Thursday, September 11, 2014

Six Hours in Hamburg

This past weekend, my friends and I took advantage of our free time and hopped on a train to Hamburg! I had only been in Berlin for two weeks, and my initial days were booked with classes and orientation events, so this was my first official trip out of the city.

I've been to quite a few places in Germany before (Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich, Trier, Roethenberg), but have never ventured up north to Hamburg. One of my goals of studying abroad is to explore Germany and Europe as much as my time and money will allow, so I jumped at the chance to tag along with nine of my new friends on the excursion. In preparation, we bought special train passes that amounted to 8 Euros per person for the round-trip. Cheap travel is the best travel!

Our train departed from the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station) at 7 a.m., but due to an extremely inconvenient subway strike, we had to leave our apartment complex at 5:15 a.m. Exhaustion worked its way into our systems that morning- we nearly missed our train due to some confusion with delays. Once we were finally boarded, we settled in for a long four-hour ride with one transfer. Of course, we had to choose the train car with a crying baby and obnoxious drunk men shouting nonsense about "choo-choo bahns" at 9 a.m. Only in Germany!

I really didn't know what to expect in Hamburg, but the city exceeded all of my expectations. The cobblestone sidewalks and beautiful architecture looked stereotypically European, and the harbor was glistening against the clear skies. My group, which consisted of four girls and six boys, walked through Hamburg with our hands glued to our cameras, trying to capture the beauty of the city. Parts of Hamburg reminded me of SoHo in New York City, and other parts were more reminiscent of Venice, with cute buildings perched on the edge of the river. Modern-looking buildings were intermingled with historic ones, which was an interesting and beautiful contrast that is pretty prevalent in European cities.

After a carb-filled yet delicious lunch at a bakery, we payed 12 Euros for a boat tour in the Elbe. Although the tour was in German and I struggled to understand the fast-talking tour guide, I really enjoyed seeing the city landscape from a distance. The tour also took us through the actual Hamburg Harbor, right up to the freight boats and cranes, and I was shocked by how big the trading center was. Now I can see why Hamburg is such an important business city!

Somehow or other, my friends and I ended up in the Red Light District for a round of drinks. I've never seen so many sex shops in my life! The sidewalks were lined with racy window displays and "gentleman's clubs," which would never appear on a public street in the U.S.

We left Hamburg at 6 p.m., after spending seven short hours in the city. On the way home, the ten of us got lucky and had an entire train car to ourselves, complete with a table and comfortable chairs. As we were driving through the German countryside into the sunset, a thunder storm surrounded us, throwing down lighting in every direction. Seeing the bright bolts light up the countryside was truly breathtaking, and we took turns standing with our heads hanging out of the open window like dogs, dodging the rain pellets and taking in the view.

While I definitely wish I could've stayed longer to explore, I think I got a great sense of Hamburg. I'm glad I was able to fit the day trip into my busy schedule. These weekend trips will be hopefully be a regular thing for me!