After three days of seeing friends in London and Dublin, it was time for Merideth and I to move on to the continent and explore some new beer territory. While not a big beer destination like other German cities, Hamburg was our first stop on this phase of our trip. We had heard good things about Germany’s second largest city so after a long day of travel, we were eager to start exploring her streets.
Merideth was particular eager because ’tis the season of the Christkindlmarkt, the Christmas markets. Hamburg, being a large city, was guaranteed to have many. On the walk through the Altstadt towards our first beer destination, we found two large markets and several other smaller ones. Despite the large crowds, Merideth was in heaven as she wandered the numerous stalls of the Winterzauber along the Binnenalster and the Hamburger Weihnachtsmarkt at the Rathaus. On this first pass through, I did attempt to hurry Merideth along. We had been up since, 4am and hadn’t had much to eat. Dinner and beers were calling us just a few more minutes away.
Maybe disoriented by the wafting scent of cloyingly sweet Glühwein, we got lost in the winding streets of the Altstadt. After a bit of an argument and some quick map-checking, we were again headed in the right direction. Located on a main street in a newer looking part of the city, Gröninger Privatbrauerei’s Braukeller was a welcome sight to weary beer travelers.
The Braukeller was truly a cellar. In the basement level of the building, the stone walled, narrow and long space seemed to go back forever. The brewery was located towards the front with side rooms revealing themselves here and there.
Unfortunately, being only a table of two, we were sat in the very front away from all the action. But we did see huge party after huge party being whisked into the spacious keller. The draw for huge parties, besides ample room, was the communal platters of yummy-looking German food, pork, sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut. However, the coolest thing was the 10 liter wooden barrels of beer that the table could share.
Ten liters of beer was a bit much for just the two of us so we settled on each getting a half liter of Pils. I followed the Pils with their Weisse, a refreshing wheat beer that was very light on the banana and cloves.
The food was buffet style and hit the spot. While I went for the local ham with potatoes, Merideth was entranced by the crackling on top of the pork belly which she also accompanied with potatoes.
My belly full of pork and beer, I was ready to fully to confront the Christmas market at the Rathaus, seemingly the largest and most crowded. We wandered what felt like endless aisles of booths, rubbing shoulders with the fellow market goers in the narrow alleys. Merideth mostly focusing on the crafts. I, on the other hand, was trying find someone pouring beer.
We got there just in time to see Santa and a girl on a cloud fly back and forth above the market. In the middle, the sled would stop and Santa recited Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer in German. Unfortunately, Santa had a mean and somewhat terrifying voice. The Germans didn’t seem to be freaked out like I was and burst into singing Rudolf in English once Santa was done and the song started playing.
Sufficiently traumatized by the scary Santa, I needed another beer. Luckily, Brauhaus Joh. Albrecht was just around the corner. Well, just around the corner if we had gone the correct way. After walking in the wrong direction, we doubled back and found the hopping brewpub located next to one of the city’s canals.
The festive and busily decorated brewpub was packed with fellow Christmas market goers seeking a break from the madness. Merideth and I arrived just in time for another couple to get up from one of the high tables in the bar area. We pounced on the chance and had our bags around the table even before the previous occupants could vacate.
Merideth began with the Helles. I started with their Weihnachtsbock, their Christmas beer. Merideth was very pleased with her Helles and I concurred. The Christmas beer, on the other hand, was too light in body for my taste. I followed my first beer up with the Dunkel, which suffered the same issue in my eyes.
After two beers, we were ready for the short walk back to our hotel and a warm bed. It had really been a long day. But we were smiling because we finished it in our beloved Germany.
The following morning, we got a late start as it was the first day we could relax and catch up on things. When we finally left our hotel room, our first destination was the Holsten brewery, two S-Bahn stops and a short walk away. Not knowing what to expect, it’s proximity was an easy decision of ‘let’s go check it out.’ We found it quite easily but nothing was open, not even the beer shop on Saturday afternoon.
Our abbreviated visit to Holsten put us a short 15 minute walk from Hamburg’s famous (or infamous) Reeperbahn, it’s red light district. Famous for brothels, strip clubs, sex shops and the birthplace of the Beatles, the Reeperbahn would be our first European red light district. I have to admit, our stroll down the street with the other daytime gawking tourists was a bit of a letdown. Until we came to their Christmas market.
Santa Pauli, Hamburg’s alternative Christmas market, was only about 100 yards long, but it was where all the cool kids hung out. Similar to many other markets, Santa Pauli had bratwurst, Glühwein and booths selling gifts. But is also had hand-made sex toys, shiny metal fetish gear and a strip club, which was not open when we were there. Merideth and I left Santa Pauli with some disturbing images in our minds and big smiles on our faces.
Later that night, we returned to Santa Pauli to meet an Irish friend living in Hamburg. After a couple of sickly sweet Astras at the market, Keith took us to his local in St. Pauli, a quiet little corner pub. Our first Hamburg beer adventure was over. While not the greatest beer town, we thoroughly enjoyed our two days in Hamburg. The following morning, Merideth and I were on a plane to Copenhagen.