Hey there! Long time no blog… I know, I know, I’m bad. Well, to make up for my lack of activity over the past couple of months, I’m going to write you a blog post with LOTS of pictures…
I spent Easter weekend in a rather non-traditional fashion this year: at an anarchist street festival. While Americans were out hiding eggs, Christians were going to church, normal Hamburgers were enjoying bonfires on the beach and Swedes were hanging colorful feathers on trees, the Hamburg neighborhood of Sternschanze was throwing a block party/street festival/demonstration.
Schanzenfest is a left-alternative street festival dating back to 1988, according to Wikipedia. I had never heard of it until I randomly noticed it trending on Twitter over Easter weekend. I had a friend visiting from Copenhagen and was looking for stuff to do in the city, so I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to go out and see some of the city. My friend, Valentin, is originally from Vienna and is studying in Copenhagen. We met about a year ago when I was visiting Denmark’s capital city.
Schanzenfest was, well, pretty much what I expected it to be, given what I knew of the neighborhood. A former immigrant ghetto, Sternschanze is being rapidly gentrified and is now the home of many students, hipsters, and people of alternative political viewpoints. The cheap ethnic restaurants, falafel stands and pizzerias are still there from former days, but now exorbitantly overpriced secondhand shops, vegan cafes and artisan cheese shops have popped up where there were none before. Nearly every restaurant turns into a bar at night, and Schanze is also home to Hamburg’s most famous squat, the Rota Flora.
We arrived early in the evening, hungry and a bit tired. As the grills with vegan sausages I’d seen on Twitter seemed to be done for the night, we settled for some Kumpir baked potatoes to sustain us for the evening.
We followed the sounds of a thumping bass to find a dance party under a bridge. Some people held random picket signs that seemed to be remnants of an earlier demonstration. A small “Easter fire” burned on the sidewalk towards the back of the crowd. A very drunk guy tried to chat me up, and I got angry and went on a rant about how antifa think they’re so social justice-y and feminist and all, but they’re really just entitled white guys who don’t practice what they preach.
We wandered onwards through the streets and found another small concert, this one playing punk rock.
A handful of devoted attendees were diligently moshing, while the rest of the punks stood around, sipped their beers and banged their heads.
Next came a more chill-out, reggae style concert. A banner above the DJ announced “The world is a poodle,” presumably a tribute to the late Golden Pudel club which had recently burned down. Here, people just stood around, not dancing and barely bobbing their heads or anything. The herbal scent wafting through the air may have explained their lethargy.
We passed a number of banners with political messages. The anti-fascists are really anti everything – anti racism, anti police brutality, anti weapons exports, and so on.
We walked in a big circle and looped back around to where we had started from, near the train station. After briefly discussing trying to catch a bonfire on the water, we decided to go instead to a house party with my classmates, in which Valentin impressed my Danish classmates with his excellent Danish skills and they sang along to The Man Song from Mulan in Danish.
The next day we decided to enjoy the sunny weather by going on a harbor boat trip, one of the most insanely touristy things to do in Hamburg. Hamburg sits on the Elbe river and has a large industrial trade port. It is an important Hanseatic City, although much younger than many other trade cities in the region. The area of the city center situated along the Elbe, Landungsbrücken, has many attractions: Boat tours, souvenir shops, fish restaurants, the Hard Rock Cafe, the Fish Market on Sundays, and an artificial sandy beach further along, all with a beautiful backdrop of a panoramic view of the harbor.
PRO TIP: If you want to spend some time out on the water but aren’t necessarily in the mood for a two-hour tour – or you just want to save money – take the ferry instead. The ferry numbers 72 and 73 will take you to see some major attractions, such as the only-for-tourists Theaters in the Harbor and the yet-unfinished opera house the Elbphilharmonie.
In the evening we went back to Schanze to get in on some of the delicious vegan restaurants there. After eating some absolutely enormous seitan-and-bean burritos, we decided to meet up with Valentin’s friends who were in the city. (They had spent the day at Miniatur Wunderland, another tourist attraction featuring lots of tiny toy trains, which Valentin and I weren’t too keen on).
We met up in another touristy area, the Reeperbahn, also known as the red light district of Hamburg. I took Valentine on a short walking tour up and down the main street, then we found his friends and settled in for a cozy beer at a bar on the side street Hamburger Berg.
I talked everyone in to getting a round of Mexikaner, which is a favorite in Hamburg and is kind of like a Bloody Mary, only in shot form. We took the shots, tried out some Hamburg beer, and then continued our walking tour. I pointed out the bar where the Beatles played before they got famous and waited while they took turns taking pictures at Beatles Platz. (Not that I would ever do such a thing…)
Valentin’s friends were tired and wanted to leave, so he and I continued our tour just the two of us. I took him down the Davidstraße, a major prostitution street, grinning as we passed several bored-looking girls with tight pants and fanny packs and Ugg boots.
“That’s weird. I didn’t see a single prostitute here,” said Valentin when we got to the end of the street. I burst out laughing.
“What, you think all those girls are just hanging out here alone because they’re enjoying the weather?” (It was hats-and-gloves cold out that day.)
“Oh,” said Valentin sheepishly. “In Vienna they look… different.” Upon reflection, I supposed that the girls of the Davidstraße didn’t necessarily look like “typical” prostitutes – they dressed more trashy than sexy and often wore big warm jackets and fluffy boots rather than high heels or something more exposing. And they’re certainly not very friendly – they don’t smile or talk much. But it’s the fanny packs that give it away. In fact, teenagers going out clubbing often dress more provocatively than the ladies of the night here in Hamburg, but you can tell them apart because partygoers usually hang out in groups and have somewhere to go, whereas prostitutes hang out on the streets just standing their by themselves – and for some reason they always wear fanny packs. Now you know!
I took Valentin to the Herbertstraße, the *official* prostitution street in Hamburg where women are not allowed. There are literally barriers blocking the street off with signs saying “No women allowed” because the only women allowed on that street are the ones who work there. They say if women go down that street anyway, the prostitutes will dump buckets of piss on their heads from upper-story windows. I’ve heard however that they just yell at you until you leave. Valentin got chicken and almost didn’t go, but I told him, “you’re only in Hamburg once,” so he grudgingly went in. I quickly realized my mistake as I was now left hanging out by myself on the Davidstraße waiting for him, but fortunately nobody tried to proposition me! It must have been the lack of fanny pack that gave me away.
We were tired and a bit tipsy and so went home after that, and Valentin had to get up and catch a bus the next day. What a fun weekend though visiting a friend and being a tourist in my own city – again!
When in Rome, you go to church on Easter Sunday. When in Hamburg, you go to an anarchist street festival and then the red light district. What a crazy city… Hamburg, du bist so toll!