getting lost on the streets of Denmark looking for my hostel to survive the night. Thankfully three friendly Danes helped to orient this foreigner with zero sense of direction, and I arrived before midnight with my brand-new backpacks!

Day 2 was the real start of the journey. I mean it would have been, if it weren’t for a frustrating setback…

I arrived at the main station almost 2 hours early for a long breakfast, then went ahead and asked where to activate my Eurail pass. After a long queue, the information center told me that I was early, but I should go to the ticket office immediately – and he was right, because the queue at the ticket office was at least 55 minutes long. This was an absolutely frustrating hour, as I watched customers chattering at the counter cheerily – a free ice lolly didn’t help. I ended up missing my train and having to book the next one, 2 hours later. Moral of the story? Always do the necessary before the unnecessary.

The ride was awesome though: second class was like first class to me. Some rail pass holders didn’t have a reservation, but to be safe, I still recommend you get one. As we crossed the Denmark-Germany border, the train took a ferry (yes it did) and we all had to get out, for a coffee or something. Too bad it rained on the deck. Then we were in Germany. It was so endearing to start hearing German again.

After arriving in Hamburg, I got a one-way ticket, a necessary evil for around €3. As I arrived at the hostel – thankfully not getting lost like in Copenhagen – it started to rain, literally at that moment. The Arena Hostel closes reception at 7, but if you inform them in advance (or if you’re lucky) being late is still OK. Just try not to, because it’s Germany. I did, and got pasta from a supermarket for dinner.

The second day (day 3) was the only sightseeing day in Hamburg. I first went to look for a bank, or specifically a Sparkasse, where I can hopefully exchange for some euros. I’m still figuring out which ones can and which ones can’t. I also asked about prepaid cards at Vodafone, and regretted not buying one; soon after I took a lot at the Rathaus (town hall), with a pool outside full of swans, it started raining, so I sought shelter in the U-Bahn, where a shop sold really cheap books (in German). I bought a short novel for €0.50. Outside again, the famous St. Michaelis Church stands, but there was a funeral so tourists were not allowed.

Hamburg's port


The next destination was the port, just a straight walk from the Rathaus. With a friend’s recommendation I tried out some Fischbrötchen (fish-buns), which surprisingly were cold! There are also lots of options: different fishes, grilled/baked etc, for different prices. After lunch I took a ‘free’ ride around the coast: line 62 comes with the public transport day ticket (only around €6 for 9am onwards), which I totally recommend you buy for sightseeing.

I took the S-Bahn to the Hamburg Museum, behind a nice park. Entry free below 18. Warning: there’s lots to see inside, mostly history but also modern society, and I kept finding more. If you like to read you’re gonna need quite some time. There’s even a giant working model of the old Hamburg train stations that can make adults excited like a child receiving his new toys! Another museum nearby, more targeted, is the Johannes Brahms Museum, as the great Romantic composer was born and raised in Hamburg for 30 years. As in all composer museums, the exhibition consists mainly of photos and old documents, which even musicians might not find interesting – the highlight for me would be the piano upstairs, which belonged to Brahms himself until he left Hamburg. Surprisingly you are allowed to play it: the cover opens towards the player, the touching is a bit wonky and the tones are quite long – quite an experience. The staff upstairs, a former German teacher, also very kindly and clearly introduced all of the items before I even took a look myself.

Brahms' piano

The museum’s namesake, Johannes-Brahms-Platz, was a bit further away, and there is nothing but a music hall on it; nearby there are small patches of greenery that you might like.

For the night I ate at a Korean restaurant Han-Mi near Hamburg Sternschanze, the university district. It is authentic, and portions are sizeable, but dinner costs double that of lunch – at least €13, and it’s quite a walk from the station in my opinion, so it’s really worth it when one has the urge to eat Korean cuisine. Back to the hostel I also drank a full bottle of beer for the first time 😉

And that ends my time in Hamburg. Looking back, a little over one full day – probably the same length as ‘mainstream’ tourists – was a bit meagre for this huge city; even though the main sights are not quite spread out, there are still places I’ve totally missed. More importantly, I don’t think a mention of ‘Hamburg’ would conjure a clear image in my mind (I mean, other than a hamburger). That’s why I’d say I’d rather have spent at least 2 full days here.

Day 4 is originally planned for this city too, but I made a small change of plans. As for where I’ll end up…we’ll see!