Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Second Impression: 10 Things I Like About Hamburg

It gets better. That's not just an anthem for gay youth. It also could serve as reassurance for anyone whose introduction to Hamburg is the grime and grit surrounding its Hauptbahnhof central station. Thank God, it did get better. By the end of my second afternoon in Hamburg, after exploring the city far from the maddening crowds of Hamburg Hbf, I was counting the ways (to 10) in which the formerly underwhelming city was finally impressing me hard.

1. She's got the look. Not to take anything away from Berlin's personal style. Apparently, though, my opinion that she's lovely to look at is a minority view. Perhaps striking might be a better word -- like "interesting" and "exotic," "striking" fits when what one is describing is unconventional, an acquired taste, or not necessarily for everyone. Berlin is polished to a glossier sheen than Hamburg, and its relative lack of heavy automobile traffic distinguishes it from every other major city I've ever visited or in which I've lived. In that sense, those annoying cyclists epitomize the necessary evil.

Hamburg's infrastructure is more conventional, and as a European city, its physical charms more status quo, but with its abundance of red brick and pointy tops, it more fits the architectural profile that I'd always associated with pre-Bauhaus Germany. Walking down certain vintage streets that are un-congested by traffic, I almost expected to run into the wicked witch taunting Hansel and Gretel.

2. The green haus effect Planten un Blomen (Plants and Flowers), the botanical garden and the cluster of green land that surrounds them are like a jungle oasis in the middle of metropolis. Throw in the dramatically ornate buildings bordering the emerald city (including the castle-like Justice Building, the Laeiszhalle music hall and the Congress Center Hamburg), and you've got some of the the most breathtaking views I've had in Germany outside of the 10am workout crowd at McFit gym on Prenzlauer Allee in Berlin.

3. The patches of blue Every great city has a huge phallic symbol and/or a river running through it. Hamburg's got both, and it adds two lakes -- the Au├čenalster and the Binnenalster -- to its embarrassment of scenic riches. Along with the Elbe river, they're the blue blood coursing through the city's green and red (brick) veins.

4. Its heart of glass The facade of Hamburg Messe, a cluster of empty buildings near the dead center of the city whose general use I still haven't figured out, must be a bitch to clean and the inside a beast to keep cool during the dog days of summer. But if ever a massive building offered visual gain for the pain, it would be this breakable monster of a Hamburg landmark.

5. The Heinrich-Hertz-Turm Like Berlin, Hamburg has a space needle/tall phallic symbol overlooking the action. Sadly, the tower is currently closed to climbers, which brought me to...

6. St. Michaelis Sometimes you've got to rise above your fear of heights, pay 5 euros (about $6.60) and climb the 106 meters to the observation deck of what is billed (at least by my Hamburg city map) as "the true landmark of Hamburg."

7. The weather Hamburg appears to be a few degrees Celsius lower than Berlin, which makes for more comfortable sleeping weather if, unlike me, you are the type of person who would book a hotel without AC in its rooms (which seems to be the majority of mid-range hotels in Hamburg and whose very existence I can sort of understand now that I've spent time in here). I secretly found myself wanting to trade my climate-controlled hotel accommodation for a room with a view in one of those red-brick buildings, where I could crack open one of the those windows that pull forward diagonally from the top and let the sunshine and the summer breeze in.

8. The diversity The only downside to the ethnic variety in Hamburg is that neither of the Asian restaurants I've tried here gave me flavor quite the same way the ones in Berlin do.

9. Public transportation is cheaper. One trip on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn in Hamburg costs 1.90 euros ($2.50), compared to the 2.60 euros ($3.46) that it costs in Berlin, which is up 20 cents ($.27) from one week ago. Of course, Berlin, aggressive bikers aside, is more suitable for walking, which makes Bahn travel less of a necessity and, for a seasoned runner/walker like me, getting around central Berlin ultimately more of a bargain.

10. Planes fly here, too. Which means that if I ever make a return trip to Hamburg, I can skip Hbf central station entirely!
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