Cn I has Hambrger plz?

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
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Trip End Mar 25, 2009


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Where I stayed

Flag of Germany  ,
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

There is a city that truly never sleeps. Or at least it sleeps all day and drinks all night. Hamburg.
After a long tube and train ride out to Stansed airport (how many damned airports does London need?!?), a surprisingly on time Ryanair flight to Lübeck, and an hour on the bus down to Hamburg, we arrived at our lodging, the Kogge (Kögge?) hotel near the famous St. Pauli district, just down from the Reeperbahn. The ever-resourceful Carola, knowing her man well, opted out of the more posh and romantic hotels and selected one in a gritty neighborhood where bands play and stay. The stacked drum kit outside the door was a good sign, and even better the built-in hotel pub where she knew I would stay out of trouble, or at least close to home while she was off to a reunion of her furniture conservator classmates across town.
Grafitti on most walls and caravans lining the streets makes Hamburg seem a little gritty, not the orderly and civilized image of German society I had constructed in my mind. A pub every couple of doors, and rocker-looking people walking around gave me a sense of comfort--these are the types I am used to hanging around with in old beantown.

Germans have a thing for beer. Over 500 years ago, some germans got sick of drinking sour, contaminated crap and got together to make a law. The reinheitsgebot, the purity code for beer states specifically that beer can only be made from water, hops, and malt. Of course, in those days they didn't really know about yeast, but then again the good beer yeast just floats around in the air there, making beer types regional. In 1516 most laws were probably more simple, such as maybe, "don't make nasty with your goat in the village square on sunday," or "don't kiss anyone when you have the Black Death or scurvy." Surprisingly sophisticated for the medieval times.
The great thing about the Reinheitsgebot is that the purity of the beer tends to preclude, or at least lessen hangovers, enabling one to consume copious amounts of the stuff while avoiding some of the complications inherent in some other countries' brews.
And consume they do. In Hamburg, most pubs stay open until at least 6 in the AM, while others never seem to close at all. In England, this would be a problem, as no-one then would ever stop drinking and the streets would be a full-on donnybrook with a brawl on every corner. It is also a great thing that Germans seem to be a fairly laid-back bunch, fond of good music, food, and schnapps, good conversation and laughter. Such a difference from a pub-strewn street in a similar sized city in Old Blighty. . .

On the aside, I was surprised to see so many T-shirts and jacket patches of bands from Boston. It is always strange to go somewhere far away and realize that people you know personally are known by others in a strange city. Also weird to see a patch, sticker, or shirt, and say "oh yeah, I know them," "I play in a band with that guy," and so on. Somehow, I guess, Boston punk has moved it's way into a lot corners of the world, and Hamburg, being a city that likes it's music, is one of those. Still strange to me, that somehow all roads seem to lead home in some way.
Of course, the boston thing is only a miniscule portion of the music Hamburgers like. There are pubs and clubs on the Reeperbahn for every taste. Burlesque to disco, classic rock to techno to punk and hardcore, it is all there, and it goes all night as I was soon to find out.

With my lady at her event, I made my way to the hotel pub, a walk of all of 4 meters, and decided to try some of the beer which this country is famous for. I prefer a little darker beer in the winter, dunkel in german, but as it turns out people are pretty regional in their taste rather than seasonal, so I was stuck with pilseners and weisens.
Oh cruel fate. . .
The two main beers in Hamburg seem to be Jever (best on tap, but good in the bottle), and Astra (not too strong, but still some flavor). Both are a damn sight better than any of the watery hangover makers that many in america still call beer. Clean and hoppy, and highly drinkable. I had arrived at last in beer heaven.
But enough of the beer reviewing (I can't help myself, you know), and on to other things. Or at least other drinks. With Carola back at around 11, we stepped out with a friend of hers for a bite and beers, and then the two of us headed out for a little pub crawl. One is never lacking for conversation here, people are friendly and generally having a good time and like to talk. Of course, they speak in deutsch, and mein deutsch ist scheize, so I just nodded my head and said "ya, güt" from time to time, and most seemed pleased with this. Nothing like a new language to shut one up.
Schnapps is another great gift to the world. Although the word "schnapps" can mean just "hard liquor" or brandy, the regional stuff is nice and easy to drink, not at all sweet like the syrupy frat boy favorite they call schnapps in the States, but with a hint of fruit or pine or other flavoring. A lot like moonshine or potcheen, but somehow much smoother and without the nasty edge that whiskey or similar tends to give one's attitude. Well in keeping with the young german attitude: easy going, not too hard on the palate, and non-violent. In fact, the only people who made me want to cross the street were a few brits on holiday, loud and easily recognizable with their scrunched brows, staggering swagger and foggy eyes indicating a night of whiskey and a desire for argument or altercation.
Another feature of the Reeperbahn area is the famous sex trade. Ladies in waiting on the corners all have the same uniform of puffy coat, maybe with fake fur, tight pants and leggings straight from 1983, and searching eyes looking for the next trick to come down the street. Of course, these are the independents. The "classy" hookers are on the Herbertstrasse, a small street, gated with a big sign that says something to the effect of "no women or anyone under 18 allowed!!" Verboten, to be more precise. Though my days of interest in prostitutes are well over (in fact they never began at all), I did get a chance to walk through with one of Carola's old school chums to check it out. Basically like amsterdam with the women seen through glass in small rooms with massage-type tables knocking on their windows or calling out to the men as they pass. Not too crowded on that night, though I did see a john or two making a deal as we swept through in a minute. Enough for me just to see for curiousity's sake. I still think a guy must be desperate to want to pay for impersonal gratification from a professional sex worker, but then again, it's just not my bag, baby.

I must confess at this point that I talk about the night life of Hamburg for the simple fact that it is pretty much all we saw. Back to our room for sleep at 6 or 7 in the morning, sleep until 2 or 3, awakening to quiet streets and coffee, followed up by a kebab, some thai food, or perhaps a local favorite, "curry wurst," a sort of large frankfurter-type thing with a sweet sauce sold by street vendors. Then start on nice beer again until everyone else came out at 11 or midnight. Such is a weekend on the Reeperbahn.
Then again, there's not much else in the winter. The days are short, the Elbe is filled with chunks of ice, and the wind is raw and generally wet, so the thing to do is be inside with friends sharing a laugh and a lager, counting the days until the warmer weather brings people to the outdoors again. I shall have to return then to sit on the banks of the river, watching the huge cargo ships go by with of course, a beer. Eble was I ere I saw Elbe. . .

Maybe next time we can go to Cheeseburg.
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Comments

starlagurl
starlagurl on

Nice...
Really nice descriptions, Josh. It's very easy to imagine when you write like that.

Louise

chakoxkanyon
chakoxkanyon on

Awesome Josh
thanks for the report...

We're all home watching our new president
and first lady walking down Pennsylvania Avenue!

Raise a glass of that beer and
tell the world - change has come!


rock on

SL

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