Day 5: Hamburg

No stats today because it is my first rest day.  The last four days have been long and I really felt I needed some time not sitting on the bike.

My hotel has a laundrette!  One of the sad things about long distance cycling is that you get irrationally excited about laundrettes and heated towel rails.  A laundrette and a rest day means that you’re not washing filthy cycle kit when you get into your room in the evening and the heated towel rail means you’re not pulling on damp and semi-clean cycle kit in the morning.

Finding the laundrette involved some basement detective work but finally, nestled in a dark corner I spied a washing machine and a tumble drier…joy!  I put everything except what I was wearing — I had future plans for the clothes I was wearing — and headed out into the wet streets of Hamburg at 7:30am looking for something to do while my cycle gear washed and tumbled for a couple of hours.

Grim and forbidding

St Nicholas’s Church was the first stop.  This used to be the tallest building in the world from 1874 to 1876 and was designed by Gilbert Scott (he of St Pancras Railway Station and the University of Glasgow main building fame amongst others).  Hamburg was pretty much destroyed during WW2 and the bulk of the church was destroyed too given its proximity to the militarily important docks.  However, the tower survived and remains as a monument and memorial.  

The church is right next to Speicherstadt which is part of the dock area which has been added to the HafenCity regeneration zone near the docks.  There’s a modern (and eye-catching) concert hall and scores of beautiful neo-Gothic red brick warehouses many of which have been sympathetically restored and rebuilt.  Even in the rain — yes, it was still raining — it was a stunning area to walk around.  

Wouldn’t mind living here

Since I had another hour to wait for my washing, I thought I would drop in at the Miniature Wunderland billed as “Germany’s Number 1 tourist attraction” — which is a bit of a stretch given (say) The Brandenburg Gate I thought.  However, I could wander around for 30 minutes, take some pictures of bad miniature models and be able to write some amusing things in this blog about it.

Surprisingly, it was rammed at 8am on a wet Monday morning.  I got a ticket which gave me entry “maybe 30 minutes…maybe an hour”.  Kids and adults in the queue were almost vibrating with the excitement of as they got closer to getting into Miniature Wonderland.  One woman had an attack of the vapours and had to be brought a chair.  I maintained my aloof world traveller cool.  How good could this be eh?

Well…when I finally got in, the answer was it was absolutely amazing.  Spread over two floors of one of the old factory warehouses the total floor area is a bit more than a full sized football pitch.  There are nine or ten “zones” which have been constructed over the last 20 year.  There are 16km(!!)  of model railway tracks, more than 1,000 trains, nearly quarter of a million little figures, an airport with planes which take off. Every 15 minutes, “night” falls and everything is lit from within.  There’s Hamburg, Switzerland, Italy, Las Vegas (complete with tiny little prostitutes on The Strip), Monaco, and more.  

Here’s some videos and pictures which might give a small impression of what it was like.
Scale is hard to get

Switzerland:  I’ve been over that bridge!

Controlling this is a “NASA control room” operation.

This is just a tiny part of the world’s biggest train set.

Las Vegas at night

Seemingly, the speed, angle of attack and takeoff run is all scale correct.

I know it’s not very cool but I loved it.  It’s easy to get excited about the trains and the moving cars and aircraft — well if you’re me that is — but then you notice some of the details.  Two tiny little figures arguing about the price of oranges outside a shop.  A road with two tiny cars that have hit each other and the little figures are arguing with a little policeman.  Each one of the quarter of a million tiny little figures tells a tiny little story.

It might be a bit of a stretch to say “go to Hamburg to see this” — but not much — however, if you are in Hamburg and you don’t go to see it, you’re an idiot ‘cos it’s great.  You’ll have to queue (I had to queue at 8am on a wet Monday morning) but you won’t be disappointed.

After that, I wanted to visit Harry’s Harbour Bazaar which is a miniature overstuffed museum of wooden dolls, PNG figurines, shrunken heads and other weird exotica. It’s based in a floating crane ship in the Harbour City and, most notably, was the inspiration for Tom Waits’ song Lucky Day.  It gets a great write up on “alternative tourist” websites but unfortunately, despite the door being open and the curators being there, in a strange inversion of normal German practice, it’s only open on Saturday and Sunday.  

I haven’t mentioned it was raining in the past few paragraphs so I’ll just say again:  it was raining.  A lot.

I have covered at length in previous posts how incredibly shit my HiViz rain jacket is.  Not just it’s HiVizness (which is enough to make it dorky and shit in my eyes) but its complete lack of any form of waterproofing.   I found a reassuringly expensive “ProBike” shop after walking through the rain (yes it was still raining) in my useless HiViz jacket.  They had bikes in the window for €10,000+ and so this is my kinda place.  The staff were all caricatures of hipster bike blokes but, to give them their due, they (a) spoke English, (b) were very impressed with a 2,000km trip and (c) understood the pros and cons of the high end bike jackets they stocked.  My guy was Willy (yes yes yes, I kept my 11 year old sense of humour under control).  Willy’s only mistake was to initially get me a HiViz jacket…but once I’d explained my deep philosophical aversion to HiViz, we settled on a brutally expensive Specialized jacket.  In black.  It’s even got those little cycling pockets on your back to keep your phone and stuff in.  

Willy even threw in a free Specialized t-Shirt which dealt with 1/3 of my remaining shopping.  Although, to be fair, he could have almost thrown in one of the hyper bikes in his window and would still have made a profit on the jacket.

Look at that beading…

I walked back from the shop still wet but at least the rain (did I mention it was raining?  Heavily).  The rain wasn’t making me any wetter in my new high performance rain jacket.  

One final stop before heading into some long business related video calls.  I had to do a “Jack Reacher”.  If you’re washing your cycle clothes ever night, there’s never any chance to wash your non-cycling clothes.  Even with a laundrette downstairs, I would have had to wander up and down the hotel in a towel and nobody’s idea of a good hotel stay is seeing a semi-naked middle aged man wandering around the corridors.  I found a badly branded casual mens wear store and bought some underpants and socks.  Changed in the toilets in the shopping centre and binned the old ones and binned my old t-Shirt and put on my nice clean free Specialized one.  I squelched home in my new (but rapidly dampening) socks as the rain continued to fall.

Then it was a few hours of calls.  While it rained outside. 

By 6:30 the calls were done and I was hungry.  But it was still raining — have I mentioned that?  So my choice of restaurant was constrained by how close it was to the hotel.  There was a Chinese restaurant 250m from the hotel so that had to do.  The food was fine.  The wine was fine.  I’m a long distance cyclist, what do I expect?

Cheap, filling food.

I’m glad I stopped in Hamburg.  It’s a big city (approximately the size of Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool combined) so it’s not really somewhere you “do in a day”.  The ports are still a huge part of the city despite their decline after the free port status ended and it’s one of the largest deep water container ports in the world.  Water is everywhere — not just the rain.  There are rivers, canals, docks.  The buildings destroyed in the 1940s have been rebuilt well.  It feels prosperous but with an…edge.

I didn’t see the Beatles memorial and I didn’t see any museums or cultural things apart from Miniature Wunderland.  That was enough for this visit.  It was too wet.  It rained literally all day.  Part of the reason for doing this sort of trip in late July and early August is to increase the probability of decent weather.  Today would have been considered an unpleasant day in Glasgow in November.  

The weather forecast looks a bit better for tomorrow.  I’m heading northeast towards the Baltic.  The wind is from the southwest.  At least the small amount of forecast rain won’t be blasted into my face.  One final day in Germany tomorrow and then it’s Denmark for me.  Fourth country and one more after that.

The blog today is longer than I expected it to be because I’m writing it in the Chinese restaurant and…it’s raining.  Not just a little bit…really really heavily.  And I don’t want to go out in the rain one more time…. 

Like this.  All day.  Like this.

Time for another glass of wine I think.


  1. I love the Miniature Wunderland - especially the night scenes and the scale plane takeoff! Well done on treating yourself to a good waterproof jacket - life’s too short etc. Good luck tomorrow, and I hope it’s a bit drier.


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