Continental Cousins

It’s been over one month since my last update… sorry. You know what they say “things to do, and people to see!”

March 9 – 12 I went and visited my cousin, Alana, and her husband, Adam (click here to chek out her blog.) They have been living in Hamburg, Germany for over a year for Adam’s job. They will be returning to St. Louis in August, with one more human than when they first got to Germany, as they will be expecting their first child in May; and yes, he will be born in Germany.

I arrived in Hamburg early Thursday afternoon. When I first exited the terminal, I went straight towards the closest coffee shop I saw, as I waited for Alana to meet me at the airport. Immediately when I walked up to register, I panicked – How do I order a coffee?!! I don’t speak German. As I stood there looking and feeling like a fish out of water, I hesitated, and then went for the natural approach: “Hola!” (keep in mind, almost all Germans speak some English.) Realizing my error, I tried to redeem myself as I proceeded to order: “Cafe con milk, please,” and then quickly pointed to the first thing I saw: a pretzel. Just as my failure was coming to a close, Alana walked up to me and redeemed me from this complete loss.

We boarded train, and headed towards their apartment. I was impressed by how quick it was for us to get to their apartment; in Spain in takes almost an hour. Their apartment is located on the Alster River.

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The view of the Alster from Alana and Adam’s apartment.

After settling in, Alana and I walked to get some coffee and catch up. I quickly learned how much of a bike city Hamburg really is, as bikes were constantly zooming past us. Alana pointed out that in Hamburg, bikes have their own designated lane on the sidewalk, indicated by red bricks. If you were in this lane and not a bike, you were in the wrong, and you were to be quickly greeted by frantic bells signaling that you were in the way (this only happened to me a handful of times.  Ok, maybe I’m being modest.)

After finishing up our coffee, we headed back to the apartment to wait for Adam to get home from work. After Adam was home, we headed to a Turkish restaurant, Kebab Lounge, and I indulged in a Dürum Döner, it was simple and delicious (I’ve been craving it ever since.) We stopped by a grocery store to grab a couple of beers for Adam and I, before heading back to the apartment to catch up.

The next day, I begrudgingly woke up (the bed in their guest bedroom was the comfiest thing I’ve slept in since getting to Europe.) After getting ready, we headed to a nearby bakery, Le Crobag, for a coffee and a Franzbrötchen; these are similar to flattened cinnamon rolls, and are a common German pastry.

From breakfast, we took the Ubahn to a nail salon, where we treated ourselves to long overdue pedicures. After our little indulgence, we met Adam for lunch at a sushi restaurant near his work.

Following lunch, Alana and I rented bikes and rode along the Außenalster towards the city center. As I said before Hamburg is a bike city, therefore, there is a countless number of bikes readily available for rent. All Alana had to do was “rent” the bikes from an App on her phone and then we were off! If there’s anything I wish the States would do better, it’s providing more easily accessible public transportation such as these bikes.

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These bikes are available for rent throughout Hamburg.

After parking our bikes, we walked along the Binnenalster water front to Alster, stopping for minute to read a statue that was placed along the water to commemorate all that was lost during World War II. Throughout Hamburg, there are several subtle signs of remembrance of those who lost their lives during the War and the Holocaust. Along the streets, there are small plaques on the ground, which mark the last known residence of the victims. I always find in particular cities that were greatly impacted by the War, there is always such a heavy mixture of grievance and reverence, and I think that’s why it’s important to include these subtle gestures throughout the city.

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The World War II memorial.

Our next stop, was Rathaus, the Town Hall of Hamburg. From the outside, the building holds great significance to history behind Hamburg, including a red castle symbol above the door, which represents the city. I was lucky Alana had gone a few walking tours throughout her time in Hamburg, because she was able to point out a lot of small details I would not have noticed just looking at the building.

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The Town Hall.

From the Town Hall, we headed to St. Nikolai Church, which for two years during the late 1800’s, was the tallest building in the world. Although that record was quickly replaced, the Church still remains the tallest building in Hamburg. The body of the church was destroyed during the War, and now it serves as a memorial to the War, with only the tower remaining.

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Part of the original Church of St. Nikolai.

One of my favorite stops on Friday was at an office building that houses “illegal” elevators. Alana had mentioned that on one of her tours of the city, they stopped in this office to see these elevators, called paternosters. The paternosters are unlike any elevator I had ever seen before: no doors, continually running, and definitely would not meet any US safety regulations (that’s probably why they’re outlawed now in Germany.) We jumped on the elevator and rode it to the top, and then jumped on again and rode it to the bottom. It was simple, but definitely something you would never see in the States.

We finished our day by stopping at St. Petri church, a Protestant church, before grabbing a quick coffee and biking along the east side of the Außenalster. I loved how easy it was to just pick up our bikes and ride back to the apartment! Probably one of my favorite parts of Hamburg was how quick and convenient the bikes were.

After returning to the apartment, we headed to a grocery store. As we were walking the aisles, something caught my eye: a Dr. Pepper! I’m not a huge soda drinker when I’m home in the US, but I think it’s just the fact that when you can’t have something, you just know you need it. After almost a month and a half in Europe, this was the first Dr. Pepper I had seen the whole time. I quickly grabbed it, and later regretted only getting one.

That night, Alana prepared cashew chicken curry at home. Although I prepare some of my own meals in Barcelona, there was something about the taste of a good home cooked meal that made my tummy feel completely satisfied. IMG_5537

After clearing our plates, we headed to the Reeperbahn in St.Pauli. This area houses most of the nightlife of Hamburg, complete with its very own Red Light District. I compared this part of the city to walking down Bourbon Street at night in New Orleans (at least without the Red Light District.) The streets were lined with bars, clubs and theaters. We wandered down to the Red Light District, but in Hamburg, women (besides the ones working in the windows) are not allowed to walk down the street, in fear that they might take away from the business of the women in the windows. But even still, I saw my fair share of promiscuous ladies standing on the corners away from the Red Light District, and that was enough for me.

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St. Pauli is home to more than just bars and prostitutes, it was also home to the Beatles, before they became famous. We walked to the music venue, the Indra, where they first performed. After doing some research on the Beatles in Hamburg, I discovered that their time there didn’t last long, after it was discovered that George Harrison had been performing at these clubs as a minor. Even though the Beatles didn’t stay long in Hamburg, there is still a plaque outside the restaurant that commemorates their beginning, as well as a plaza in honor of the band. After seeing our fair share of nightclubs and entertainment, we took the train home and rested up for the day ahead.

Saturday, we started our morning with the much loved Franzbrötchen and coffee at Schanzenbäckerei; this time the Franzbrötchen had chocolate chips on it (Adam prefers them this way, and I must say, so do I!) After breakfast we walked through Deichstrasse, that consists of houses from before the Great Fire of 1842.  On May 3, 1842, a fire broke out in a cigar shop and destroyed about one third of the city. Although the fire did catastrophic damage to the city, it was also a turning point for the city to become more modernized and helped re-establish the infrastructure of Hamburg.

We had lunch at Luigi’s in Portugiesenviertel, a Portuguese neighborhood in Hamburg (Yes, we ate at an Italian restaurant in a Portuguese neighborhood.) When the waiter came over I ordered… in Spanish. Yikes another fail. I think there’s just something about not knowing the native language somewhere that throws me off. But hey it gave us a good laugh. After ordering, the waiter brought us over an appetizer: carrots in an olive oil mixture that you put on bread. Now I’m Italian, and I’d like to think I know food pretty well, but this was definitely something I had never had before, and boy was I missing out!

We devoured our meal before heading to Elbphilharmonie (Elphi, for short) a newly constructed concert Hall on the Elbe River. Elphi was a great addition for Hamburg, but a very unexpected financial drain as well. The construction began in 2007 and was hoped to be completed in 2010, costing an estimated €241 million. After some unanticipated construction obstacles, such as installing and then uninstalling glass windows because the original windows conducted too much heat for the building, the project was officially completed on October 31, 2016, with the final cost topping out at €789 million

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Elbphilharmonie, or Elphi for short.

After visiting the Elphi, I concluded that it was well worth the €789 million (especially since it wasn’t out of my pocket) because the views of the city and the port were incredible! From the modern style escalator (it was really cool) to the 360 views platform, the building was spectacular! I can’t imagine what kind of acoustics the concert hall has, but I know they must be equally incredible to match the one-of-a kind facade of Elphi.

After Elphi, we walked through Speicherstadt, the warehouse district of Hamburg and the largest warehouse district in the world. The Speicherstadt was also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2015, for its unique and historical symbolization of trade. We enjoyed coffee and cake at Speicherstadt Kaffeeroesterei before heading to Landungsbrϋcken.

Landungsbrϋcken follows the Elbe River. The dock is full of shops, restaurants and snack bars. I wandered down the dock in search of a shot glass (I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I’ve been collecting shot glasses for several through the Alter Elbtunnel. The tunnel was full of bikers (they’re everywhere, I swear) and walkers. We sat on the bank and drank our beers before heading home to get ready for a traditional German dinner at Frau Möller later that night. We finished off the weekend by watching Moana on the couch, and went to bed so I could get ready for my flight back to Barcelona the next day.

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View of the city from the other side of the Elbe River.

I had such a fun time with my cousins in Hamburg! It’s a once in a lifetime experience being able to meet up with family even when you 7,000 miles from home, and I’m so glad I did! Adam and Alana are so lucky to have spent the past year and more in Hamburg because it is such an incredible city. I can’t wait to see them and BabySki when they return to the States in August. As for Hamburg, maybe we’ll meet again someday…

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