If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my time in Europe it’s that there’s no shortage of cities to dash off to with your mates for a cheeky weekend to sample the local nightlife. With most of the Western European metropolises being on the well-trodden path of revellers, you don’t have to look far to find a city bursting with places more than happy to smother you in liquor.
Hamburg isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as the heavyweights such as Amsterdam and Prague, but this city has been entertaining travellers from across Europe and the world for centuries. It’s status as a free trading port has meant it’s been frequented by every Tom, Dick, Jorge and Hans since the Hanseatic League was in town in the 14th century.
Julie Falconer had already covered 48 hours in Hamburg for us, so it gave me the opportunity to see what this Northern German city had to offer once the sun went down and the beers started flowing.
Pre-Game Preparation at the Generator
The most important thing before a bender is to establish a base. Drop your gear, find your bearings and maybe get some food into you. Generator Hostel is a top choice for reasonably priced beds in Hamburg, and their digs are properly trendy and located right next to the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).
To get the night off to a good start, get down to Generator’s massive bar at the back of the hostel for happy hour from 5pm to 7pm each night. €1,50 beers, €3,50 cocktails and €1,50 shots ensure pre-drinks aren’t expensive drinks.
They also put on themed nights/days and you’re bound to meet all walks of life. Aussies travelling, German college students smashing back pints of Erdinger and playing card games, or maybe middle aged couples enjoying a schnapps.
Stepping out in Sternschanze
Sternschanze is an area in Hamburg just north of St Pauli and near the big exhibition centre (Messe) and TV Tower (Fernsehturm) that was once a run down squatters paradise. Today it’s been redeveloped into a trendy neighbourhood with independent clothes shops, cafes and bars, all still retaining their ghetto, graffiti look. When it comes to bars, there are tons all up and down Schulterblatt and on Neuer Pferdemarkt.
Bedford Café is a cosy little place in the long strip of bars on Schulterblatt that greets you with a red curtain inside the entrance. The alfresco seating out the front and a smattering of tables inside are accompanied by a modest bar with a quick serving bartender. The walls are finished in a pale white hue, drowned in red light and the unfinished wooden tables are topped with red tulips and circled by black leather chairs.
The ceiling is adorned in chandeliers upon which wrought iron cherubs perch and the non-pretentious crowd hang out and chat, enjoying the ambience of the low lighting and mellow tunes in the background. This is a great relaxed place to kick off the night slowly or to wind it down after a big one.
Before I’d even arrived, a picture had been painted for me of Reeperbahn by other bloggers and fans on Facebook. Stories like “oh man you’re going to Hamburg? You’ve GOT to check out Reeperbahn, it’s proper mental” instilled in me the prospect of a pretty banging night. Others like ”oh don’t just stay in Reeperbahn, check out some bars in other areas as well” also intrigued me – how did it compare to the cool hipster scene of Sternschanze?
After the free walking tour run by Sandeman’s NewEurope tours, I discovered Hamburg was one of the European cities (along with the likes of Paris and Berlin) that they run a pub crawl in. Needless to say, I was in.
We kicked off the night at the aptly named 99 Cent Bar in Große Freiheit. As the name suggests, everything here is just 99 cents. Beers, wine, spirits, everything. A great place to smash back multiple drinks to get you well and truly on your way.
Speaking of Große Freiheit, here it is in all it’s glory.
It’s a long-ass thoroughfare starting at Beatles Platz lined with dodgy, cheap bars, strip joints and kebab shops. This street defines the sleaziness of Reeperbahn and why it’s the red light district of Hamburg. It’s heaps of fun traipsing up and down dodging touts trying to get you into their club and finding which bar you’ll next have a beer in.
Next up is Hans Alber Platz.
A side street off the main boulevard in Reeperbahn, it’s also lined with bars but these are a touch cooler. Gone are the flashing lights and neon of Große Freiheit; instead replaced with the signs of beer brewers, local students and no one trying to thrust semi naked Eastern European girls in your lap. Still just as much revelry at half the moral cost.
The Next Day
The next morning, you’re going to feel bloody terrible. The 99 cent bar will have ensured this. Nurse your hangover in the morning with Generator’s breakfast spread. For €4,50 you get your pick of bread rolls, cereal, meat, cheese, coffee machine, juice and fruit. Go on, drown yourself in that coffee.
I knew Hamburg had a bit of a reputation for putting on a good night, but I didn’t expect to wind up on Sunday a broken man, curled up on a couch in the hostel having been thoroughly dominated by Hamburg’s bar scene. Next time you and your mates are after somewhere to nick off to for a boozy weekend with a cheap place to sleep, forget Amsterdam or Prague. Get your arse to Hamburg and knock back 5 beers for me in the 99 Cent Bar.
Disclosure: my flights to Hamburg and accommodation were provided by Generator Hostel but I paid for all my own (loads of) beer and food. Opinions are as always, my own.