Hamburg hinter den Kulissen

January 11, 2008

I have lots of relatives in Germany, but certain ones come up in conversation more than others. My dad, especially, mentions Gunther and Ilse, my grandmother’s cousin, all the time. Now, after having visited them in Hamburg, I understand why. In addition to being incredibly nice and hospitable, Gunther is quite a character. He does whatever he wants.

“I’m going to show you Hamburg hinter den Kulissen (behind the scenes),” he said smiling as he sped past a blatantly posted “do not enter” sign along the cargo docks.
Port of Hamburg, run by robots
Born and bred in Hamburg, Gunther knows his way around the posh shopping areas as well as the docks that make this Hanseatic city so famous. He and his wife own a small fish import business in the fish market. Even though he’s well past retirement age, Gunther still gets up before 4 a.m. seven days a week. He’s been trying to sell the business for years, but no one seems interested in the long and early hours and not-so-optimistic business outlook. There just aren’t many fish left. Anywhere.
Günther and Ilse (my grandmothers’ cousin) at the Christmas Market
Having worked all the weekly markets for years, Gunther seems to know small business owners all over the city, and was greeted by people everywhere we went. We were invited behind the curtains of the rides at the Chrismarket, met the designer of the Christmasmarket mug, and were served free Glühwein and schmalzbrot. The Glühwein was great, but I could have done without the schmalzbrot, cooled pork fat mixed with onions and apples and smeared on rye bread.
Tunnel under the River
This tour was not censored, either. We visited the red light district (for the sailors, of course) and the Repebahn, a street lined with bars and clubs made infamous for crime and craziness.

Although many people take Hamburg to be the most beautiful city in Germany and call it “The Venice of the North,” I was not so impressed. But I should probably give it another chance and go back in the spring or summer.

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