A weekend (and a mini honeymoon) in Hamburg
I’ve got a confession to make.
Chris and I finally tied the knot in April and held the reception in August this year. I thought I’ll just mention it in passing just because someday, I intend to write about our wedding in Germany. But not today.
due to large wedding expenses (it was already a backpacker budget!) and preparation, we couldn’t travel as often as we did the years before. We didn’t take our usual 2-week summer vacation like most Germans would. And the traveller in me withered up and almost died. What, no travelling? How could you do this to me?!
So when it was finally over and done with (with only thank you cards to send out now), we heaved a sigh of relief. While all I wanted to do is to crawl onto the couch and watch Netflix for a 100 days straight, there was a gift of travel waiting for us.
As a cool wedding gift, our lovely friends had presented us (the gift-presentation ceremony came with a flash mob!) a pair of tickets to Der König Der Löwen musical (Disney’s Lion King in German) in Hamburg, plus a 3D2N stay at Holiday Inn with a harbour view from our windows!
It was beyond perfect. Just what we needed after all that wedding toil. Two weeks ago, we went.
From Home to Hamburg via the ICE (Intercity-Express train)
The ICE is the fastest and most comfortable way to travel on the Deutsche-Bahn network, but just like every other DB trains, tickets are usually very expensive. That’s why we normally find ourselves driving everywhere instead of training it.
This time round, Chris found some affordable tickets (€107 Euros for two! YAY!) for our 6-hour journey, a few months in advance. We rejoiced. Chris is always happy when he doesn’t have to drive. Instead he could rest up and enjoy the journey.
A day before departure, we realised we jumped for joy too soon. Our train route was undergoing some construction work and we were rerouted to Fulda instead of Göttingen. There was not much delay to the original itinerary but because our train tickets were of the Sparpreis category (promo), we couldn’t just jump on any trains that we fancy. If our ticket stated that we had to take ICE 461 from Gottingen at 9.45 am, then we had to take exactly that. However, this construction was through no fault of ours and surely DB couldn’t fine us for that?
To be sure, we asked the sour-looking conductor on the first stretch (we have a few transits) if we could switch our 2nd train ride to another but she turned out not to be very helpful. All she said was the trains for that route weren’t running. There was not much we could do since our tickets are of the Sparpreis sort. Yes, thank you, Ma’am. You’ve been so very helpful.
One option was to just risk it and hop on the other train. Consequences of doing so was, if the train conductor was just as unfriendly and unhelpful as the first one, then we could be asked to pay hundreds of Euros for violating the Sparpreis policy. Or we might be kicked off the train.
The other option was to use the 7-minute transit time in Erfurt to enquire about our tickets again at the Ticketing Office. If there were a queue in the Ticketing Office, then we would have missed our connecting train. Thankfully, the line moved quickly and the lady at the office renewed our tickets with a valid route to Hamburg.
Right after she clipped a few extra papers to our tickets, we fled to the platform and jumped on our connecting express train.
It has been a while since we embarked on a long-distance train journey and I’d almost forgotten how pleasant it was. We didn’t have to worry about traffic, annoying drivers, toilet stops or parking spots. That weekend was particularly cold for November. With temperatures hovering in the minuses, most of the countryside that the train went past were decked in pristine snow. God, it was beautiful. The train hummed and chugged away while I buried my head in my book.
When the train pulled up at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (central train station), our excitement heightened. Geez, I don’t remember when was the last time we were so excited! There were food shops, juice bars, cafes, restaurants, kiosks and pharmacies everywhere! There were thousands of people dragging their suitcases around; each with intention to be somewhere as soon as possible.
Despite the fact that I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve forgotten how it’s like to live in a big city. Hermsdorf is the epitome of a village in the middle of nowhere. Having lived so isolated for so long, the chaos of a city and choices, choices, choices everywhere can be somewhat a candy land for me.
Eat, eat, eat in Hamburg
Most people go to Hamburg sightsee. They visit what Hamburg’s famous for–its modern and historical port area, its Warehouse district, its Town Hall, its Elbe Philharmonie, its Red Light District. Couples go on romantic strolls along the Elbe, families do cruises, shopaholics find bargains on the long stretch of Spitalerstrasse and hipsters hit the Schanze district for a good cuppa.
We did do some of the sights for sure. Our friends, Harry and Kristin, acted as our guides for a day and took us along the Landungsbrücken, the old Elbe tunnel, city center, Hafencity and the huge Altonaer Fischmarkt (Fish market). They showed us the newly finished Elbe Philharmonic Hall and let us admire its architecture. Technically, within such a brief period, we’d done our parts as tourists.
But our main objective in Hamburg was merely to unwind and indulge (and to catch the musical!). We didn’t want to stress ourselves out with packing too many highlights into our schedule. So we told ourselves, apart from what Harry and Kristin had planned for us, we would just take it easy.
Our idea of indulgence is eating well. Being born a Malaysian, I couldn’t just turn off my hankering for Asian flavours. In Hermsdorf and nearby, we don’t have much choices for Asian food. Most restaurants are labelled “Asian” because they serve everything–from fried noodles, spring rolls, sweet and sour pork to Döner kebabs. Because of that, Chris and I have missed eating proper Japanese, Thai or Malaysian cuisine. Apart from whatever I make at home, we rarely have authentic foods to satiate our cravings.
In Hamburg, thankfully, the city offers up lots of choices. As it’s a port city and close to the sea, it’s no wonder why seafood is a popular choice amongst diners.
As for us, we picked sushi! After doing some research, we settled on a chic restaurant called Ono by Steffen Henssler in the Eppendorf quarter.
Steffen Henssler, the founder of the restaurant, is a German celebrity chef, but could he do sushi? We reserved a table to find out.
Dinner 1: Sushi at Ono by Steffen Henssler
The atmosphere in the restaurant bordered between romantic and sophisticated. The hostess and waitresses were attentive and friendly, without being judgmental. We ordered a medium sushi-sashimi platter and additional rolls and warm Sake to complement our meals.
The first thing that hit me when the platter came were its vibrant colours. Then, it was the taste.
Oh, the sushi was just divine. Every bite was a poem (like how the Germans would say it, ein Gedicht).
The fresh salmon and tuna pieces melted in my mouth, alongside with moist rice and juicy avocado. The meal was pricey but it was worth every penny. Henssler must have been a Japanese in his past life!
That night, we capped it off with a Nutella crepe at the Hamburger Dom. We somehow wandered into the carnival unplanned. The connecting bus stop was right in front of it. In freezing temperatures, wafts of sausages, pastries and roasted peanuts could be alluring. The giddy bright lights blinked and pop music blasted into the air. We just had to check it out. As a result, we thought a mouth-watering Nutella crepe is a pretty apt way to finish the night off.
Dinner 2: Man Wah Restaurant
As for our next dinner, I suggested Dim Sum. Chris nodded eagerly. He’d clearly missed our evening dim sum rituals in Singapore and Penang.
“Siu mai, siu mai, siu mai!” he chanted.
Google suggested we go to the best “Asian” Restaurant in Hamburg which is Man Wah. Digging further, I discovered that the owners are Malaysian and they serve dim sum from morning till 3 am! Co-incidentally a fellow Malaysian Instagrammer also pointed me towards the same direction. Man Wah it was then!
Man Wah is located near Reeperbahn, the gateway to St. Pauli’s night life and red-light district. Here, we didn’t reserve a seat. When we arrived, we were told that the place was chockers and we would be sharing a table with another couple.
Quickly, a middle-aged Asian waitress wiped down the side of our table and placed the menus on top of it. We looked around to see all sorts of people dining there. Students, residents, locals, tourists; the crowd was of both Asians and Caucasians. All waiters and waitresses were brisk, quick of their feet but very approachable at the same time. A typical portrait of an Asian dining set-up. The constant activity reminded me so much of a crowded mamak stall in Kuala Lumpur.
Before our waitress got to us, she served two other tables with Asian patrons. To one table, she spoke Cantonese, and to another, she spoke Mandarin. When she finally got to taking our order, I knew she was Malaysian.
“Are you from China?” she asked me in Mandarin.
“Actually, I’m from Malaysia. From KL.”
“Aiyah, me too, me too! From Ipoh! I tell you hoh, the boss is also from KL,” she gushed. “Later I introduce you to him, okay?”
That settled it. We placed our extensive dim sum order and didn’t realize how much we ordered until all the steaming containers were stacked on our table. The German couple sharing our table tried not to look envious. We felt a little awkward because our food were taking up so much space on the table, to the point where it was spilling onto their side of the table.
In order to make more space, we spoke little and stuffed our faces as quickly as possible. All intentions about savouring our food went out of the window. It wasn’t the best dim sum in the world but it was good enough for us. Everything was well-cooked, tender and tasty.
As we worked our way through everything, we realised that no way on earth could we finish everything, especially the big plate of fried Carrot Cake with Belachan. Uff.
“Auntie, sorry, can we tapau this?”
The waitress was only too happy to oblige. She understood us well. No good food should go to waste. After we paid our bill, we shook hands with the Malaysian owner. As usual, the reception from one Malaysian to another was always warm.
“Come back next time ah!” he said.
That night, it was cold like hell but we didn’t feel it. Our stomachs were stuffed to the brim and whatever we’d eaten were working hard to keep us warm.
We waddled towards Reeperbahn station and called it a day. If you’re a Malaysian visiting Hamburg and are looking for food closer to home, I’d definitely recommend Man Wah.
Goodbye Hamburg and thank you for all the sushi and dim sum!
I’ve visited a few German cities but I’d never really felt a sense of belonging to any of them. They were usually too crowded, too much of a mess or too hostile. Strangely, Hamburg differed from the rest. Hamburg may be a huge city but still offered a town-like feeling. Getting around is also less intimidating than the others. It’s breathtakingly pretty (even in winter), it’s big enough to offer a variety of activities on the weekend, but small enough for you not to get lost. The city’s maritime vibe also appealed to the ex-sailor girl in me.
If you’re visiting Germany and would like to know where to go, I’d say you can’t go wrong with Hamburg.
Dear Hamburg, I’ll be back!
P.S. How was the Der König Der Löwen musical, you ask? Stay tune to my next blog post to find out!
P.P.S. Please don’t judge me for choosing Asian food to eat in Hamburg instead of German. I eat German everyday, my mother-in-law makes traditional German meals on Sundays, and so, would it be so bad to travel to Hamburg just for its sushi and dim sum?
Have you been to Hamburg? If you have, how was it?