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Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Weekend in Hamburg: A Couchsurfing Experience

When you're in Germany with nothing to do for the weekend and you're pretty much on your own, don't spend it sitting on your Arsch surfing Facebook, looking at photos of people who seem to have lives. Looking at such photos, however, might remind you of the possibility to go out and live your own. You may, however, have to take a few risks... like travelling with strangers. You are probably more sane than me, however, and at least will choose to travel with strangers who speak English.

Anyways, around 2pm on Friday I somehow found myself squashed with four Germans in a car on the way to Hamburg. Trying my best to converse with them, they asked me where Malta is (my dear little rock!) and what I was doing in Germany. I told them that I was studying here on Erasmus and that I decided to go Couchsurfing for the weekend. I was excited to meet my Couchsurfer to see what he was like, and for some inexplicable reason (because you never know who you might meet) in my gut I knew that everything would be fine. So I was not worried at all.

Turned out that my gut was right. A tall man with the most gorgeous green eyes awaited me at the Hauptbahnhof Center. He straightaway acted the role of 'Awesome Tour Guide', taking me round the city center, where a merry and boisterous Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market) was underway. What fascinated me was the fact that a real-life sleigh - with a real human Santa Claus - rode over the market in the air! We wrestled through the crowd until we found a stall selling hot drinks and drank some Glühwein with rum...mmm, lecker!!

The following morning we woke up, had some breakfast and then got the train to Hafen City, and walked around, starting with the San Nikolai church. We got a lift up to the top of the church and got a panoramic view of the city. Then we walked around Speicherstadt, which is a warehouse district that was used when Hamburg was part of the German 'Zollverein' tariff union, and today a UNESCO world heritage site. The buildings and canals there reminded me a bit of Amsterdam.

We visited the 'Zollmuseum' (customs museum) where I saw how people trasported goods way back, as Hamburg was for years one of the world's greatest ports. My favourite part was seeing how they smuggled stuff through, there was entire display case showing how people trasported drugs across the border, e.g. put cocaine powder in picture frames - and there was a carpet which had 11.2kg of weed woven into it!

We rode a ferry across the Elbe River, and it was so freaking cold but I still wanted to stand on the top of the boat so I could take pictures :) Later, we passed through the Landungsbrücken and went underground to see the Old Elbe tunnel where an old road underneath the river was constructed. Walking in the Hamburg Altstadt, where there was yet another Chistmas market and also a beautifully constructed town hall (as I was taking photos of it, this old German man came up to me and whispered something in my ear...I asked him if he spoke English and he said 'You can take photos of it but you cannot make one like it at home'. he then winked mysteriously and ran away). On the river nearby, there was a gigantic Christmas tree floating in the middle of the water, all lit up, its reflection glittering on the water.

Also in the same day, we packed in the Hamburg Dom, a huge, brightly-coloured funfair rivalling Brighton Pier, and also the infamous 'Reeperbahn', Hamburg's very oen Red Light District. Coming from the super-Catholic Malta (where it was actually debated whether or not to have a condom machine on campus), it was quite unusual for me to see sex shops and brothels on the street next to bakeries and dvd stores. Green Eyes took me to one called 'Bizarre Sex Shop' and its name is an understatement. There was some pretty freaky sh*t in there.
I seriously wondered why anyone would want to be gang raped by aliens, mummies, hitmen, and Santa Claus but I guess this stuff must be on sale because there's a market for it. Creepy.
Although on the bright side, there was an ErotikWeinachtsmarkt nearby, selling dildos with little Christmas hats on them.

My favourite experiences, though, were the gorgeous Japanese Garden 'Planten un Blomen', and the Planetarium; where I lay back on a deckchair-like sofa chair in a dark circular room,watching a 3D-like projection of the Universe on a dome-shaped ceiling with Whoopi Goldberg narrating in my ears. I also enjoyed my first official experience with German family life, with cute little kids making gingerbread houses, having paprika-flavoured Quark for breakfast, and drinking some excellent wine till the early hours of morning. It was there that I discovered the fascinating truth that drinking alcohol helps you to speak a foreign language better. Or maybe because if you have alcohol in one hand, you're already one third more German than you were before.

Truth be said, this weekend I pushed my boundaries with the language and surprised myself; instead of speaking in English with the Erasmus students, I was forced to speak German - and I realised that even when you make mistakes, the Germans appreciate your attempt anyways, and it's practice (not simply memorizing vocabulary!) that makes perfect when it comes to language learning. All in all, the weekend was over too soon, and I reluctantly returned to Gelsenkirchen. Indeed, I felt a little sad that it was over, yet I rejoiced with a little revelation; that sometimes, taking a risk gives you returns in areas you never knew existed.

This is the beauty of travelling.

The world is a book
and those who do not travel
read only one page.

– St. Augustine

(Dear Readers, next week we will take a break from travelling and blogging
together, however, the week after I'll be back with some exciting Christmas tales to tell you! Wishing you and your families all the best for the season and see y'all in a fortnight. Auf Wiedersehen!


1 comment:

  1. Hamburg is the most beautyfull city. Last week I visit it for a few days. But I sleep in a hostel. I´m shocked about the couchsurfing plan! It ist SO brave an I thik so, that I´m very afraid to do something like that. So you got my respect <3