Sibling-Style Euro Trip 3.0 was about to commence. In the typical complexities that are European travel routes, we put together an itinerary leading us through parts of Germany and Scandinavia by bus, train, plane and boat. We were to go chasing after the past in more ways than one.
Roots run deep in each of the aforementioned countries and our goal was to spend two weeks exploring our heritage. Ideally we would have dug deep to unearth past as our ancestors had left it. We yearned to travel to the Scandinavian countryside where our Great Great Grandparents once lived, see the church they were married in. We would’ve loved to see the farm our family owned once upon a time, to rent a car and get lost in the luscious landscapes so similar to those of our own hometown.
With two weeks and much ground to cover, we instead decided upon three days average per city. Enough time to get a taste for what is, and idea for what might have been.
Our trip to Hamburg was done simply for ease of travel. As a midway point between Grenoble and Stockholm, it was a destination neither of us had been before and frankly, knew little about. We were pleasantly surprised by the calm beauty it had to offer. A city claiming to have more bridges than all cities of the world: forget Venice and Amsterdam, Hamburg is the true master of water-crossing walkways.
No trip to Hamburg is complete without a stop at Hofbrau Haus. Taking this into account, we instead turned the tables and decided no trip to Hamburg may commence without a stop at Hofbrau Haus. Dressed in puffy sleeved shirts and skirts, waitstaff spoke in heavy accents and served what we considered a typical German meal: Wurst and bier. Ben’s plate looked like breakfast sausages served atop cooked cabbage. Mine: a chivey potato slaw accompanied by what appeared to be Oscar Mayer wieners. Both were delicious, made more so by the communal aspect of sharing tables with strangers and being waited on by a woman in pigtails and a man in suspenders.
The next morning, we were met at our hostel lobby by a tour guide eager to show us the city. Lanky and slightly peculiar, he reminded me of a high school chemistry teacher who would set the tips of his fingers together just below his lips and quickly tap them together, creating a wave of pinky-ring-middle-pointer while smiling in a sinister way. It was as if his mind was so full of information that at times the only way he could release that informative energy was through his fingertips.
Our guide knew Hamburg in and out. It was evident that much of his speech had become scripted through time, yet he continuously paused to answer our silly tourist questions and joke at the amount of Canadians who had unknowingly come together at the same time in the same place to join our tour.
Together, a group of nearly thirty walked the streets of Hamburg, visiting St. Nikolia church, the peculiarly constructed Chilihaus, its neighboring Messberghoff building which was once home to producers and distributers of Zyclon B during World War 2. Not a proud part of Hamburg’s past, but an important part nevertheless, as Zyclon B was the gas used to poison prisoners of Auschwitz Concentration Camp as well as others, leading to the death of around one million persons during the 1940s. The building now stands with a plaque denoting this traumatic piece of its past, and decades later serves as home to a much more quiet collection of offices.
We learned of the importance of a church tower left standing through fire and war, once used as a target for attackers it marked Hamburg’s location in an otherwise low lying plane of buildings. To have destroyed it would have meant losing site of Hamburg and therefore, losing site of the deconstructive goal of war. Amongst the bricks of this particular site, I am convinced that a truly holy image can be spotted. Like a cloud in the sky, many may see the image while many may not. Tell me, do you? It appears to me like a bearded man with long hair looking slightly right and skyward: as if Jesus was somehow formed by minerals and pollution to protect the church from further deterioration and destruction. Now writing about it, I feel like the person who frames a slice of toast because somehow the Virgin Mary’s silhouette has made its way into burnt pieces. You be the judge: is this brick frame worthy?
Beyond the church, we walked past harbor, meandered through forest, and came to Hamburg’s own warehouse district. After ground transportation made shipping containers larger than previous ships’ cargo boxes, these beautiful warehouses became nearly useless. They could no longer receive these enlarged containers through the previously perfectly-sized doors, nor did they have proper means to move them about within the warehouses. UNESCO even considers the area to be a World Heritage Site, and it appears that the functionality of the warehouse district will increase more as time goes by, becoming an attraction for tourists and hipsters alike. Recently, property revitalizations have turned many of these buildings into restaurants and museums, including a tiny railway system named Miniatur Wunderland.
Between Warehouse District and harbor, in a pristine location, a jungle of metal and glass waves in the wind. The Elbe Philharmonic complex is said to be a touchy subject for Hamburgers who have spent tax dollars constructing what was supposed to be a multi-use complex, the building currently sits empty. Building budgets have surpassed initial quotes, reaching from the initial 40 million-euro budget to its current state as a 500 million-euro Hafencity Skeleton. We made sure only to admire this particular architectural beauty from afar and not to mention it to anyone at any time. Even our cameras turned red with embarrassment when we shot photos from too close of a proximity.
The tour ended in a Broadway-worthy skit, acted in by several of the Canadians whom had joined our tour. They star was a shorter man with shaved head, tattoos and an accent perfect for the real of pirate which he was to play. Our guide led Canadian Pirate and others in a glorified version of what happened within Hamburg’s harbors back in the day. Without being paid a cent, I must say they did a fine job of telling this story of looting and battering.
After the tour, we continued through Hamburg’s streets, stopping in a forest while rains slapped down harder than leafy canopies and umbrella canopies could withstand. We got lost, got found, and finally ended up back in our retro hostel – content with calling it an early night in preparation for the next day’s alarms: 2:55am. At 4am, we were to be on a train toward the airport, from where we would fly to the highly anticipated destination of Stockholm, Sweden.