I am a very lucky man, not only do I have Kelly but she has wonderful sisters all over the world. Not necessarily blood relations but sisters nonetheless. If you follow this blog you met exchange sister Viviane when I wrote about her last October. Viviane was born and raised in Brazil, was an exchange student with Kelly’s family in 1979 in California and has lived in New York, Luxembourg, Hamburg, and hopefully retiring soon to Porto, Portugal.
Viviane is a wonderful example of what is good in this world, a compassionate caring individual who has traveled the world meeting people from all walks of life and embraces them all. Her life also helps illustrate the idiotic labels we place on people. A light skinned, blond haired Brazilian she was told that as a native of South America she had to check the “Hispanic” box when she applied for a social security card in the US several years ago. Apparently, the US government categorizes everyone from South America as Hispanic. Viviane was puzzled by the label. She is not Spanish, her native language is Portuguese, her ancestors were from Russia, Poland and Portugal before they migrated to Brazil. Like all of us, her bloodline meanders through dozens of geographic areas around the globe and includes various “races” as the word is defined. Labeling people is stupid. But I digress.
This was our second stay with Viviane as we made her home in Luxembourg our home base for touring Europe in 2007.
She invited us to stay with her in Hamburg so either we were wonderful guests in 2007 or Viviane had forgotten how horrid we are to live with. Our home this week was a lovely two-bedroom filled with amazing art and classical music in the Altona district of Hamburg.
Hamburg is an interesting mix. Located on the Elbe river it is Germany’s major port city with a long history of shipping, banking and insurance related to world trade and ship building. Beautiful architecture with tree lined boulevards, huge mansions and parks interspersed with working class neighborhoods and old warehouse districts that are being converted to housing, restaurants, and bars. Much of the city was leveled by heavy bombing in WWII. It has been in a constant state of construction for years with a completely renewed waterfront district, HafenCity. Summer construction was in full swing with dozens of streets closed making car travel near impossible, luckily Hamburg has an excellent public transit system.
On our first day Viviane took us to the Sunday Fischmarkt, a huge public street market which backs up to an old converted warehouse with a rock band playing all morning. A fantastic energetic addition to a weekend market. A little dancing, a little shopping. We picked up crab, mussels and shrimp for Cioppino. In the afternoon we drove to the Blankenese neighborhood where we walked for miles among the beautiful homes and parks making our way down to the banks of the Elbe then climbing stairs back up the hill to the car. A great walk but with temperatures pushing 90 we had to stop for ice cream.
We thought we would slow things down on day two and took a river cruise on the Elbe. It was nice to get out on the water and explore the canals through HafenCity and the dry docks, but heat and little wind made for a rather hot and sticky ride. After the boat ride we headed over to the Elbphilharmonie, Concert hall. Seven years behind schedule and 900% over budget Hamburg opened its $860 million “Elphi” in 2016. It is a world class concert venue with iconic architecture that has transformed the city. We would have loved to attend a concert but tickets are nearly impossible to get. We limited ourselves to the free ride up the 262 ft escalator to the terrace/plaza with expansive views of the city. We ended the day with a walk through HafenCity with its re-purposed warehouse and factory buildings. We ended the walk cooling down at an ice cream shop.
Hamburg from the water
Later in the week we drove an hour outside Hamburg to the town of Luneburg, a beautifully restored city which grew to prominence in the 1400s as the salt capital of the region. Salt was big money at the time and the town boasts dozens of beautiful buildings all recently restored. We had lunch on the square and the heat of the day later forced us to take refuge in an ice cream shop.
The rest of the week was spent being locals in Hamburg. Drinks at sunset at a restaurant terrace overlooking the Elbe. A walk around the lake with a stop shore-side at AlsterCliff for drinks on the shore of the Außenalster (big lake in middle of town) followed by dinners on the patio at home. On our last day we toured the beautiful city hall and St. Michel church then ended with a nice Italian meal in the Altona district.
Hamburg was a nice stop in a working-class city. It reminded me a lot of Seattle or Portland but on a larger scale. A working waterfront, re-purposed industrial buildings, some worn and graffitied working class neighborhoods, it is a place where people live and work more than a city of tourists and tourism. It still has some classic old-world architecture but tends to lean more toward iron and brick of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Again, we were lucky to have our world ambassador Viviane to show us her city. There is simply no substitute for a local guide.