Friday, 15 June 2012


13th - 15th June 2012

Das Ferry Kapitan, Hans Kniess von Bumpsedazy 
Achtung Spitfeuer! Donner und Blitzen, mein Schmeisser ist kaput. Verdamt Britische schweinhund. Jawohl Herr Obersturmbahnfuhrer. Noch ein bier bitte. All my Kraut lingo is flooding back now that I have reached Hamburg. I rolled up to the Hauptbahnhof information centre on arrival and ordered the lady at the desk to "hande hoch und herausfinden ein Hotel, schnell schnell !! ". Luckily nobody understood my Deutsche which has been almost entirely gleaned from those great 1950s War Picture Library comics, you know, the ones where when Jerry gets shot he goes "aaaargh!" and when a Nip is shot he goes "aieee!" I digress. Helpfully, despite my ribald comments, she found me a decently priced and, as it turned out, remarkably comfortable hotel room within 5 minutes walk from the station, the Hotel Alte Wache. Recommended.
I had set out on the train from Copenhagen at the civilised hour of 11.45am. It was one of those high-speed Deutschebahn ICE trains, although nowhere near as high-speed and modern as the ones out of Peking that I used to get to Tianjin. The Danish countryside looked remarkably flat, boring and beautifully manicured.

Left: Das ferry. We stopped at Rodby ( on the south coast of somewhere in Denmark ) and the train rolled onto a ferry. I didn't notice this because I was sound asleep at the time and thus became rather confused when I was woken up, ordered off the train and stumbled upstairs to the reception area on a ship. I thought we had reached Hamburg. There were excellent dining facilities for the 50 minute crossing to the German town of Putgarten. It must have been a German ship because I was immediately hit by that unmistakable aroma of Currywurst mit Pommes.
Back onto the train, through more flat and well mown farmland and we arrived at the Hanseatic city-state of Hamburg at 4.20pm.
I am not exactly breaking new territory with Hamburg. I remember the place well ( well, I remember going there often ) when stationed with the army at the garrison town of Fallingbostel about 80kms to the south. This was 40 years ago.
I decided to go on a nostalgic U-Bahn ride to St Pauli, and the notorious Reeperbahn. Yes, it is still there in all it's tawdry best. The Salambo ( and a few of those reading this will remember that delightful and sophisticated establishment with fondness and enormous embarrassment ) seems to have disappeared. Can't remember who it was ending up naked in a soapy bath there, or worse in some cases. The Eros Centre is still going, but I didn't recognise any of the staff. It seems amazing now that we ( some of us ) regularly drove here, an hour and a half up the autobahn, after an already debauched Dinner in the Mess for a night of entertainment and, mortally drunk, got back to barracks by about 0400hrs and were on 'first parade', smart as parrots, at 0800hrs. It brings back memories, amongst many others, of Buzz's car, the metallic blue BMW 2002 convertible with 'wide magnesium wheels', the height of sophisticated vehicular conveyance in those days, and the many narrow escapes from various drunken escapades. Good grief; I could not even think of doing it now.
I seemed to have arrived in Hamburg on the evening Germany were playing Holland at the Euro footy competition. There were many thousand youngish 'lads' and 'ladettes' with black, red and yellow stripes on their faces plus black, red and yellow silly hats and other accoutrements all crowding the U-Bahn and wandering the streets. They were boisterously fuelling up on lager to prepare themselves for the match. I considered it wise to make a tactical and orderly withdrawal to mein Hotel before the end of the game and thus avoid the jolly street celebrations/commiserations. I believe Germany won, so expect there was carnage in St Pauli and elsewhere.
Hamburg is a relatively pleasant city with decent shops, restaurants and some very smart houses and hotels, especially around the Alster lakes. It doesn't, however, have any particularly notable landmarks as far as I am aware, so not much to take photos of. Right: Haven't a clue what this is supposed to represent, but was standing in the Hauptbahnhof and one of few things to snap.
The next day I really couldn't be bothered to visit any museums or other 'sights'. I am somewhat 'museumed out' by now, so as it was warm and sunny I went on the longish walk around both the Binnen and Ausen Alster lakes. It was very quiet with few people about. Thousands of little yachts and boats were mostly tied up at pontoons around the edge. This might have been because it was Thursday and the industrious Germans were at work or, more likely, a considerable proportion of inhabitants were still in bed nursing monumental hang-overs following the successful footy match of the previous night.

Left: I think I remember this chap standing in the middle of Ausenalster many years ago. Still waiting for his taxi.

Up one side there were thousands of ducks and geese. They may have added to the jollity of the place, and they most certainly added to the shit on pavement and grass. Right: These are not fallen leaves, they are goose turds in profusion. It is not even possible to walk on the grass without getting your shoes covered and probably up to your knees in places.

Left: What kind of geese are these anyway? Can you shoot them? If so, I think the park authorities are missing a trick not to have a few 'hides' built around the shores and sell off the wildfowling rights. It would kill several birds with one stone...make money and reduce the level of shit. Actually you wouldn't need hides, or shotguns for that matter. A big stick would do the job.

The walk around the lakes was relaxing and enjoyable. I nearly found myself whistling at one point. Many of the houses overlooking this prestigious area are large and elegant;  obviously multi-millionaires' homes.

There are a few consulate buildings as well. Of course, the only place to really let the side down is, as you might expect, the American consulate ( right ). It is surrounded by two impregnable and ugly perimeter fences, lots of bollards and heavily fortified guard posts at both ends. I expect there are battalions of ugly, shaven headed and aggressive sunglass wearing marines lurking in the flower beds. Sometimes I think the US policy of paranoid over-reaction to the 'terrst' threat only goes to provoke hostile reaction in return. If they are so frightened of being attacked why do they fly such a fucking big flag on the roof? Another red rag to the bull if you ask me.

Left: Noch ein view, this time over the smaller Binnenalster lake.

Ach so! A pleasant day's vondering and I returned to  my room, via the Hauptbahnhof and an efficient travel advice centre, to organise the last bit of my journey. I decided, reluctantly, to put off no longer my return to Blighty and go by train to the Hook of Holland and get the ferry from there to Harwich...just about where I started from on 25th January 2011. It is interesting to note that many years ago there were daily car ferries to UK operating out of both Hamburg and Bremerhaven. Now there are none. I suppose cheap airline fairs have reduced the need...but car drivers and freight still need to go by sea? Whatever, if they don't make money they disappear.
I made my first booking cock-up at this point when I bought a reasonably priced ferry ticket for £76, including the now compulsory cabin ( never used to be compulsory and I remember sleeping well enough on chairs or even flat out on the floor after suitable tranquillizers ) to Harwich by internet. Inadvertently I put in the wrong date..and confirmed it! Not thinking; must be getting too casual. I rang up the booking company and they said they could change it. Fine, but they charged me £25 for the two minute service! What rip-off! Money for old rope for somebody, but I suppose I was a little bit to blame.
I departed the next morning by train via Osnabruck, Amersfoort and Rotterdam. Nearly had another disaster because I wasn't aware that the train from Amersfoort stopped at Utrecht and split into two halves. Of course I was in the wrong half. The conductor did insist that an announcement had been made, but only in Dutch. Fortunately at Gouda, the next stop, I could rejoin the other, correct, half which was following five minutes behind. Don't ask. Arriving at Rotterdam I had five minutes to get from platform 15 to platform 1 to catch the ongoing connection to Hook of Holland. I was told it was not a problem. By now dragging two heavy suitcases and carrying a small rucksack, with a sea of passengers to barge through, it most definitely was. Not easy to sprint under these circumstances, but necessity prevailed and followed by the curses and yells from scattered and trampled people in my path and possibly a few seriously injured small children and dogs, I made the train with literally 10 seconds to spare! Things are conspiring against me in the dying stages of this journey. 
On the ferry now; HMS Brittania or similar. Good heavens, these ferries are nothing like I remember. They are luxurious, like cruise ships, and my cabin is immaculate and comfortable ( plus WiFi and TV ). I believe the footy match between England and Sweden is on, so will show a sense of patriotism and go down to watch it in the lounge bar amongst more English supporters than Swedes I suspect. 
Homeward bound and, unless the ship hits an iceberg, I will be back in Blighty tomorrow morning.


  1. Matt, is this your last blog? Chris

  2. Maybe one more! Just to end it all off. How long do you reckon before the 'hut warming' party?

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