why we need to go back to hamburg...

We were born in Liverpool, but grew up in Hamburg.
— John Lennon

Berlin. London. Paris.

Such cities are on the radar of almost everyone. Speak to most 20-somethings with a drop of wanderlust in their veins, and they're bound to have spent sometime discovering at least one of the three. They're all capitals, they all have plenty for every type of tourist and each evokes a certain tingling feeling of possibility, hedonism, culture and romance. 

But, in the last few years, there has been a definite uptick in 'alternative' city breaks - visits to places which, for a number of reasons, have previously been overlooked, are now opened up via affordable flights and a multitude of articles putting them forward as edgier, prettier, cooler or more affordable options to the big three. 

It was due to this that we had such high expectations for Hamburg when we visited for Andrew's birthday weekend this summer. After all, this is the place people have been telling us for the last two years is actually Germany's coolest city - the hipster choice of the hippest hipster instead of Berlin. 

If you've been a reader of Along Dusty Roads for a while, you'll know that we're huge proponents of 'slow travel'; visiting any new place on a weekend break can however, sometimes feel like the exact opposite. In the hope doing everything it has to offer, your actual urge for a relatively relaxing or 'local lite' experience can be curtailed - before you know it, you're on the flight home, a city has been ticked off the list but, in your heart of hearts, you know you've had a cut-and-paste experience.

And you know that it's likely the only time you'll visit.

In Hamburg, we learned that sometimes the best weekend breaks will be doing the exact opposite of what you expect. We learned that by letting a city and its rhythms guide you and your instincts, rather than arriving with a pre-approved and thoroughly researched checklist of all you have to do there, you can have an experience like no other.

And a city can really get under your skin, leaving you with a sense that just once just isn't enough.

Instead of bratwurst and beer, you can have a Saturday night with Mexican food and mojitos at one of the city's newest and most popular restaurants. Instead of visiting the more well-known sights or following in the footsteps of the Beatles, you can head outside the limits and go kayaking in beautifully tranquil countryside. Instead of following a map, you can be led by a local to a music shop which stocks only recordings from Hamburg musicians from the past three decades, a former slaughterhouse turned into start-up space and and told stories of why nearly every inch of the walls (inside and out) in certain neighbourhoods are converted into a public canvas of street-art, graffiti and stickers promoting all sorts of political, sporting and cultural preferences.

Rather than traverse the city endlessly, you can spend your time discovering only a few parts with too may syllables, places like the Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel / St. Pauli neighbourhoods which perfectly captured the essence of the Hamburg for which we had hoped.

A former supermarket transformed into a minimalist art gallery. A dark and smoky cocktail bar transported from the 1920s. An open-air music festival held next to a disused shipping warehouse which went on long after the sun had set. A cafe where loyalty cards aren't stamped, but signed with coffee. Photogenic happenstance and scenes on every corner, filled with just the right mix of colour and grit. 

In discovering a city in this way, in a more spontaneity-filled and free-wheelin' manner than we're used to, we uncovered exactly why Hamburg is held in such high regard. In no way did we feel we had experienced and recorded every inch of it, but rather that we had only caught a tantalising glimpse of what it wanted to show us. 

It means that in conversations with friends now, it's difficult to say 'you can't miss this' or 'you have to do that'.

Instead, it's simply six words said without hesitation, equivocation or prevarication: "You have to go to Hamburg". 

And for that reason alone, that's exactly why we have to go back. 

 

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For a flavour of the Hamburg we discovered and loved, check out our photo journal below.

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