The Ups and Downs of Hamburg

By Ernie Witham   |   November 15, 2018

“Pretty sure I’m never going to get there, but if I do, I think this is what heaven will be like.” I looked over at my wife. She was shading her eyes and squinting. “Amen,” she said.

We woke to streaming sun in our Hamburg, Germany, exchange home. Because it was mid-July and we were so far north, the sun barely set by 10 pm and it was up again by 4 am. Plus, everything in the loft bedroom was painted bright white. The loft also had large windows, which we had left open because it was so warm. The white curtains were billowing like clouds.

“Do I look angelic?”

“You’re wearing a brown moose T-shirt, green underwear, and one white sock.”

I took the sock off. “How about now?”

When we first arrived the previous afternoon, we lugged our suitcases up two flights of stairs, the last set quite narrow and steep so that I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the loft. Ironically, there was a Stairmaster in the loft. I used it to hang my camera case on. 

Once we had found our sunglasses and were no longer blinking, we walked to the bus stop and took the number 5 bus to meet Sabina, our personal greeter. Turns out, there is a free Global Greeter Network available in cities throughout the world. You contact them with a date and time, and they assign someone to you. We met at the Isemarkt – the longest farmers market in Germany, which is completely covered by overhead train tracks. “How old?” I asked.

“The Isemarkt?”

“No, the legs holding up the railroad tracks.”

After multiple free samples, we climbed some metal stairs and took the train over the Isemarkt to the Rathaus, which has nothing to do with rodents, I found, but is a postcard-perfect city hall located in a large plaza. I took 50 or so photos.

“Next, I want to show you the paternoster,” Sabina said.

“That’s Latin for ‘our father,’” Pat said.

“Correct!” (Pat knows a lot. She was in the Latin Club in high school; I barely passed English.) “It was called that because it is in the form of a loop, like rosary beads.”

Turns out, a paternoster is an open elevator that does not stop. You just time your leap and jump on. “Incoming! Oomph.” At the top, the elevator moves to the right and heads back down, and you step off. “Whoa.” Stumble, stumble, stumble. 

Sabina then took us to the Church of St. Nicholas, which looked like a bomb had hit it.

“It was bombed during World War Two,” Pat said. (She’s also a history major.) “All that’s left is the crypt and the hollowed-out tower. It’s now a memorial and landmark.”

“Correct again,” said Sabina. “The tower, which was erected in 1517, burned down in 1589. The tower built to replace it collapsed in 1644. Now, we have this one. Let’s take the elevator to the top.”

I kept wondering if I would be part of the next disaster, but I went up and it did offer great views of Hamburg. 

Next, we saw the oldest houses in Hamburg, and Sabina told us the story about the bathroom that hung over the river. “People used it and it just emptied into the river. However, the huge building also housed a brewery that used water from the river for its beer. So, they made a rule that no one could use the bathrooms on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they scooped water for the bier. Other days, okay.” 

It was “almost” enough to make me stop drinking.

Finally, we arrived at the harbor area and Sabina took us to a round building with (yet more) elevators that lowered us to a tunnel that you could walk, bike, or drive through under the Elbe River. “It was built in 1903, so that wagons and workers could get from one side to the other.” I kept an eye out for drips but didn’t see any. 

“Lunch?” I suggested afterward. I ordered a Hamburg hamburger. 

Sabina got fish with bones in it and a Radler beer. “It’s mixed with Sprite. Quite refreshing!”

Elevators with no doors. Churches with no church. And soda-beer. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.


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