Funky, offbeat, alternative: discover a new side to Hanseatic Hamburg

Funky, offbeat, alternative: discover a new side to Hanseatic Hamburg

The port, the Alster lake and St. Michael’s church. No visit to Hamburg is complete without these three iconic sights.  But Hamburg wouldn’t be Hamburg if there wasn’t a whole other world to discover beyond what’s listed in the guide books. The city on the River Elbe has an alternative but no less exciting scene to enjoy away from the beaten tourist track:  from arts and entertainment to shopping,  restaurants and cafés.  In secluded courtyards and unassuming side streets lies untold creative potential, alternative lifestyles and inspiration.

Anyone who embarks on a tour of discovery through the “happening”  districts – Schanzenviertel, Ottensen, St. Georg and Karolinenviertel – will soon realise that Hamburg more than lives up to its reputation as a city that never grows old. There is a real buzz about these areas,  for example at the Flohschanze, one of the finest antique and flea markets in Hamburg. Every Saturday,  people flock to its stalls to haggle,  hunt for bargains or simply browse at their leisure.  Not wanting to throw things away is a philosophy shared by the Lockengelöt store, whose owners use soldering irons and welding torches to conjure up one-off items from materials that are usually consigned to the rubbish:  discarded vacuum cleaners become floor lamps and VHS cases become key racks. A visit to this extraordinary shop is a must for those with eclectic tastes.

Individual and unconventional are words that also describe the up-and-coming talent driving Hamburg’s fashion scene.  The city’s trendiest districts are packed with studios and showrooms where gifted designers produce exclusive collections.  Numerous emerging labels are making a name for themselves on the international stage and turning heads with their fresh ideas and imaginative products. But second-hand stores are also in vogue. Hot Dogs is one of the best places in the city to find fabulous vintage items, whether it’s an original Adidas jacket from the 1980s or unworn classic sneakers from yesteryear.  The coolest parts of Hamburg offer everything the style-conscious heart could desire – true to the motto “anything goes”.

Once the alternative shopping opportunities have been exhausted, however, there are plenty of other places to indulge in retail therapy. From the grand boulevards of Mönckebergstrasse and Jungfernstieg to Germany’s largest shopping arcade,  Hamburg has it all,  combining style and tradition with that certain je ne sais quois.  The city’s Hanseatic heritage is also brought to the fore,  for example by the naval capmaker Lars Künzel.  He is the last practitioner of his trade in Hamburg,  and makes 18 different types of cap by hand using traditional methods.  Fashionistas should clear their schedule for Hamburg’s inaugural Shopping Days Festival, which takes place from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 November 2009. It is set to be an experience to remember,  with a varied programme of entertainment and mesmerising light installations.

After a day spent trawling the shops,  Hamburg’s trendsetters congregate in the Schanzenviertel district,  the ultimate insiders’  tip for a great night out. The many cafés and popular little bars around Susannenstrasse and Schulterblatt come alive as the night
progresses. The latest place to see and be seen is the Bullerei – the restaurant conceived by celebrity chef Tim Mälzer.  Nestling in the heart of the Schanzenviertel district,  it serves contemporary German cuisine within the historical cattle halls of the old Hamburg abattoir. With stomachs full and the night still young, people gravitate to neighbouring St. Pauli, home of the famous Reeperbahn: once notorious for its seedy strip joints, the former “street of sin” has long since shed its previous image to attract a wide range of clubs, bars and venues.

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But even the wildest nights have to end at some point. Sleeping off excesses is best done in one of the new boutique hotels –  yet another expression of the city’s bohemian diversity. Modern design, entertainment and an informal approach are the hallmarks of the 25hours Hotel Hamburg.  Rooms at this three-star establishment have a cool retro style and offer plenty of space as well as scope for fun.  The Superbude also offers a fresh take on accommodation as well as funky designs. It is especially popular with younger travellers who stay in single to four-bed rooms and enjoy the inclusive Xbox consoles and high-speed
internet – perfect for sending messages to their friends back home about their experiences of the Hamburg scene.

The “Shopping in Hamburg” package from Hamburg Tourismus GmbH starts at just €299.00 (approx.  £260.00)  per person.  It’s a great combination of retail therapy,  luxury accommodation and gourmet food. The price includes: 
•  2 nights incl. breakfast buffet in the 5-star Park Hyatt Hamburg hotel, 
•  1 shopping voucher worth €30.00 for the Alsterhaus department store, 
•  1 gourmet dinner in the hotel’s Apples Restaurant, use of the exclusive Club Olympus
Spa & Fitness centre and
•  1 Hamburg CARD (free public transport, discounted admission to attractions etc.)

PS: shopping in Hamburg is great at any time, but it’s even more exciting during the festive season. Browsing for gifts is so much fun when the streets are lit up by countless twinkling lights, and the aroma of roasted almonds and mulled wine wafts through the air. And once the high-street shopping is done, there are Christmas markets of all sizes to discover with an enchanting selection of stalls.  The stress and bustle of the run-up to Christmas are soon forgotten when baked apples, cinnamon stars and glühwein are on offer.