Monday September 18 was our 2-year wedding anniversary, and though we intended to have a fun time celebrating, we had no idea just how full a day we would end up with. We managed to awake at a decent hour, and so we joined Tom for his pre-work breakfast at a local Portuguese breakfast place, which had excellent coffees and cappuccinos, as well as a tasty grilled chorizo breakfast sandwich. We met some more of his friends, two Brits, John and "British" Tim, as well as Tim's dog Einstein. Dogs are omnipresent in Hamburg, all of them cute and virtually all of them exquisitely behaved.
After our leisurely breakfast, we then embarked on our first true "solo" traveling adventure, though Tom had nicely listed what S-Bahn stops we needed, as well as some recommended sites. So we took the S-1 train to Jungfernsteig, in the downtown area, and set off through the neverending construction (Hamburg is currently undergoing FDR-esque rebuilding with similar economic ambitions). Hamburg is definitely an old European city, and yet it is also more modern than most due to the extensive bombings it received by Allied troops during World War II. We wandered to one of the city's main thoroughfares, which proved to be quite beneficial as we then quickly found a very informative map of the general downtown area, one of many that guided us throughout the day. So our first stop was the Rathaus, the German Senate building, which is simply massive, taking up several city blocks, including a massive courtyard with a fountain. We decided not to take a tour, mostly because the only one departing was comprised of elderly German couples, but also because we wanted to some more city exploration. Our next stop was Nikolai'skirche, or the Church of St. Nicholas, which is no longer a church but rather a monument to peace. The entire building was bombed out during WWII, save the spire, once the tallest building on the Hamburg skyline. Just last year, from funds raised by a rescue group, a glass elevator was built so that people could travel 75 meters up to soak up the city. After some debating on whether it would be worth the 6 euros or not, we decided to check out the view, which was indeed worth the money, as we got to see the entire city while comparing it to black and white photos taken just after the war ended. A bit of a sobering experience, but a good history lesson as well as a unique opportunity to see all of Hamburg at once. Next up, after an enjoyable yet lengthy walk across most of the city's center, was another church, St. Michael's. Definitely a stark contrast to St. Nicholas's, St. Michael's is still in use, so we got to relax for a while in the main chapel and appreciate the artistic wonder that surrounded us. After stopping for lunch, at one of many different sandwich shops that were around, we then headed to the Kunsthalle, the art museum that is home to many pieces of modern art. However, given that it is undergoing massive renovations, the museum had already closed for the day 30 minutes before we arrived. The hilarious part is that it took us a while to figure this out, because we were able to sneak in a side entrance when some workers came out (which we thought was the main entrance), and then wander around trying various doors for about 10 minutes before we were politely informed by security that we needed to leave. We still had some time before Tom would be done at work, so after some more casual city walking, we ended up at one more church, St. Jacobi, which apparently does not belong to St. Jacob, but rather St. James... the joys of translation! St. James' was definitely a cool church though, with a fully renovated organ from the 17th century that has about 4000 pipes, as well as a bunch of well-preserved paintings, plus an altar from the 15th century that was being restored by a painter while we there, so that was a pretty rare experience to watch priceless art being touched up right in front of us!
After that we got a hold of Tom, after a bit of fun with the public phones not being cooperative, and after enjoying a beer in a local park, we met Tom at the train station. We decided to go out for the evening, so once again we started out at the Reh Bar (well, it is just down the street), with Tom's friend Matt meeting us in short order, and after some anniversary shots we headed to the Kir Bar for its Monday Gothic Night. Gothic Night in Europe is definitely loosely interpreted, as they played mostly dance-rock, with an emphasis on the 80s, though they did occasionally play some killer electronic songs. But we had a great time dancing for hours (we ended up being out until past 3 a.m.), and Tom truly deserves some sort of award for being a hardcore host, since the whole time we've been here his sleep has been either cut short by his having to be at work, or interrupted when work emergencies occur (he's on call this week for his lab, so when something breaks down or isn't working right, he has the cell phone that rings, and with it the problem that must be dealt with). We honestly had no idea that Hamburg was such a late-night party town, we'd just picked it because we wanted to see Tom, and figured it would be a good introduction to Europe before we headed to Amsterdam.
Since we were up so late, we slept in quite a bit, though Tuesday ended up being a gloomy rainy day (apparently the norm in Hamburg, but the first non-sunny day we've experienced), so we stuck around Tom's place in the Altona neighborhood, mailed some postcards, checked out the local Mercado, ate some great Lamb Donner sandwiches for lunch, and then spent a while reading at a local pub called the Labyrinth. The nice part of European pub life is that you can relax for as long as you'd like, there's no pressure to leave or to purchase more food or drinks - quite the change of pace from the American dining experience. For dinner we ate some amazing Indian food, at a restaurant called Tandoori, where we essentially had the place to ourselves for most of our meal. The food was quite authentic, inexpensive, not to mention filling. You may have noticed that we have yet to eat any actual German food, but beyond shops selling wieners of various types, not much is really available. Tom explained this as a sort of culinary Darwinism: frankly, who wants to eat German food when so many other delicious international offerings are available? Of course, the fact that Hamburg is a University and port town, and a very internationally diverse one at that, probably also plays a role, but we too prefer pasta, falafel, curries, fresh seafood, and other global delicacies to fancily-prepared hotdogs, potatoes, and green beans.
So now we're again up a bit later than intended, but at least you're well-informed, and then again, we are on semi-permanent vacation, so it's not like we've got a particle accelerator to fix in the morning like poor Tom does!