Welcome to my place . . . Hamburg
‘The harbour never sleeps, it is the pulse of the city,’ says Bernie Duffy who has lived there since 2008
Bernie Duffy with his partner, Shona, and daughter, Ooma, on board the LÉ WB Yeats during its visit to Hamburg this summer
Dublin-born Bernie Duffy left Ireland after completing his Leaving Cert more than 27 years ago and has lived in several countries since, settling finally in Germany’s second-largest city in 2008.
Where is the first place you bring people when they visit Hamburg?
If I am collecting someone from the airport, I rush them straight on to the S1 train to Landungsbrücken and from there change on to the 62 ferry to Övelgönne, the closest stop to my home.
The short downriver journey allows the first-time visitor an immediate sense of the place. Sandwiched between the cranes, steeples and office buildings, massive container and cruise ships ply the water alongside all types of smaller craft. I’ve taken the journey thousands of times and never tire of it. The harbour never sleeps, it is the pulse of the city.
Hamburg is a tremendously underrated city, in part because the locals are far too modest to talk it up. This suits me fine, however, as there are no throngs of guided tours to contend with.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost (much) money, are . . .
The best way to see the city is on two wheels. In fact, its bike-friendly attitude is a big reason I moved here. Everywhere can be reached safely and conveniently by bike.The red citybikes can be found everywhere and easily rented out using an app. Take a ride down the river towards the beaches around Blankenese.
Bring a picnic and a bottle of sekt and make a day of it – swim if you’re brave enough. Grab a beer, sit back and enjoy the views. Speaking of beer and water, beach bars are all the rage in Hamburg and are dotted throughout.
It’s impossible to consider a trip to Hamburg without taking in St Pauli and the Reeperbahn. The city’s “most sinful mile” is a sleazy parade of strip-clubs, brothels, casinos and tourist bars. It has to be seen, but the more interesting nightlife lies in the dark side-streets where there are hundreds of late-night bars to choose from. It’s all relatively safe and laid back and I would suggest just walking around.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a sense of Hamburg?
There are two things to eat if you come to Hamburg: fischbrötchen and labskaus. The former, pickled fish in a bread roll, can be found at the Fischmarkt, best in the early hours of a Sunday morning when thousands descend on the main auction hall to continue drinking to terrible live “schlager” music. It’s an experience. Labskaus is an old traditional corned-beef and beetroot mash with fried eggs and herring rolls which was an old sailor’s dish. Some old-time restaurants still serve it, although it is out of fashion.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Hamburg’s place in history?
Hamburg has been devastated by fires and bombs so many times that hardly one original brick sits atop another. While exploring the city might offer up hints to its past here and there, this one exhibition ties it all together neatly. The development of the harbour, its shipbuilding, trade, wars, Hanseatic alliances and migration, is the history of the city at its most comprehensive. Worth a day in itself, a half-day at least.
What should visitors save room for in their suitcase after a visit to Hamburg?
Bring home some exotic tipples - a bottle of rotspon (Hamburg cellar-aged bordeaux wine) or Helbing kümmel (caraway seed schnapps).
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