Hamburg - Hamburg, we hardly knew ye. Inevitably, some places on our trip get shorter shrift than ours, and this northwestern German city was right up there with Lyon for most cursory visit. Because we had to transfer, our train didn’t roll into Hamburg until just before eight. Then we learned our hostel, which was supposed to be three train stops away, was more like three cities away. Along a dark, deserted crossing, we walked and walked, lugging our backpacks behind us like patient Atlases.
Finally, after a forty minute walk, we arrived exhausted and weary, but mostly hungry. We asked the receptionist what was still open, and she said we had the choice between a Greek gaststätte and another one of those strange pan-Asian places that dished up Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai together. We opted for the former, where Vince got the opportunity to put his German skills from college into practice. He ordered lamb gyros for both of us. I slumped into a metal chair and watched the counterman slice the long, thin strands of meat from the spit. All I had to eat all day was a bagel at the Amsterdam station and I was just happy to have anything at this point.
The gyros turned out to be pretty good, and thankfully fit for the historic German appetite. They came loaded with red cabbage and a tangy dressing, which both distinguished them from others. Eating by the bursting forkful, we started to relax and the stress of travel evaporated. Then, as if on cue, we noticed that the fridge was stocked not only with soda but minibar-sized bottles of liquor. We began with ouzo, moved onto the apple schnapps, and finished up with vodka. Suddenly, a night that seemed destined to be ruined was salvaged, as we lingered in the restaurant for hours, until it was closing. By then though, we had laughed ourselves stupid and undone all the angst of the day.
The next day, as with Lyon, we tried to fit in as much as possible in our brief chunk of time. We took the U-bahn in and started by seeing the Rathaus, the impressive town hall. From there, we walked north and sat by the water along the Alster Canal. Then, we stopped by the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's own seedy version of a Red Light District. It seemed to be on its last legs, a caricature of itself, much like post-Giuliani Times Square. I didn't care much though. I really only wanted to see it because of Tom Waits' song about the neighborhood: ("A high dive on a swimming pool/Filled with needles and with fools/The memories are short but the tales are long/When you're in the Reeperbahn.")
It wasn't at all the full tour that Hamburg deserved, but we tried to stay optimistic. After our impending three-city tour of Scandanavia, we'd be coming back to four more cities in Germany. They'd at least get our total attention.
From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out
- Name: Lonesome Hero
Monday, November 21, 2005