The architecture found in this place is enthralling, and the mood of the city changes according to the volatile weather.
There are places in Hamburg pretty enough to visit multiple times – Blankenese, Altona, St. Georg and the Schanzenviertel being some of them – of which I have done a fair bit by harassing store-keepers with my grammar errors and abysmal pronunciation.
The days slowly fall into a routine – until the discovery of a half-a-century-old bicycle that sits in the open garage opened a world of speed (next to the car of course) and exhilarating freedom that I have so intensely missed. There is a curious thrill present in the knowledge that someone else a long time ago (this bicycle belonged to my host’s grandmother) rode this precious piece of antique.
Admittedly, there is only a terrifying single, front brake on the right of the bike handle, and I resigned myself to slowing down at least 40m before any crossing or traffic light, until I was told that the older bicycles had a different braking system back in the good ol’ days. The back-pedal functions most practically instead as a brake – Look ma, no hands!
And with the bike, Altona is for conquest.
Altona and the Schanzenviertel have attracted a lot more attention in the past year or two, and have gained their rightful reputations as vivid, pulsing core areas with individually established boutiques and a mish-mash of wonderfully eclectic cafes that are traditionally, popular with students, immigrants and yuppies. The gentrification of these areas has also thankfully improved the seedy reputations these places once had.
St. Georg, on the other hand, lies adjacent to the main train station, and sit on the side of the outer Alster lake, and flies the multi-coloured flag proudly, (even the pharmacy is coloured that way!) signalling the alternative lifestyles led in this particular area. I love its equally eclectic feel and its diverse number of shops in the strip mall and the number of central asian shops (note: what is known as exoticism roughly translates to me as the burning of incense, and hand-made stuff from India or the Himayalan region) that has become quite the rage in Hamburg.
Blankenese sits on the other end of the scale and reeks of either old or new money, and is about 10 train-stops but a world apart from anything else that I have seen here. Home to the celebrities and the unspeakably rich, this undulating part of Hamburg and its inhabitants live along a rather undisturbed riverbank, and show constant signs of irritation when visitors of any class of society other than the upper crust walk up and down their beloved stairways to the Elbe coast. The steep climbs have hopefully given that cardio burst that is so needed.
The long stretch from Blankenese to the Övelgönne is lined by pretty houses whose inhabitants are most likely to be irritated with the high volume of human traffic that go past their doorway everyday.
The national obsession that the Germans have for the sand, the sun-tanning process, and the sea – in this case, the Elbe river with its view of the port has unfortunately become a poor substitute – lead them to a stretch of the river that has sandy banks, on which they sun themselves with a frightening fervour having ascertained in some way or other that they seem immune to UV-overexposure.