Spend Two Hours in Hamburg
The best thing about Deutsche Bahn’s Across-the-Country 1-day rail pass (the “Quer-durchs-Land” ticket or QdL for short) is that it’s very cheap. Forty eight euros for two people on any regional train in Germany: that’s an unbeatable offer.
Journeys take a little longer than on the fast IC trains, that much is for certain, and their trajectories may be slightly more convoluted, but that can be a benefit, too.
Recently, on our way back from a hike in the Mecklenburger Seenplatte, for example, we took the opportunity to break up what would otherwise have been a very long train journey to make a two-hour stop in Hamburg. Two hours in Hamburg are not a lot for such a big city, Germany’s largest after Berlin, but we had been there several times and knew where to go. In the end, we were surprised how many of the city’s main sites we were able to cover.
From the central train station, head straight (down Mönckebergstraße) for the so-called Binnenalster, Hamburg’s poshest mile. Along its banks, you can find some of Germany’s biggest private banks, most expensive hotels and fanciest restaurants.
The huge and opulent building on the artifical lake’s southern shore is Hamburg’s City Hall, built in the 19th century with the era’s typical sense for flash and grandeur.
Walk down past the Alsterfleet canal, underneath the Alsterarkaden colonnades, before turning right on Stadthausbrücke and heading for St Michael’s Church, Hamburg’s main landmark since it was built in the 17th century – famous not least because it was the first building of the city that many of her visitors, coming from the sea, were able to spot in the distance.
The church may look rather austere from the outside, but the interiors are as tacky as a West End theatre. (Entrance is free, but you are encouraged to donate €2 when you leave. Alternatively, you can squeeze by the burly lady who guards the exit door. Best to wait, probably, for one of the other tourists to distract her with a question – that’s what I did, anyway.)
The street on the right hand side of the church, by the way, leads you straight to St Pauli – Reeperbahn, Star Club and all that. (Unfortunately, we had no time for that.)
Instead, we turn left out of the church, past the modern offices of Gruner & Jahr, one of Germany’s largest publishing houses, in the direction of the harbour, one of the ten largest in the world .
Turn left to head for the Speicherstadt (“warehouse town”), my favourite part of Hamburg and one of Europe’s greatest works of 19th century architectural engineering, grand and graceful at the same time, a cross between Venice and London’s old docklands. The buildings were all warehouses once, of course, but are today mainly occupied by theatre companies, museums and tourist attractions such as the “Hamburg Dungeon”.
I could easily have spent the rest of the day walking from canal to canal, but there was no time. Instead, we took the subway train back to the city centre (if you have a Länderticket or a QdL Ticket, you are also free to use subways and S-Bahn trains) and had just about enough time for a quiet cup of coffee outside in the April sun on Mönckebergstraße, the city’s main shopping street, 5 minutes away from the central train station.