Tuesday, September 04, 2012


One recent weekend, we took the train to Hamburg to see something new and experience the train. Trains are big here: the regular S-bahn, the regional trains and then the fast ICE train. We took the fast one and it was still a six hour train ride, heading north through rolling farmland. We weren’t sure how the kids would do on such a long trip but between reading and visiting the restaurant car, the time blew by. A little German boy saw us and came sat with us. Because he was so young, our kids felt brave with their German language and soon all were trying to communicate with him and mostly succeeding!
Despite temperatures slightly cooler than already cool Munich, Hamburg was a delight. Though it is Germany’s second largest city, there are only 1.8 million people living there. On the Elbe River and the North Sea, Hamburg is the second largest port in Europe and most of it was built up in the last 100 years.  Hamburg might be second in most rankings but we loved it. The water and the ships reminded us all of Hong Kong though at a much slower pace. Hamburg was destroyed in WWII Allied bombing raids with over 50,000 people dying inside the city. Just outside the city was a concentration camp where another 50,000 people died. Deported Jewish residents were noted throughout the city with bronze plaques on the sidewalk, saying who lived there, where they were sent and their birth and death dates. It was very sad to see these markers on a happy summer street.
Alongside its tragic past, Hamburg also has a musical past. Hamburg is the birthplace of Johanns Brahms and the town where the Beatles got their start in 1962. Currently, there is a new Elbe Philharmonic Hall under construction right on the water. There was a nice little exhibit detailing the construction of the new hall. We went through that and then walked out to see the new building a block away. The new hall has an interesting wave pattern on its outside walls that reminded us all of something from Harry Potter, perhaps a Ministry building.
Hamburg is also home to Miniature World, the world’s largest model train museum with over 12 kilometers of track winding through an old warehouse. It is hard to explain how interesting it was; the trains were only part of it. Around the trains scenes were set up; an outdoor rock concert, a protest, a fair. The kids were given a list of hidden details to find in the displays like Santa Claus coming out of a Porta-Potty. Royce found a chocolate factory that shot out tiny real chocolate bars.  Tori found some Alpine mountaineers while Adam found a DHL plane leaving the model airport for Hong Kong.
The neighbor hood we stayed in was very Berkeley-like with cafes, tie-dye, used bookstores, graffiti and street people. When first confronted by the street scene, Adam reached for my hand and asked if it was safe. We said yes, though we didn’t stop to figure out why police were at the cheese store we liked. Beyond the cheese, we liked was the relaxed feel of Hamburg. While walking around town, the kids strayed into the bike line. We urged them out of the bike line, like we do in Munich but surprisingly, the bikers bearing down on them just smiled and went past. Shocked, we relaxed for the first time in months.  We didn’t hang out in cafes but we did hang out in the bike lane.


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