German highways are an all-time high, with windmills lazily caressing the cool afternoon breeze that invariably cajoles you into sweet slumber! Luckily, my chauffer, a African-Arab of Ethiopian-Sudanese descent, fascinated by my speaking his mother t ongue, kept me awake to absorb the beauty around as we approached our destination Hamburg, that promised a Santa’s sack full of surprises!
Having visited Berlin and Potsdam earlier, Hamburg was a world of its own. A certain euphoria gripped me as the city unfolded with its stunningly picturesque Lake Alster, charming canals with quaint boats and dhows, music and dancing at street corners and promenades with fitness enthusiasts of all ages. The exuberant spirit of youth explained why adrenalin was in the air! It was then that I realised, that ‘although Berlin has a certain attitude about it, Hamburg IS an attitude by itself!’ With a fascinating mix of myriad experiences right from canal boating, biking, exotic gourmet hangouts, music and nightlife, Hamburg is Germany’s joie de vivre!
A stroll away from the grand lake is where most of Hamburg’s hotels are, from Le Meridien to The George with its swank, retro-style interiors and surreally pretty waitresses from East Europe serving delightful Italian delicacies. Speaking of which, Hamburg is also known for its authentic Italian cafes, many of which are built along the canals and are reminiscent of their Venetian counterparts! Authentic Raviolis, generous Gnocchi servings with lilting strains of the accordion punctuated by the lapping waters are an all-time Aha! Boat Cafes are another of Hamburg’s highlights, with large boats converted to cafes, offering a complete fine dining experience with a panoramic view of Lake Alster!
Known for its infamous nightlife, Hamburg’s St. Pauli area is famed for its pubs, night clubs, restaurants… and, of course, the numerous sex shops, strip clubs and a tiny enclosed street that maintains the age-old tradition of strictly prohibiting the entry of women which is St. Pauli’s most popular attraction!
Hamburg has an enormous West Asian and Turkish immigrant population with traditional Persian bistros, Turkish vegetable markets and Arabic sheesha bars and baklawa sweet shops with cherubic Egyptian chefs selling exotic varieties in fluent German. One can also find a few Indian stores with blow-ups of Kajol, Shahrukh and “Slumdog Millionaire” alongside souvenirs, sitars and kurtas!
At one Persian restaurant called ‘Molana’, named after the legendary Sufi mystic of Persia Jalaluddin Rumi, I was pleasantly surprised, as a student of Persian, to find its walls and ceiling decorated by verses from his famous work “Masnawi” in exquisite calligraphy! “Listen to the music of the Ney (reed flute) and how it complains of separation from its beloved,” says Rumi, where the Ney is personified as the human body in which God blows his spirit!
It was here that I met a friendly group of elderly Iranian gentlemen who eagerly exchanged pleasantries with me as we shared a Robaai’yat (quatrain) of another great mystic, Omar Khayyam. “Khayyam agar ze baadeh masti khosh baash, Ba maah rokhi agar neshasti khosh baash” (Khayyam! if you are drunk with wine, be glad (khosh baash), if in the company of a moon-faced beauty, be glad. If the nature of this universe is extinction, perceive extinction as eternity and be glad!)
The city, with the Baltic Sea to its east and the North Sea to its west, has Germany’s largest port. Hamburg port, which is off the North Sea on the River Elbe, was by far one of the most fascinating experiences, with shops selling innovative leather products, hats, souvenirs, rabbits and parrots, traditional Turkish vegetable and fruit markets with the rhythmic Taaze Taaze! (fresh) by the vendors and guttural syllables of Arabic and German from the buyers harmoniously merging with the high tide! Ferries carrying tourists regularly make their way through the congested dock while on the shore, pensive lovers, rock-n-roll musicians, sailors of different nationalities and an occasional bagpiper on the jetty are a regular scene under the usually cloudy sky.
The church near Hamburg port with its formidable structure and a clock tower on the top is famous for its trumpeter who plays a certain tune at regular intervals, maintaining the age-old tradition of greeting passing sailors who would return with sweet memories of being melodiously greeted by a stranger at Hamburg! Tourists make their way to the zenith of this old church to enjoy a breathtaking 360 degree view of Hamburg and its port over some sparkling wine.
A cruise on the romantic Lake Alster around its scenic canals and waterways is manna for the soul. One can find little boats with weekenders gently rowing, elderly couples watching the swans at sunset, young couples sharing a few laughs and beers, preparing to set sail in their canoes and amateur musicians, meditation enthusiasts and spiritual seekers finding solace in the tranquillity of the lake and its surroundings.
Music is something Hamburgers are known to passionately pursue, and the “Sound and Light Water Show” is one of the most sought-after and spectacular musical soirees in the city. Special fountains are programmed according to musical compositions, and colourful patterns are formed by controlled jets of water that rise to different heights to represent every movement of the composition. Renditions by legends like Mozart are featured along with lighter Jazz pieces and popular Hollywood themes.
Hamburg is truly a Rubik’s cube of influences, experiences and impressions with different languages, cuisines and dresses blending and merging into its mosaic. Propelled by the zest for life, its very much the place to khosh baash !
Cosmopolitan: A Turkish vegetable shop…
Lufthansa German Airlines flies directly from Mumbai to Frankfurt and to Munich.
The famous, super-fast Inter-city Deutsche Bahn Railway transports you from both Frankfurt and Munich to Hamburg in a couple of hours.
Things to do:
One can enjoy an interesting list of water activities like boating, canoeing, fishing or boat cruising on the beautiful Lake Alster.
Hamburg offers a wide range of gourmet experiences from traditional German delicacies like Bohnen, Birnen und Speck (green runner beans cooked with pears and bacon), Aalsuppe , Bratkartoffeln and Pannfisch (pan-fried fish) along with authentic Italian cuisine served in quaint cafes and restaurants.
Music is big in Hamburg, right from classical to Hip-Hop, Heavy Metal and Psychedelic trance. The Hamburg State Opera is one of Germany’s leading opera houses with The Philharmoniker Hamburg. It is also home to some of Germany’s famous Hip-Hop music and Hamburg’s very own Hamburger Schule music.
Authentic West Asian and Turkish cafes and restaurants are another of Hamburg’s attractions, with its huge immigrant Persian, Arabic and Turkish population.