The Football Connoisseur's Guide : Hamburg: A Port, Red Lights and lots of Soccer

Hamburg is not only known as one of Europe's largest port. It is also a World Cup host. From its red light district to its culinary delights, Hamburg is one of Germany's great cities. Football fans are sure to love it.

  Hamburg's World Cup stadium
DPA

Hamburg's World Cup stadium

The stadium

Not all that long ago, Hamburg chose to cash in on tradition and sell the naming rights to its damp and draughty old concrete stadium in order to ease the burden of building a spanking new, dry and slightly less draughty concrete stadium. Die-hard HSV fans still call it the Volkspark and have been rewarded with a decent season on the pitch. Die-hard St. Pauli fans, meanwhile, like to refer to their bitter rivals’ home as the “stadium next to a waste incinerating plant." Anyone approaching or bypassing the arena, as they speed along the motorway, will have to nod their heads in agreement.

Germany's head World Cup organizer, Franz Beckenbauer, declared the Hamburg football temple to be “one of Europe’s finest grounds," not that the citizens of Hamburg were particularly impressed by his praise. The Kaiser makes a habit of jetting around the globe with a Cheshire cat grin, generally declaring everything he sets eyes on to be absolutely smashing. UEFA’s top notch five star rating carries a little more clout.

Assuming FIFA are not about to ban any mention of the home club, the Nord-Ost-Ecke (north-east section of the ground) will continue to house the HSV restaurant, named the “Raute“ (HSV’s emblem is a diamond), the fan shop, supporters’ meeting place and the HSV Museum with an assortment of trophies, anecdotes and memorabilia such as Charly Dörfel’s hairpiece, Ernst Happel’s notebook and the scrawled-upon locker once used by Kevin Keegan and Franz Beckenbauer. What fun. Do not be alarmed by the oversized bronze foot if you see it -- and you will -- for this is a tribute to the erstwhile goalscoring legend Uwe Seeler, a great player but an inept HSV president in more recent years. The gentry gathers in numbers in the east stand and, to a lesser extent, in the cosier west stand. The neutral observer will take his hat off to this jewel-box of a ground. The old Volksparkstadion featured an atmosphere-deadening running track and not much cover overhead. The wind swirled around as grey games trundled along. The national team suffered two particularly painful reversals here, one against Holland during Euro 1988 and, going further back, the defeat to end all defeats -- 1-0 against the East German DDR team at the 1974 World Cup.

But there's chance of this year’s German team being on the wrong end of such shockers in this modern arena with its three banks of seats and wrap-around roof. Klinsmann’s boys are not scheduled to play here.

Where else can I watch the football?

Come to the mile of sin, the Reeperbahn, or to be more exact, come to the Heiligengeistfeld, a broad expanse of tarmac alongside St Pauli’s Millerntor Stadium. This is sure to be one hell of a party, with space for 100,000 fans. The Hamburger Dom, a grand old fairground, sets up shop here several times a year. “It is going to be like Woodstock," enthused a spokesman for Hamburg’s sports committee. Better pack your drugs and condoms, then. Although these will be on sale in the neighborhood, no doubt.

You won’t have to look far for footie screens elsewhere in the district. Seek out one of the many authentic drinking dens on the Kiez, as the red-light district is affectionately known. They have proved resilient in the face of Latte Macchiato bars and “we’re so hip because we’re drinking Astra beer" pubs which rear their ugly heads or pretty white-aproned waiters here and there. If your landlord’s got an anchor tattoo and a beer belly, you have arrived. A clue to spotting the right kind of bar is the word "Bei" or "Zum" in the name. Look for Ratsherren beer on tap, rather than Astra. Spit’n’sawdust in Tankstelle (Gerhardstrasse 7), suave but still St. Pauli, Herzblut (Reeperbahn 50).

A special mention goes out to the Taverna Romana (Schulterblatt 36) in the Schanze, hipsterville itself. Trashy interior (just look at those murals!) and Mediterranean cuisine. Don’t get too clever with the cook, but you can even get Wiener Schnitzel and chips, washed down with Czech beer. Your host supports Olympiakos Piräus. There is a big, big hall (200 seats) with a big, big screen and a smaller room (60 seats) with a big, big screen. Directly opposite, Olympische Feuer (Schulterblatt 36) is an amiable Greek restaurant with four strategically placed televisions. One nil to the Schanze: everyone is up for a good time. You can watch football almost everywhere here, and watch goodlooking people telling other goodlooking people that they’ve always been into football.

The HSV stadium restaurant Raute (Sylvesterallee 1) looks directly onto the pitch, helping you to ignore the slightly above average youth hostel style decor.

Football sightseeing

There's not much around the ground itself other than Uwe Seeler’s bronze toes and the Volkspark woodland. Across town at Millerntor, the only team known to have brown and white shirts is at home. St. Pauli are HSV’s worst enemy (although some of the latter’s supporters prefer to igonore the mere existence of a local rival). Famed and feted across Germany, St. Pauli is a bastion of alternative culture, the stadium is perpetually packed, the atmosphere friendly and party-like, even if the team is playing badly. Millerntor plans to host tournaments for fan clubs and tourists during the World Cup. If you make it to the Heiligengeistfeld, the ground is literally next door.

Don’t forget to visit Pauli hero Walter Frosch in the Victoria-Klause beneath the stands at Victoria Hamburg (Lokstedter Steindamm 87), you won’t regret it. Hamburg boasts countless football ground curiosities, by the way. Altona 93 play at the Adolf Jäger Kampfbahn (Griegstrasse 62), where local idol Heinz Spundflasche used to hide a flask of the hard stuff in the toilet cistern, to slip into his half-time tea. The cistern is still there, as is the wonderfully nostalgic announcer’s box, the overgrown fan mound and the historic, gated entrance to the stadium. Concordia(Oktaviostrasse 102) and Barmbek-Uhlenhorst (Rupprechtplatz) are also worth a visit -- old school soccer, bang in the middle of town. Itchy feet? You can always be sure of a game on the field at Moorweide am Dammtorbahnhof.

The Queen Mary II sails into Hamburg's port.
DPA

The Queen Mary II sails into Hamburg's port.

A real piece of footballing culture is to be had on Hamburg’s floating trademark, the Rickmer Rickmers (St. Pauli Landungsbrücken 1).  HSV goalkeeper Rudi Kargus turned to painting after hanging up his gloves, and around 30 of his football-related oil paintings will be on display on board during the World Cup. .

In town

You can stroll down the Reeperbahn by day as well as by night, although its real charm only reveals itself in the dark. High above the town stands the tower of the St. Michaelis church (Englische Planke 1a). If you make it up to the 82 metres high viewing platform, your efforts will be rewarded by a stunning panorama. Also chck out Speicherstadt, part of Hamburg’s harbor. The imposing brick warehouses found here are best viewed from the comfort of a boat trip through the harbor.

Better than a tour of the town is an outing on a HVV ferry, starting from the Landungsbrücken (landing bridges). The ferry is a bargain, as it counts as a regular element in Hamburg’s transport network. Take a boat towards Teufelsbrück/Finkenwerder, passing the Blohm and Voss shipyards, the Hafenstrasse, beach clubs and the picture postcard skyline. Disembark at Övelgönne and walk along the beach (Elbstrand). If you feel up to it, you can walk all the way to Blankenese, but stop for a drink at the Strandperle first.

For fans of national anthems, one place to hear them outside of the stadium is Willkommhöft (Parnassstrasse 29), further down the Elbe. At this sprawling inn, complete with beer garden, the big ships entering the port of Hamburg are greeted with their national anthem, followed by a loudspeaker announcement detailing the size, origin and similar statistics about the incoming vessel. St. Michaelis, Englische Planke 1a, 20459 Hamburg

Good cooking

Hungry after all that running around?

There are folk who eat sausage in Spain and schnitzel at their local Greek. The more adventurous will seek out local delicacies. In Hamburg, this can be a real challenge as, besides fish aplenty, you will be confronted by dishes that are not intended for the faint-hearted. Labskaus is one such delight, a stew comprising mashed spuds, corned beef, cucumbers, beetroot and, for good measure, pickled herring and fried egg on top. The whole thing looks as if someone has started something they couldn’t finish. Or how about "Birnen, Bohnen und Speck" -- pears, beans and bacon -- to get your mouth watering? “Himmel, Erde und Hölle", on the other hand, is truly delightful. Heaven, earth and hell in culinary terms translates as mashed potatoes, apple sauce and some obscure kind of sausage its better not to think about too much. Hey, though, it has to be better than eel soup.

Erikas Eck (Sternstrasse 98) is cheap and cheerful, Vienna (Fettstrasse 2), more upmarket but with a similar bent for good, honest fare. Zum Elbblick (Olbersweg 49) is something of a curiosity cabinet, the place can be good on a good day, which just might be a Monday or a Friday, when Kuno und Hermann will entertain you with hearty melodies on their accordions.

Take a break at Kleine Pause at Wohlwillstrasse 37, where you can find the best chips in town. When in Eimsbüttel, go Greek at Samos (Osterstrasse 150). The prices are OK in this friendly restaurant, and your host Xemi may well join you for a shot of Ouzo. If Asian cuisine is more your thing, Bok (Schanzenstrasse 27) is popular enough to justify four branches in the Schanze district. Fair play to them. Italian is always an option, one of which is Weite Welt, (Grosse Freiheit 70).

Night games

The night in Hamburg is long. Yuppies and office girlies congregate in Schöne Aussichten (Gorch-Fock-Wall 4) and at the plethora of beach clubs on the banks of the Elbe. Down the best cocktails in town at Meyer Lanski’s (Gänsemarkt 36) and stagger forth to the infamous red light district, the Reeperbahn.

The acid jazz temple Mojo Club closed its doors a few years ago and sold off the decor on eBay. In its place at Reeperbahn Nr. 1 now stands the Mandarin Kasino. Primarily a vehicle for electronic music, the Casino witnesses the once monthly return of bygone jazz rockers for Mojo Club nights. At the opposite end of the Reeperbahn, the China Lounge (Nobistor 14) mixes house beats upstairs and R&B below.

The real Kiez atmosphere centers on the pubs and bars around Hans-Albers-Platz. Look out for the Astra signs glowing red over the doorways. Bottled beer and Kiez characters en masse. Lehmitz (Reeperbahn 22) is a real St. Pauli institution, sporting one of the longest counters in the hood.

Hardcore St. Pauli lovers like to take a walk down the alten Elbtunnel (the old tunnel beneath the landing stages -- an den Landungsbrücken), reaching the other side of the river at sunrise. Best undertaken when drunk, which should not present too many problems for footie tourists. Another early morning classic is the Fischmarkt (Am St. Pauli Fischmarkt). The ideal corner to while away the final minutes before the stalls are opened up is the Golden Pudel Club (Am St. Pauli Fischmarkt 27), where you can down a bottle of Club Mate and tap your feet to fine music. Now order your hair of the dog beer and purchase a Matjes Brötchen (herring roll) at the fish market before the tourists arrive.

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