Hamburg, a port for all tastes

The cosmopolitan character of the city of Hamburg is evident from the choices it offers to the good, the bad and the naughty. Mohinder Singh writes on the city’s varied attractions.

A view of Hamburg’s Waterfront
A view of Hamburg’s Waterfront

Spitalistrasse, a walking street
Spitalistrasse, a walking street

Hamburg, termed a free city, has a free wheeling, upbeat, liberal atmosphere. Its residents never fail to point out that their city is an independent part of Germany.

Hamburgers (as distinct from the item of food that takes its name from the city) know how to enjoy themselves and the city is particularly well endowed with bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs. The cosmopolitan character of the place is reflected in the cuisine on offer.

Though situated 109 km upstream on the Elbe river, Hamburg remains one of the world’s busiest ports, visited by 12,000 ships annually. The city enjoys national primacy in the field of press, and is known for excellence in music and sports. It also boasts of an ultra-modern Opera House.

Hamburg is an exceptionally green city; something like 10 sq m of lawn or flowerbed for every inhabitant. It is dissected by three rivers and a grid of canals, and centres around the attractive Alster lake.

Once you have taken a guided bus tour of the city, you can easily follow up by visiting places of your special interest by metro, trams, buses, and boat services. Underground train services are notably clean, efficient and extensive.

A harbour tour by boat is another exciting experience. Some people get put off by Hamburg’s weather. It can often be cloudy, and the rain, when it comes, is surprisingly thin and persistent. But if you can accept the same good-humouredly — the way locals do, ever armed with a folding umbrella — the weather wouldn’t interfere much with your enjoyment. There’s a popular joke that a Hamburger is born clutching an umbrella.

For sightseeing, you can have a leisurely walk around the Alster lake. This lake has been formed by damming the Alster river. Its banks, lush green, are beautifully landscaped.

A walk along the Elbe river is justly called the most beautiful walk in the world. You see beautiful houses nestling in the green banks. You see all sorts of ships going up or down the river.

For nature-lovers, one of the most interesting places to visit is the Ohlsdorf Cemetery. Second in size only to the one in Chicago, it covers an area of more than 1600 acres in the style of an architectural garden. The whole area with its magnificent trees, lawns, and lakes is a sight worth seeing. Distinctive flower arrangements around individual graves add to the charm.

Beyond the botanical gardens you could enjoy Planten and Blumen, the city’s fabled park, Masses of tulips. On summer nights, special fountains play a water ballet.

Another memorable visit could be to the privately-owned world — famous Hagenbeck Tiergarten. This zoo gave the world a lead in keeping animals in open enclosures without bars, and in surroundings that resemble their native habitats as nearly as possible. On Nehru’s invitation, Hagenbecks designed the Delhi zoo.

The Hagenbeck zoo is also known for the brilliant combination of fauna and flora of many kinds — making it an extraordinary zoological park. It sports a miniature circus that gives daily performances.

A star attraction of the city is the St Pauli area. Initially catering to the dockside needs of sailors, it has over years become a large, internationally known amusement quarter. No wonder, it is dubbed "the naughtiest mile in Europe".

The fascination of St Pauli lies in the wide range of what it has to offer, and the consequent diversity of its patrons. All sorts of people go there from the hippies to the select, from the rough to the respectable, singles as well as couples. Those milling around in the evenings are of every imaginable type, of every colour of skin, and of every language of the world. You even come across signboards in Hindi.

The area sports numerous nightclubs, floor-shows, pubs, dance-halls, beer-halls, casinos, eating establishments, shopping arcades, theatres, cinemas, hotels, porn shops, and places where streetwalkers ply their trade or stand on sidewalks. There’s something to suit every taste.

An evening at St Pauli should be enjoyable experience, if one exercised care in ordering drinks at nightclubs and hostess-bars. The city administration used to give foreign consulates (the largest in number after New York) a booklet on the Do’s and Don’ts for foreigners visiting St Pauli.

The star attraction is the colourful, neon-lit Reeperbahn, a part of the Grosse Freiheit (meaning great freedom), a street which is home to half a dozen well-known nightclubs. And some of the floor shows here are so bold and naughty, they could only flourish in the liberal atmosphere of a city like Hamburg.

St Pauli is as safe as any adult entertainment quarter could be. The place prides itself in being brilliantly policed.

And if you happen to stay very late at St Pauli on a Saturday night, better see another slice of Hamburg dock-life; the adjoining open-air Fisch market which opens every Sunday morning at 5. Here you can listen to street-side musicians, buy anything you fancy at the temporary stalls, or simply nourish yourself with the famed German sausages at a vendor’s stove.