May 31, 2012

Hamburg, 2012

This is a very rich place because almost its entire old inner city is packed with luxury shopping, where you would normally have no need to go – unless you were a rich tourist from a place where fake designer gear is rife and you want to ensure you got the real thing – but it is packed every day with locals and tourists alike, plus an assortment of beggars, street musicians and performers and lads sleeping off a hard night.
Hamburg has a proud past and is obviously quite self-assured as befits a trading city which has more in common with its overseas counterparts than its own hinterland. Its flag is a solid castle tower on a red field and is flown everywhere. It is a separate state in the German federation and has a long tradition of being independent minded.
Its port is vast and, as everywhere, following the ancient example of Brugge, its old docks and warehouses have been redeveloped into des-res housing, offices, shops and cafes.
The waterside architecture is stark, utilitarian and solid. Hamburg is not a romantic city, but it is quite beautiful. The old town ramparts have been transformed into a ring belt park, with botanic gardens and sprinkled with many water features in the old moats.
The city is so compact we used the bus only once and never got on the U or S Bahn. Everything we wanted to see and visit we could reach on foot and pedestrianized areas and streets abound. It makes for pleasant inner city living, but of course the vast bulk of the population lives in the suburbs.
We stayed in a gay homestay, hosted by Dietmar and Thomas, and which was a spacious loft apartment in the St Georg district, a few minutes’ walk from the Central station and also right in the middle of the gay community. On Pentecost weekend the main street was blocked off and given over to a three-day street fair and flea market, with performances, food and drink stalls and a dance party area. It was a multi-coloured, multi-cultural and multi-sexual event and was extremely popular with the locals.
The food was lovely, especially recommended is café Traum Zeit (Hansaplatz), owned and run by a New Zealander from Hastings.
Culturally speaking, Hamburg has a fine array of art on offer. The Kunsthalle (next to the main train station) houses renaissance and modern paintings and sculpture in a sprawling and rather confusing-to-navigate site. The Bucerius Art Forum (next to the town hall) has temporary modern art exhibitions: a photographic social history of New York City was moving, wide ranging and interesting. The Art and Design Museum had a vast collection of basically everything, from Islamic art, 17th Century merchant traders’ interiors, “decadent art” archaeological finds, Roman pottery, an exhibition on German rocker Udo Lindenberg, deco furniture and a tribute exhibition to fashion designer Alexander MacQueen.
In the Deichtorhallen, British artist Antony Gormley showed “Horizon Field”, a free participatory installation, where you  climb up 7.5 meters to a suspended 2,500 square meter flat surface hung from 8 steel cables. The movement of people on the field make it sway horizontally, which makes for an unsettling experience, especially since the surface is covered in a shiny resin which reflects you into a black depth.
My main original reason to visit Hamburg was Miniatur Wunderland, a huge miniature world full of trains, planes and moving cars set in various countries and landscapes. It’s obviously a labour of love and a big team makes sure everything moves, crashes are repaired, rolling stock is maintained and visitors have a delightful time exploring all the details. The biggest fun is to search for small, mysterious scenes in the landscapes and around which you can spin your own story of what is actually happening.

1 comment:

zij said...

Thank you Hans for this pondered comment that makes pondering over Hamburg!