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Hamburg and Around

A few months ago, I asked for suggestions to visit Schleswig-Holstein for a week in June. Unfortunately, that planned holiday didn't happen, but instead we've just spent two weeks in and around S-H in September, making use of the wonderfully helpful advice you on this forum provided.

Our trip covered Hamburg, Luneburg (in Lower Saxony), and several places in S-H itself.

Apart from a long weekend break in Munich a few years ago and something similar in Berlin more recently, this was our first trip to Germany.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time and had a very pleasant holiday.

  • We are rather lazy, slow moving tourists and others could do what we did faster or add more stops. We chose not to hire a car, but one would be useful if wanting to cover more ground in the same time.

  • Our travel between cities was via the efficient and regular railway systems. Using Deutsche Bahn website to plan. None of our journeys were very lengthy - I think the longest was only about 80 minutes.

  • We enjoyed plenty of varied food. Both what I take to be traditional local dishes, fish and pork especially, but also plenty of ethnic restaurants - Italian seems particularly popular everywhere. And we had some excellent fish and chips in Kiel which would have been acceptable even in Whitby and a fine Portugese meal in Hamburg.

  • One last introductory remark. In many of the tourist attractions we visited the commentary or signage was only in German. That didn't concern us, though I was surprised. Occasionally, such as the Luneburg Rathaus they provided an English pamphlet whilst the guide spoke in German. In other places, such as our boat trip around the Hamburg Alster we enjoyed the opportunity to switch off and enjoy the view ignoring the guide telling us what we might actually be looking at. On the other hand, where English did matter such as buying railway tickets or ordering meals, everybody spoke English well and more than enough for us to manage.

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1250 posts

Luneburg (apologies to German speakers, I can't do the funny little dots above the "u" on my computer).

A delightful town with lots of attractive historic architecture including medieaval, gothic, baroque, etc. Unlike Lubeck, see below, it is very much all coherently beautiful with charming buildings almost wherever we walked in the centre - like a film set, but real.

Admittedly there are only limited specific tourist sights. The tour of the impressive Rathaus was the most interesting as you visit various sections built over different centuries, including some beautiful rooms. Also the view from the water tower is fine (lift available), and there is a church where Bach was a chorister. And Luneburg's handful of minor museums are moderately worthwhile - especially if you have a huge interest interest in salt, and who amongst us doesn't?

Overall and despite no major "wow" sights apart from the wonderful Rathaus, it was a great place for us to relax, eat & drink too much and generally potter about admiring the pleasant streets, squares and riverside walks (we were fortunate with the weather).

One could see the "sights" in a day-trip (Luneburg is only a short railway journey from Hamburg, for example), but we were happy to stop for three nights.

I know many forum users might not have the time and/or inclination to spend so long in what is, after all, a fairly small city with no "massive wow" attractions; but I'd highly recommend it as a one night stop-over or day-trip at the very least.

Hotel - we used the crazily named Einzigartig Das Kleine Hotel im Wasserviertel . This is in a couple of converted 16th century townhouses. Tasty breakfast with nice bedroom (modern minimalist decor, kettle, good shower, comfy bed, no a/c), and convenient for walking to/from the railway station and around the town centre. We liked it, however be aware there is no lift and it has steep stairs to the upper floors which wouldn't suit the infirm. There is a fine restaurant in the hotel and it's only a few steps from the gorgeous old fishmarket area for other bars and restaurants. The hotel is unstaffed in the evening so you need to let them know if you'll be arriving late. It uses an honesty system for drinks in its tiny courtyard.

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1250 posts

Lubeck, Eutin and Travemunde

We took a direct train from Luneburg to Lubeck where we stopped four nights, including two day-trips. Lubeck has the famous Holstentor gate (inside is a small, interesting museum), and several other old buildings. The Altstadt is surrounded by canals creating a moat and we had a nice boat tour around the centre (many such tours available, but apparently they all follow a similar route so we just took the next to be leaving). From the rivers/canals it is very scenic.

What I hadn't realised is that quite a lot of the old town was damaged in the War and subsequently rebuilt in contemporary style afterwards. So there are some very old looking buildings (such as the magnificent Rathaus and rebuilt St Mary's with shattered bells left as a memorial), mingled with plenty of modern, concrete structures. However, in the northen end of the old town island it is much more generally old and original, an especial highlight was Heiligen-Geist-Hospital and surrounding streets.

The relatively recently opened Hansemuseum is excellent. It covers the rise of the League in the middle ages, its power across Europe and its fall. There are recreated town scenes, interactive displays and lots more. There were, however, an awful lot of written display boards, which we ignored after a while instead preferring the audio-visual stuff. The ticket also includes entry to absorbing old castle buildings such as the former friary and courts.

We enjoyed Lubeck very much. It's certainly touristy, but then we were tourists so that's not an issue for us.

Our day trips were:

  • Travemunde - we went there and back by train, although there is a boat service apparently. It's a picturesque seaside resort with only limited sights. Our highlight was the museum ship Passat and a meal near the beach. The weather changed quickly here (and elsewhere), so after lunch when a downpour began we caught the train back to Lubeck. Overall Travemunde isnt a vital, must-see place, but was okay for our few hours

    • Eutin which is delightful. The weather was great here which probably helped. The town is easy to get to from Lubeck by rail and then walk around. The absolute highlight is the castle on the lake. It's a very scenic setting and has a nice park, but inside the castle is also wonderful. Unlike some monotonous European palaces (Madrid, Vienna?), there is only a limited number of rooms open and they are all different with fantastic decor and furnishing. It's a wonderful contrast to those places where you just walk from samey room to samey room. Absolutely top notch, as was the English booklet provided.
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1250 posts

Kiel

We dilly-dallied over going here. It doesn't have a great reputation and instead we'd thought of an extra night in Schleswig and a night in Husum.

I'm delighted we settled on Kiel (though disappointed to have missed Husum - next time).

Certainly Kiel is not going to astound anybody with its beauty. The so called "old town" reminded me of Croydon or worse. Kiel was badly damaged in the War (obviously a major target given its enemy navy base and shipbuilding importance), and the rebuilt city centre is modern and fairly boring, if not downright ugly. The harbour area near the Maritime Museum is sleazy.

But it was nice to visit Kiel as a contrast to pretty Luneburg or Schleswig and there are some brilliant "modern" sights for a couple of days.

We took the public ferry (only about €3 each - not a tourist boat, no commentary), along the magnificent Kiel fjord, seeing the city, harbour, dockyard, military base and scenery for the 90 minute trip. At the end is Laboe, a small beach town (lots of cafes, etc.), with two wonderful maritime sights (combined ticket). Firstly the naval memorial with a lift to an observation deck and an underground crypt in memory of international sailors killed in battle, including those from the RN, RCN and USN. Secondly, a Second World War U-boat you can walk through (fascinating - and claustrophobic -  especially noteworthy having watched "Das Boot" many years ago). There is limited signage in the submarine, but it was still a highlight of our whole holiday.

The next day we took a city bus to the locks at the Kiel end of the famous Nord Ostee canal (the world's busiest apparently); there is a lookout area to watch the ship movements. I loved it, but my wife was unmoved. We also enjoyed the Maritime Museum (surprisingly small, just a quick visit, but a nice cafe next door), and my wife liked the city art gallery (I was unmoved this time).

Kiel is certainly worth a couple of days. Admittedly, I wouldn't skip a first visit to Rome or Seville to see it, but if you're visiting this part of northern Europe, I'd recommend including it.

Hotel - Berliner Hof was ideal for our two nights. Very well located for ferries, buses and trains; good, well-designed modern bedroom (great shower, kettle), and nice varied breakfast. The price includes a Kiel transport pass for one's duration of stay.

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1250 posts

Schleswig

I'm surprised this town isn't more famous. It has three excellent attractions - the schloss Gottorf, the pleasant "old town" neighbourhood and the Viking Museum. Obviously we're not the only tourists to visit, but it did give the impression of being a sleepy, off the beaten path place at least so far as Anglophone tourists are concerned. We arrived mid-morning from Kiel and left late the following afternoon for Hamburg. That was just sufficient time, although we did skip a lot of the castle - it has several art galleries in former stables whilst we only saw the pictures in the main building.

Highlights for us of Schleswig were the pretty Holm fishing village (once a separate island, now part of the old town), the incredibly well-preserved Viking ship and the mummified bog bodies in the archaeological museum (at least one of these may be of a sacrificial victim). Note that both these last two are within the castle complex, not the separate Viking museum.

Despite being small in population, the town is quite spread out and since we had limited time we used taxis and buses to/from the railway station and to get to the Viking Museum.

We stopped for our single night at Hotel Zollhaus. This hotel is next to the schloss (its back garden goes directly into the castle grounds), but is a mile from the old town & Holm and further (in the other direction) to the Viking Museum. It's a nice, small hotel in an old building. Good breakfast, bedroom was large, but plainly decorated - it had a kettle. No lift, but it's only two storeys and the steps weren't steep like in Luneburg. Nice view from the room and patio across the extensive gardens. Nowhere particularly interesting to eat nearby so we took a taxi into the old town for dinner. The hotel had an honesty box for drinks and a pleasant patio for evening relaxation.

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1250 posts

Hamburg

Wonderful city. We had four full days and two part days. But many others could probably accomplish all we did in two or three full days. On the other hand we skipped the main Kunsthalle art gallery which is, apparently, impressive if you like that sort of thing.

The variety of sights in Hamburg is brilliant and it is a very easy city to get around (a lot is all within walking distance; but if travelling further, or having tired feet, there is a cheap and efficient transport system including ferries).

Hotel - the Senator. The room was large (but no kettle, just a coffee maker), the breakfast adequate and the location excellent. However, the decor is rather dated 1980s pastel and it was hard to understand what makes this a 4 star hotel compared to everywhere else we stopped (I realise star systems can be meaningless, however).

Hamburg is fabulous and I much preferred it to Munich and perhaps even to Berlin. These were my favourites, although we saw much else too:

  • Miniatur Wunderland - undoubtedly Europe's greatest tourist attraction. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but it is wonderful. You can "visit" miniature germany Switzerland and Rome here too, plus Las Vegas and Scandanavia and so much more. Perfect, though rather busy.

  • the old Harbour/Hafen area with its canals, brick warehouses rising sheer from the water, contrasting modern redevelopment, bars & cafes.

  • a "cruise" around the modern port and more westerly Elbe part of Hamburg. We did this twice. First via the public ferry line 62 and then on a tourist boat. Both were great.

  • St Nicholas. The church was largely destroyed in the War by Allied bombing and is now a memorial. The spire survived and a lift takes you up for wonderful views across the city. In the crypt is a museum about Operation Gomorrah and the Hamburg firestorms. I hadn't realised how successful the Royal Air Force was, including the first use of "windows", and inflicted great damage on the enemy war-effort, achieving vital physical destruction and lowering morale. I suppose the War is tricky ground for the Germans, and the museum does take great pains to stress that Germany had started the indiscriminate air war and includes displays on their atrocities in Coventry and Warsaw. Very good place to visit.

  • the old town around the Rathaus (interesting tour available) and the two lakes. This is a nice area to wander around, and another nice area is Altona which has a very good museum covering shipbuilding and including many recreated homes from the past. By contrast, we walked along the Reeperbahn just because it's famous. It's a dump - not particularly sleazy, just boring and filled with fast food joints like KFC and Burger King. Perhaps it would have been better at night; or if we were teenagers; or drunk.

  • Ohlsdorf cemetery. We went for the Commonwealth War Cemetery which includes those killed in both World Wars (notably British & Dominion aircrew killed during WW2). There is a Cross of Sacrifice and a Stone of Remembrance with the inscription "Their Name Liveth For Evermore." We also spent time at the rest of the cemetery which is huge (buses run around using two routes) and beautiful.

  • our hotel was in the St Georg district and we spent several evenings walking around taking in its many bars and restaurants. A very lively and international area with food options from across Europe and Asia.

Posted by
2880 posts

Nice reports, Nick. I’ve spent over 2 years of my life in various parts of Germany but haven’t made it to any of these interesting places yet. Thanks for the inspiration. We are currently in the Harz area so if you are looking for another beautiful, but under-visited by groups outside of Germany, area to explore I highly recommend the Harz in Saxony-Anhalt.

Posted by
1956 posts

I will be in Hamburg next year on a RS Best of Germany tour that begins there. I plan to arrive 2 days early so I’m bookmarking your TR.

Posted by
2595 posts

Great report, Nick, about areas of Germany that are not discussed much on the forum. I enjoyed reading your experience in all the places you visited. I have only been to Lüneburg and did it as a day trip on a Sunday. The Rathaus was impressive. There was a great-looking bookstore right on the edge of the town's main square that I wanted to visit, but it was closed (due to it being Sunday).

I'm looking forward to hitting Hamburg and perhaps some of your other stops are the next few years.

Posted by
2595 posts

@Mona -- I hope to hit the Harz Mountains within the next 2 years or so. I had mapped out a trip for this year, but ended up going to Slovenia instead. The not-chosen trip was Harz Mountains -- Weimar -- Saxon Switzerland over 2-3 weeks.

Posted by
12353 posts

Hi,

Thanks for a very detailed and interesting report.

All these towns Eutin, Schleswig, Lüneburg, Lübeck, Hamburg, you visited are lovely, culturally and historical relevant, important, and well worth seeing. Certainly you get a different feel in them. I've been to all of them except Schleswig numerous times. Schleswig only once, will return for that famous Schloss Gottorp.

In Eutin, Lüneburg, Lübeck, Kiel if you're after historical sites, war memorials, they are there. That's one reason for my going back.

I like going back to Kiel, yes, it was on the British list of area bombing targets starting in early 1942. Lüneburg is one of my top favourite towns in Germany.

If you had done the Kiel harbor cruise, cost 14 Euro, the tour would have been only in German, no audio phones either, no English spoken at all. It's a very nice cruise , ca 90 mins, I've done it twice.

Other places in the area, relatively, are Stade, Husum, Plön.....all worthy of your time.

Posted by
681 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip. It is all about the quality and enjoyment of your trip not the amount of sites you see in a day. It sounds like you did it just right for you guys. Congrats