Last weekend turned out to be a confluence of events which led to it being exhausting:
- I had the mother of all colds. Contracted, I’m pretty sure, on the plane home a couple of weekends ago.
- A friend from Uni, now resident in München, picked that weekend to visit me in Hamburg.
- The leaders of twenty of the most powerful nations on Earth descended on the city for the G20 summit.
Showing my mate around
The G20 was a great excuse, though, to head away from the city centre and explore the outer areas of Hamburg. Therefore, we headed to Blankenese to visit the Treppenviertel – Stairs Quarter.
The area has more of the feel of a town on a Greek island than the banks of the Elbe! Luckily, the street names were denoted by the same signs as everywhere else in the city, so the illusion didn’t last… no matter how much the sunburn tried to convince us we were in more southern climes.
After the Treppenviertel, we headed to Teufelsbrück to jump on the ferry to the centre. This is a typical tourist trick in Hamburg: take the commuter ferry along the river, and see all the same sights as you would on a Großhafenrundfahrt – Big harbour tour – for a fraction of the cost.
Unfortunately, we ran into problems pretty early on. Protests were preventing the ferry from going all the way to Landungsbrücken (the main ferry terminal by Hafencity), so we had to get off at Altona-Fischmarkt. This wasn’t so much of an issue, but we were greeted by the sight of protesters and water-cannons. I snapped a photo from the end of the road, after which we turned about-face in search of a much needed sit-down and beer (the Treppenviertel exploration involved a lot of cardio, which had taken its toll on my energy reserves).
On our exploration for beers, we passed various defences that had been erected in front of businesses on the road.
Now, the trip home was somewhat eventful… almost too eventful.
We stumbled into the area of Sternschanze to find food. By staggering coincidence, this was one of the hotter areas of the protests (no pun intended!). For the most part, it was relatively calm. My friend and I were able to sit and eat pizza at a rather nice restaurant and watch the to-ing and fro-ing of the protesters.
As the evening wore on, however, the demonstrators slowly began giving way to rather obvious rioters. More people appeared with their faces covered. Placards began to be replaced with projectiles.
The staff at the restaurant started to pack up quickly, and asked us to pay up immediately. There was no panic, just a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before. The mood had soured somewhat.
I snapped the above photo and posted it to Instagram as we were leaving. This led to the most ridiculous chain of events of the evening which culminated in me giving the following interview live on CTV News at the “top-of-the-hour” – that is, I was the lead story on the 6 o’clock news for a nationwide channel… in Canada!
That was the end of a particularly odd day…
Trying to escape the madness
Since my friend had not been to Hamburg before, we had to pay a visit to Miniaturwunderland – Miniature Wonderland – which is the largest model railway in the world. Obviously, both being engineers, it was a massive geek-out session. To get there, however, we had to negotiate (you guessed it) another protest…
Luckily, we made it to Miniaturwunderland with no difficulty and were greeted by… another protest. This time in miniature!
German sense of humour was on full display in these speech-bubbles. Indeed, it’s on display across all of Miniaturwunderland – that’s one of the joys of the place. If you’re ever in town, I would highly recommend!
A relaxing evening was required after the excitement of the previous evening, so we went to a restaurant with a great view over the Binnenalster, ALEX Hamburg. The food there is pretty decent, though the beer leaves a little to be desired. At the end of the day, though, you are mostly paying for the spectacular views across the Binnenalster.
Surveying the Damage
In spite of my relatively low-key assessment of the state of the streets in Hamburg during my interview with CTV, the cold light of day revealed that my friend and I had left at exactly the right time.
Our final outing into the city was to Sternschanze to see what the lay of the land was.
An initiative started by Hamburg residents to clean up the city was in full swing by the time we arrived. Hamburg räumt auf – Hamburg tidies up – was the name, and cleaning was the game. The city really pulled together to try and make a speedy recovery from the wanton destruction carried out by mindless rioters.
The branch of Hamburger Sparkasse (a popular bank) was probably the best example of the change in atmosphere. On one side a broken barrier, where rioters had tried to enter the branch, but around the corner there was a group of people working to scrub off the graffiti.
Time for Bed!
All in all, an exhausting weekend. My cold is still hanging around, but all that walking around and being a celebrity on CTV certainly helped to shift the worst of it.
I am definitely looking forward to a riot-free few weekends though… as, I imagine, is the rest of Hamburg!
It’s a real shame that Hamburg was thrust onto the global stage for all the wrong reasons last weekend. It really is a gloriously beautiful, exciting, and, above all, safe city to visit and to live in.
So, wherever you live, and whoever you are, if you wish to visit this great city; please do not be put off by the G20 rioting. This really is a rare occurrence.
My friend had never visited the city before and, even though there was a heavier police presence than normal… and there were more protesters than normal… and there were more live telephone interviews with foreign news channels than normal, he came away with a very positive view of the city. One which left him feeling he would like to visit again, though perhaps not at the next G20!