A Hanseatic Haven
Lured by the call of the newly opened Elbphilharmonie concert hall, I decided to make my way to the Northern German metropolis of Hamburg to see for myself what all the fuss is about. With its striking architecture resembling a giant crystal, hoisted sail, or perhaps ocean waves, Elphi – as it has been affectionately nicknamed – is the city’s latest landmark. And what a stunner it is. It can be seen from far and wide, and as I approach the structure, I notice that I am not the only one gawking at it in awe.
This being one of the most talked about concert halls in the world – with extraordinary acoustics to match – tickets are notoriously hard to come by. Even guided tours book up well in advance, let alone actual performances. As luck would have it, I happened to stay at the Westin, which is part of the complex, and the resourceful concierge managed to find me a an envy-inducing last-minute ticket which he handed to me ten minutes before Steve Reich himself introduced “Music for 18 Musicians.” A magical experience.
The on-site hotel is truly a Westin at heart, and while more generic than I like my digs, it has one mighty ace up its sleeve: the view. You wake up to Hamburg at your feet. Nowhere else in the city can you enjoy a morning coffee in bed and gaze across the UNESCO-listed Speicherstadt and re-developed Hafencity; count the church spires that pierce the cityscape, and the boats cruising the Elbe river below. Hamburg is an architecture buff’s dream and observing how the different styles work together through the uniquely shaped, self-cleaning floor to ceiling windows (that reportedly cost €72,000 a piece!) is pretty inspiring.
Hamburg has plenty on offer to keep you busy for a few days, particularly once you factor in some of the nearby towns and countryside. During my stay I embarked on a side trip to nearby Bremen and Bremerhaven, which are intriguing in their own ways. Along Germany’s Fairy Tale Road, Bremen is where the Brothers Grimm set their “Bremen Town Musicians”. There’s a statue by the UNESCO-listed town hall (one of the prettiest in all of Germany) depicting the 4 animals from the story. According to legend you can make a wish if you hold on to the donkey’s front legs with both hands and close your eyes. Speaking of wishes, as I came to learn at the award-winning Auswandererhaus (Emigration Museum) in Bremerhaven, plenty of those would have been made in this very spot which saw millions of emigrants depart for the new world – including my husband’s family whom I was able to trace at the museum’s research facility.
Home to a major European port, connected by efficient rail links (train only takes 1.5 hours to Berlin and 5 hours to Copenhagen) and with a convenient local airport, Germany’s second largest city makes for a magnificent gateway to the country’s North and beyond.
Claudia is as resourceful and knowledgeable a planner as we’ve ever met – give her a shout to start talking about the many directions a trip to her home country can take.