Travel Germany: Hamburg Food Tour - Eat the World

Have you ever been to a town where herrings swim past you at eye level? A Hamburger (just in case you wonder, that is what the citizens of Hamburg are called) tells me that this is the only form of rain he considers as such. Everything less is not even worth a mention.

I wonder how bad the weather in Hamburg (talking about the famous harbour town in northern Germany) really is and after a quick research I learn that the accumulated hours of sunshine for the month of July in Hamburg were 202.4. This is pretty similar to the amount of sunshine on the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze. I also find out that the hype about Berlin is as big as the hours of sunshine. The capital of Germany experienced a whopping 236.4 hours of sunshine in the month of July. And while we are at it, Munich is most certainly Germany's trophy-town for a reason. The glitterati could get an even deeper tan while enjoying a breathtaking 292.6 hours of sunshine during the month of July.

You see, everybody heard that the weather in Hamburg isn’t perfect. The Hamburgers know quite well that the rest of the world (I might be slightly exaggerating here) is aware of it and they respond to all comments about the weather wryly.

Standing in the soft spray of rain, at the starting point of a cultural food tour in the Hamburg borough of Sternschanze I ask a fellow guest: “What happened to the summer?” He looked at me with a face as straight as a TV tower. “Summer? That was yesterday.”

It was in that instant that I knew I had a few good hours ahead of me. We all know there is no such thing as bad weather but only the wrong clothes. In the hours to come I hear great stories and meet an interesting bunch of people and I soon forget the rain ...

The Sternschanze in Hamburg Altona

In 1937 the German Nazi regime enlarged Hamburg with simply including former Prussian towns, and one of them was Altona. Today the town has got a bit over 100 boroughs, and the Sternschanze, as a part of the administrative district of Altona, has been created as recent as March 2008. The Sternschanze is an area with a lot of nightlife and cafes and restaurants but also with independent book-, chocolate-, and shoe stores. Sounds rosy right, but as in almost everywhere in the world, gentrification is well on its way, and in the course of it many small store owners are forced to leave because they can’t afford to pay their rent anymore.

In the centre of the Schanzenviertel is the Rote Flora. You wonder where this name comes from? For more than half a century the Flora was one of the best addresses in Germany when it came to cabaret and operetta. It later was converted into a cinema and after that into a hardware store called 1,000 Töpfe (1,000 saucepans in English). That store had been founded in 1949 by a self-made entrepreneur who began with making saucepans from English aircraft sheet. Later that store moved into another area of Hamburg but customers started to demand the cheap online prices, and since that wasn't doable the hardware store had to close its doors after 64 years.

Investors planned to show a musical at the Flora but failed in the protest and resistance in the Schanzenviertel. That was the time when the Flora became The Rote Flora, and over the last 25 years it has been a place of subculture and of non-commercial activities. The colour red stands for passion and determination, and is also a symbol of antifascism and resistance. The squatters actively show resistance whenever investors want to change the Flora to commercialize it. So far they have done an excellent job. No one knows what would have happened to the Sternschanze if that big musical production and all visitors and tour buses would have arrived.

It seems that Rote Flora’s neighbour the Kilimanschanzo, Hamburg's climbing mountain, looks at all of this patiently. It is not really a mountain, but an old bunker. The Kilimanschanzo helps to keep the Flora Park lively. Young people in the Schanzenviertel benefit from it as a meeting place.

You see, there is a lot going on here in this borough. It is funny (in a very peculiar way) isn’t it? People long to live in a nice community and dream of speciality stores but not many understand that store owners need money to make a living. 

The store owners I speak to in the Schanzenviertel all feel the urge to do something for their small businesses as well as for the development of their borough. This is a rare attitude in this homogenised world we live in. When I look around me these days I see lots of figures happily running through this world in their trainers, only talking to people who have more than 100,000 followers on YouTube and eating burgers in expensive fast food joints, strongly believing that that is what makes them proper nonconformists. Why not become truly community-minded? Visit the Sternschanze and train your ability to perceive. There are many things to think about.

Eat the World in the borough of Schanzenviertel

It is easy and affordable to have lunch at a cheesemonger instead of buying food at one of the giant fast-food outlets. Eat at specialty stores and support the community. Many of these stores and small restaurants in the area are open from as early as 7am and open till midnight so that people can come together to eat at communal tables while sitting on beer garden benches.

Don’t expect to eat “that” German dish since in the present day Germany there is no such thing. Germany is a pretty open-minded society and has been the home of lots of immigrants from all over the world for many decades. Everybody brought their traditions and cooking style with them and today it is all part of the German culture.

Taste the vanilla in the Portuguese custard tart together with a Galão (one-quarter of espresso and three quarters foamed milk) in a cozy Portuguese Café on one of the busiest streets in the borough of Sternschanze. Taste the coriander in the falafel while marvelling at the architecture of a row of three-storey terrace homes built in the backyards of the upper-class during the founder period to accommodate factory workers, artisans and servants. Taste the freshness of the handmade vegetarian pasta with rucola (in the USA it is called arugula) in an old abattoir of Hamburg. Taste the melt in your mouth softness of the puff pastry with tomatoes and olives at a cafe which had been previously used as a butcher. Taste that famous potato salad plus curry-sauce in a tiny snack bar with a long history.

Experience the enriching influence of different nationalities and enjoy the fact that everything is prepared by chefs from all over the world. You will soon understand the diversity of the German society.

Store specialised in tea and all things sweet - and look at the floor 

As a cultural purist, this is what I really want from travelling. See and understand how locals live. And to me travelling is often all about the food. I was a guest of eat-the-world but I obviously maintain full editorial control of the content published in this article. You better leave your preconceptions about greasy hash browns or lifeless and overcooked kale (traditional German staple foods ... no one needs) at home and just eat the world in Germany. After the tour with Claudia I had a pretty good understanding of how life in the Sternschanze works, and needless to say I was happy I had worn my rain jacket, really, herrings swam past me at eye level for most of the time.

From Berlin with love