Happy birthday, Hamburg harbor!

My train to Hamburg was packed. Not just in the sense of “it sucks that you can’t find a seat for this six-hour, early-morning journey,” but in the sense of “no one can get to the bathrooms and also we’re not sure we can take on any more passengers, because the standing room is all taken.” We can partially blame this on the Deutsche Bahn strikes (fewer trains than usual were running), but apparently it’s mostly because I was heading to Hamburg just in time for one of their biggest events of the year: the Hafengeburtstag. That’s literally the “harbor birthday,” and ships from all over the world come to parade, race, and mingle. Of course, there’s also lots of fireworks and street food. (I ate plenty of herring—both raw and pickled—and Schmalzkuchen—fried balls of dough with powdered sugar.) So I threw most of my other plans for the weekend away and helped Hamburg celebrate its harbor’s birthday in style!

The other main tourist attraction I managed to get to was Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway. It’s impressive for its sheer size, and it also does a good job of conveying the overall differences in terrain and architecture between the represented regions (Switzerland, Austria, Hamburg, the fictional German town of Knuffingen, Bavaria, Middle Germany, America, and Scandanavia). It has an airport, concert halls, soccer stadiums, a space shuttle, UFOs, ships, and lots and lots of trains. There are also some fun Easter eggs in the tiny figures—everything from an elephant pulling a steamroller to a man bungee jumping from construction equipment.

I also took pictures, of course. Especially of America. I was unreasonably amused by the portrayal of America (well, of Florida, Vegas, and some canyons).

I did manage to glimpse a few other things in Hamburg: the ornate Rathaus, the lovely (and free) botanical gardens, and the infamous Reeperbahn. The latter didn’t impress me much. I think I went too early in the evening, so it was just an odd mish-mash of theaters, strip clubs, and sex toy shops. There were no shady dealings going on around me. That said, it was worth the walk for the restaurant my host Kathryn suggested: Pauli Pizza. It’s just a hole in the wall, but the pizza was both delicious and inexpensive.

I didn’t fall in love with Hamburg (sorry, Kathryn), but I did enjoy myself there. It was especially nice to stay and catch up with (and get the expert guidance of) a Fulbrighter I already knew. Also, herring. All the herring. We should have more of it in Munich and the U.S. and everywhere else I go. Fortunately, my next stop is Scandinavia—plenty of fish to be eaten there!