Lucas reckons she’s got this one in the bag, but I beg to differ. The town once known as a ‘waterfront sexopolis’ has cleaned up its act. Comparisons between Hamburg and Amsterdam were first earned via the notorious Reeperbahn – a hub of exotic entertainment. But nowadays it’s the city’s network of canals, bridges and Warehouse District architecture that invite the resemblance.
In fact Hamburg is now officially a role model for the rest of Europe, having been named the European Green Capital for 2011. It’s the main reason the city proves the perfect break from Dubai, so different is it to the emirate – a haven of lush greenery, award-winning public transport and superior air quality (the first intake of breath in Hamburg is so fresh, it’s actually a shock).
And you can make the most of bearable summer heat (mid-20C to 30C) and clean air with Hamburg’s range of outdoor activities. Sailing on the Alster Lake is a must, providing an alternative view of the city, and jogging and cycle paths are in abundance. Go to City Park for large open spaces and playground rides and, if you’re feeling daring, Heide Park is an hour’s drive from the city centre in Soltau. The thrill of riding Colossos, the world’s steepest wooden rollercoaster at a height of 60m, just must not be missed.
Hamburg is also Germany’s cultural centre and boasts the most theatres, museums and music venues. A highlight is the Reeperbahn Festival on September 24-26 (www.reeperbahnfestival.com) – three days of music that echo its history as the place that launched The Beatles. Talking of Hamburg’s seamier past, the Santa Pauli Christmas Market on Spielbudenplatz every December offers lots of local tradition, along with scantily clad ladies serving mulled wine. Eclectic entertainment and a place for all seasons – sorry Lucas, but it’s just got to be Hamburg.
Need to know
Grab your flights from www.lufthansa.com
Where to eat & drink
20 Up, Empire Riverside Hotel, +49 (0) 40 31 1190 Restaurant Calla (fine dining), Steigenberger Hotel Hamburg, +49 (0) 40 36806-0
What to do
Sailing School +49 (0) 40-2803131, www.pruesse.de
Heide Park Open March-October www.heide-park.de
Beatlemania Open 10am-10pm. (01805 853 753),
www.beatlemania-hamburg.com Euros12 for adults, Euros9 concessions.
Those from Europe and Australaisa can enter Germany without a visa. But people from India, South-East Asia and the Middle East will need one. For more, visit germany.visahq.com.
Record songs at Abbey Road Studios and take a trip with Captain Fred in the Yellow Submarine… the newly opened Beatlemania museum in the heart of the Reeperbahn takes you on a trip through the Fab Four’s greatest moments. The just-formed Beatles started out playing residencies in various clubs around the area, and the place still remembers them today – it’s even home to a Beatles Square, shaped like a giant vinyl record.
Chubb, Chubb, Chubb. How can Hamburg beat a city so evidently on the up, both financially and aesthetically – as its books finally balance and the post-reunification makeover nears completion? A city fizzing with one of the world’s most exciting art scenes? A city that bears such brutal but fascinating scars of modern history? A city that, thankfully, considering all the sightseeing to be done, is so very flat?
Berlin’s lack of gradients make it the ideal place for a bicycle tour, of which the jolly Fat Tire company offers one of the best deals (¤20 for a four-hour jaunt). History gets stuck in your spokes as you pedal from bustling Postdamer Place (formerly a no-man’s land bisected by the Berlin Wall; now the city’s commercial centerpiece), to a lesser-known section of the Wall round the corner, ironically protected by barbed wire to stop tourists scrawling on it. Following stunning views from the Reichstag’s glass cupola, the eerie sign that marks Hitler’s former bunker (without giving away its precise location, to prevent Neo-Nazi gatherings), and the maze-like Holocaust Memorial, it’s on to a sunny biergarten in the luscious Tiergarten, for currywurst and ale.
But Berlin does not only boast landmarks. There are also fantastic flea markets, especially the gigantic and astonishingly reasonable Flohmarket am Mauerpark. As well as books, bags, shoes, clothes, cameras, toys, records and much more – it sells the finest organic sausage. Schleisse Strasse and Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg, meanwhile, are speckled with smaller boutiques selling local designer talent – as well as, come evening, the cream of the city’s famed nightlife with bars and restaurants spilling out on the leafy streets.
Never mind a place for all seasons – during the 20th anniversary year of the fall of the Wall, blooming Berlin is a place for right now.
Need to know
Qatar Airlines flies to Berlin five times a week via Doha. Return fares start from Dhs3,220, including taxes.
Where to eat & drink
Maxwell (local food) Bergestrasse 22 +49 (0) 280 7121
Luzia (bar & café) Oranienstrasse 34 +49 (0) 61 10 7469
What to do
Bicycle tours +49 (0) 30 24 04 79 91 http://fattirebiketours.com/berlin Reichstag glass cupola, Platz der Republik, open 8am-midnight, free
Where to shop
Flohmarket am Mauerpark, Bernauer Strasse 63-64, Prenzlauer Berg, U8 Bernauer Strasse. Sundays, 7am- 5pm.
Iron Curtain call
On November 9 2009, it will be 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down – and it’s going to be one hell of a party. A three-day ‘Festival of Freedom’ at the Brandenburg Gate, is planned, concluding with a multimedia recreation of the wall coming down, when 1,000 stones will topple in domino effect. The MTV music awards are also being held there on November 5. Look out for more on Fall of the Wall events being held in Dubai nearer the time.