Monday, 2nd December 2019 – Hamburg
Feeling a lot better than I had on Sunday, we had breakfast (I still wasn’t risking anything more solid than yogurt, followed by scrambled eggs) and then we packed up our bags, checked out of our room, and left our luggage with the hotel while we headed off to catch the No. 6 bus as usual, this time all the way to the end of the line and the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus, where we intended to visit Miniatur Wunderland.
We arrived in what should have been good time, and joined a short queue, so things were looking good. However, once we reached the front of the short queue, the wheels came off the plan, as those who had been organised enough sailed smugly past us with their pre-booked tickets. The earliest entry tickets available to those of us in the queue were for 90 minutes later, half an hour before we were due to go and have lunch (we were on a latish flight and so dinner might be a bit hit-and-miss) and so we decided we would forego Minatur Wunderland this time around, and instead walk through Speicherstadt to the Elbphilharmonie, where we might be able to pick up a tour. However, once again our lack of planning bit us, with the first available English language tour being far too late for us.
I suppose we should have thought ahead, because so many things are closed on Mondays in Germany, so any tourist attraction that is open is likely to be very popular! Still, at least we were able to get a ticket to go inside the plaza, which is on top of the old part of the building. The Elbphilharmonie concert hall opened in January 2017 after a long drawn out development process, and is one of the largest and acoustically most advanced concert halls in the world. The “Elphi” is in effect a glass construction designed to resemble a hoisted sail built on top of the Kaispeicher A warehouse, built in 1963, The new concert hall was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, and is the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg at 108 metres (354 ft). It was ten year’s in the making, and the original estimate of €241 million turned out to be a long way wide of the mark. When construction work officially ended on 31st October 2016 it had cost €866 million.
It’s one hell of a building whatever it cost, and serves as both a cultural and residential complex, with its spectacular profile, and wavy roof line. The building has 26 floors, the first eight inside the warehouse, and the rest in the glass section. A dramatic curved escalator takes you up from the main entrance to the Plaza, on the 8th floor, and this area is open from early morning to midnight to members of the public. It offers a panoramic view of Hamburg and the River Elbe – somewhat more industrial than you might expect – and there is an external balcony on three sides of the building.
From the Plaza the foyer of the concert hall can be reached. The easternmost part of the building is the Westin Hamburg Hotel, with 244 rooms between the 9th and 20th floors and a lobby on the 8th floor. There are 45 luxury apartments on the western part of the building, and the place is dotted with conference rooms, restaurants, bars, and a spa. It’s all very impressive, although on a cold, windy day it was also incredibly cold, with gaps in the glass which I assume are to let air in and out, serving to funnel a freezing wind through the plaza (and possibly being the cause of the damage to the cafe door, where a whole plate of toughened glass was crazed and broken). We nosed around a bit though we couldn’t get into any of the concert halls (that would have required a guided tour ticket or a concert ticket), and then grabbed a coffee to try and warm up as we watched other people wandering about and confusing themselves thoroughly. Seated at the sharp end overlooking the water we watched a rain squall swoop in and wash out again.
The Elbphilharmonie has three concert venues. The Great Concert Hall holds 2,100 visitors, the Recital Hall seats 550 people and the Kaistudio fits a mere 170. When we go back I fully intend to ensure we go on the full tour. We may also consider staying at the Westin. After we finished our coffees, we stepped into the shop to see if there was anything in the way of good fridge magnets (there was), and then took a walk along the riverside towards the Landungsbrücken and the Elbe Tunnel. We were importuned to join a harbour tour but we suspected we really didn’t have time, and as I was still feeling a bit queasy from the norovirus a boat trip didn’t seem like a good idea.
Instead we inspected the monumentally impressive buildings of the St. Pauli Piers as the Landungsbrücken is more correctly known. They are a conglomeration or 10 landing bridges, each with 2 berths that enables ferries and tour boats to moor up alongside the pontoons. The original landing bridges were built in 1839, but the current complex dates from 1907-1909, and wasa the largest landing place in the Port of Hamburg. They sit squarely between the lower harbour and the Fischmarkt, with nearby S-Bahn, U-Bahn and ferry stations and I imagine in the Summer it’s lovely down there. The complex was classified as a historical monument on 15 September 2003.
Beyond the piers you can find one end of the old Elbe tunnel, just beyond the Pegelturm (water level tower). Halfway up the tower, there is a water level indicator built into the wall, which indicates the current stage of the tides. It’s hard to imagine now, but back when it was first built, the landing stages were capable of serving as a terminal for steamships, and had the advantage of being sufficiently far form the city as to not pose a fire hazard. It’s even harder to imagine, if you are only familiar with the modern juggernauts that pass for cruise liners, than the Hapag-Lloyd liners used to land here. They certainly can’t now!
We did stick our heads into the entrance hall of the Old Elbe Tunnels (Alter Elbtunnel colloquially or St. Pauli Elbtunnel officially) which opened in 1911, and which enable pedestrians and vehicles to cross from one side of the Elbe to the other. There are two tunnels accessed by lifts which carry pedestrians and bicycle riders to the bottom and bring them back up again. The two tunnels are both still in use, though they are no longer the only way across. It used to also carry cars, which were allowed through only at certain time, but is now closed to motorised vehicles until further notice.
The 426 metre (1,398 ft) long tunnel is 24 metres (80 ft) beneath the surface, and consists of two 6 metre (20 ft) tubes that connect central Hamburg with the docks and shipyards on the south side of the river Elbe. It’s open 24-hours a day and is more than a little ornate. It’s been open since 7th September 1911 and seems to be perfectly functional even a century or more later.
It was getting close to lunch time, so we walked back through Speicherstadt, until we reached the restaurant Vlet in one of the old buildings on Sandtorkai, where we had an excellent lunch, before emerging mid-afternoon, and tracking down the number 6 bus again. We stopped off at the Edeka supermarket close to the hotel because I wanted to buy some Tilsit cheese, and the returned to the hotel to collect our luggage and order a taxi for the airport. We had enough time to have one last drink in the Crowne Plaza bar, before heading to the airport and home…
It was slow going with the flight delayed, and because of BA’s ridiculous seat booking system we ended up in the last row of the business class cabin, which meant that by the time service got to us, the platters of smoked salmon and prawns had all run out, and all that was left was something purporting to be a vegetarian Caesar salad. As Parmesan isn’t vegetarian, and you can’t put chicken in it either, there’s no such thing! What it was was a strikingly uninspiring and unappetising portion of leaves, with a tomato and a boiled egg on it. I turned it down, as did Lynne, and ended up having two packs of shortbread biscuits for dinner. It was a good job we’d had a decent lunch, is all I can say, because British Airways let us down pretty badly. To be fair to the cabin crew, they weren’t impressed by the situation either, but that didn’t help us. At least we got our luggage back quickly at the end of the journey and found the road home to be clear.
I’d enjoyed Hamburg but don’t feel we’re finished with it due to losing all of Saturday, and not really feeling that energetic on the following couple of days. We’re going to have to go back.