The first time I overnighted in Hamburg was some time in 2019. I had a fairly short notice thing for work, where I had to be in Hamburg the next day, and spend a couple days there. I logged into my travel booking app, found some relatively cheap lodging—cheaper than I actually needed, I make this mistake often—and set off only to discover that I had not booked a ho_t_el, but a ho_st_el. A hostel in the Reeperbahn. So began my relationship with Hamburg, a city I’ve rarely had the chance to explore and vibe with, although I’ve traveled there a bunch of times for work. After a week back in Germany and re-adjusting to the time zone, I decided to change that.
I’ve been meaning to visit my dearest friend, Em, at their place in Harburg for a while. They moved from Berlin a couple years ago and we don’t spend nearly enough time together lately, so I was excited to head out for five days or so and do some exploring of the area. The Ukrainian refugees I had taken in last year wanted to come do some hanging out in Berlin for the week, so it worked perfectly. They took the redeye bus up from the Stuttgart area and arrived on a Saturday morning. I welcomed them, caught up a bit, handed over my keys and set off to Germany’s second-largest city.
Hamburg is a city with a reputation for radicalism. Berlin is hardly the antifa capital of Germany. Those honors go to the port city in the north, where recent G20 riots galvanized the radical left against capitalism and the state. There’s a fantastic documentary, Hamburger Gitter, that covers the events by exploring the behaviors of the police. I admit, however, that as an American, I find this a little striking. If our police acted as described in the film, it would represent a massive reduction in the police violence. It’s refreshing to see this kind of resistance in a more civilized nation, one not perpetually on the brink. We’re so far past this point in America; we became inured to mass shootings and police brutality. Never let that happen, Hamburg.
Among the many things Em and I have in common is that we both play hockey, so on the Saturday that I arrived, we got a group together and headed over to Eisland, a sports facility in the north of Hamburg. They host an Eisdisco, similar to the roller-rink afternoons I spent growing up, with disco balls and club music. I’d never seen anything like it on an ice rink.
Entry and skate rentals were refreshingly cheap, but what we didn’t account for was the crowd. There were hundreds of people there! We waited an hour for skate rentals, but by the time we got there, they were out of all of our sizes. The staff were great, apparently they weren’t used to such a large crowd, and they refunded our entry fee. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere: the music was good, the lighting was good, they had a fog machine going. Honestly it was better than Berghain. It’s the coolest club in Germany, and not only because of the ice. Lesson learned: show up early and bring your own skates.
Years ago, a friend came through Charlottesville for a job interview, and we met up at a bar to catch up. She had recently been in Hamburg and was raving about the Fischhalle. This was long before I’d been to Germany or traveled to Europe, even; it was a lifetime ago, a year before Charlottesville got spicy. Her description left an impression, and I’ve been longing to visit ever since.
I was finally able to get there on this trip and found it rather lovely. It’s the kind of place I’ve missed, but only through faults of my own. I miss the open mic scene and the coffee-shop meeting place vibe. That exists in Charlottesville. Actually, there’s no shortage of it. It almost surely exists in Berlin, too, although I worry it’ll be a little harder to find. There are no reasons I can’t have those things in my life. I just have to make space for them.
I think that’s the lesson from this trip. I have to go to the things I want. They’re not missing. I’m missing.