was actually a pretty strange city. We spent the last weekend there; it was our first venture into a Big Western City here in Germany, and I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew some facts about Hamburg, for example: it is the wealthiest city in Germany due to its gigantic port, and it has the biggest red-light district in all of Europe, but other than that, I didn’t know much about its character or its history. And I have to say: spending a couple of days there didn’t quite change that. I am still confused.
There were parts of it that were truly picturesque, parts of it that were grimy and full of broken glass and prostitutes, and parts of it that were so wealthy I didn’t dare go into some of the shops. I’ll begin with the picturesque…
In the south of the city lies the port, and it was expansive and at times a bit rank, as if they were transporting in a thousand heads of cattle, but it was quite beautiful. In addition to the barges and Stevedores, they had the requisite tourist-trap boats, most of them attempting to replicate, oh, the Pequod or that one famous Ark, but traps or not, they provided a pretty backdrop.
Mostly, though, it resembled the pier or shore district of many cities that have piers and shore districts, complete with randomly placed sculptures of fish jumping and little stands selling fish and chips or ice cream. The rough side of Hamburg was all but invisible around this upscale part of the city, and anyplace that the hooligans and punks reared their ugly heads (or slingshots) it didn’t really ruin the view.
And I have to say, once the red-light district finally spread out before us, I wasn’t that impressed. It wasn’t as skeezy as I thought it would be…but perhaps we were just there at the wrong time. There weren’t any scantily clad women standing on the streets in front of strip clubs trying to lure in men with wallets busting with dollar bills with Someone’s Thigh written all over them (because, actually, the one-Euro piece is a coin, as is the two-Euro piece. Paper money begins with fives, so the strippers probably clean up!), and the signs were mostly not as neon as I’d imagined. There were a couple good things about it, however.
I suppose they figure that the men will be urinating wherever they please anyway, so they’ve provided these handy urinals with no doors and nothing but a long filthy trough inside, so that hopefully the drunkards will be persuaded by the ease of it to use this and not the stairs to the metro station or the corners of buildings. And look: it worked! He wasn’t drunk, though, no worries.
And, of course, the other awesome thing about it was this:
That means Big Freedom, basically, and one of the most well-known…scratch that, The Most Well-Known band in history began their musical careers here, before they had the famous shaggy bowl-cuts or decided that they were bigger than Jesus, before they went on Ed Sullivan or persuaded a whole generation to somehow play their records backwards. Ironically, Paul is still alive.
To the southeast of the Reeperbahn (the main drag of all the smut), there is a very odd, very empty neighborhood called Speicherstadt, and it seemed like something out of a futuristic film in which everything is very tidy. It’s all brick, and it is surrounded and bisected by water, and so all the buildings sort of float about ravines, with their balconies hanging off into no-man’s land and strange raised walkways that lead from building to building. I imagine that the new rich of the city live in this area, while the more established wealth is on the western edge of the city. In the Speicherstadt, I imagine we would have seen women wearing Anne Klein tailored suits and men wearing those handsome three-pieces where the jacket buttons to just above their sternum. I love those.
Since we didn’t see anybody, though, we just took pictures of each other.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and a fabulous way to celebrate our anniversary. Walking through the city, getting caught in their weird 15-minute torrential downpours, riding in their strangely arranged U-Bahns, watching the landscape of the city move from pulp-board siding to glass and chrome, it was all a good time.
Incidentally, I took a picture of an anti-smoking campaign ad that appeared in some of their metro stations that I thought was one of the more ingenious campaign images I’ve ever seen; in the interest of propriety, I’m not putting the picture up here, but if you click on any of the pictures above, you can see it on my flickr page. It’s really amazing.
And, amazingly, we are leaving Germany in two weeks, and I have mixed feelings about it. We still haven’t seen a couple things in this city that I am still itching to see, so I’m sure I’ll be back to the blogosphere at least once before we leave. In the meantime, wish us luck. To some of you, but not enough of you: see you soon.