Saturday, December 12, 2015


The last weekend in November, my daughter and I decided to go to Hamburg, Germany, to visit their Christmas markets. Usually we spend a lot of time in Birmingham, England, but for the past two years I haven’t been able to travel as I have problems with my knees. Back in 2013 my left knee suddenly collapsed under me, so I had to start using crutches in order to walk and after a year on a waiting list I had surgery for a meniscus tear. It didn’t work, though, as I also had osteoarthritis, so the cartilage in the knee was gone and I had to wait another year to get a partial knee replacement. I had this surgery in June this year, but lo and behold, it didn’t help either. Because of the long wait, the nerves in my knee have been damaged and I’m probably never going to be able to walk again without the use of crutches.
Having to live a life with crutches also means having to travel with crutches and that was why we decided that this first trip in two years was to go to Hamburg, Germany, instead of Birmingham, England. The trip to Birmingham takes seven hours, but the one to Hamburg only takes a little over four and we only had to change trains once, whereas we have to change trains three times and fly as well, when we are going to England. That would be too much for my knees, but the Hamburg-trip was just right. Or so we thought.
It turned out that getting to Hamburg was a nightmare. On the Thursday of our departure, the Danish Railways (DSB), were so delayed and we kept being moved from one platform to another that we didn’t make our connection to Hamburg. Instead we had to take the long way, changing trains four times and reaching Hamburg with a 3½ hours delay. All in all, it took nine hours from we left home until we reached the hotel and I was totally exhausted and in so much paint that I didn’t think I would ever be able to walk again, even WITH crutches!
The hotel was lovely, though, it being the budget design hotel Prizeotel, south of the central station. It was very colourful and modern and the staff very friendly. However, I had to go to bed straight away, as I was totally exhausted from the trip and the next morning at the sumptuous breakfast buffet, I had to have two morphine tablets just to be able to function as not only was my left knee ruined by the exhausting trip the day before, the right one had started acting up with osteoarthritis pain as well!
Because of my problems, we decided to divide the day into three parts with breaks at the hotel between each, so I would be able to rest my knees. After breakfast we therefore went to Hamburg’s art hall, Kunsthalle, although it is currently undergoing modernisation. It is still open, or rather the two hundred most famous art works are still on display, but in the “SPOT ON” exhibition on the lower ground floor of the “Galerie der Gegenwart”. It was still a great experience and we saw many wonderful masterpieces such as Johann Georg Hinz’s “Kunstkammerregal – Curio Cabinet” (1666), Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge” (1902) and Edvard Munch’s “Madonna” (1894). I had a bucket list moment when I saw Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer ├╝ber dem Nebelmeer/Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” (1817/18) as I had written a paper about it at university many years ago. I hadn’t expected it to be quite as small, though, only 95 cm x 75 cm.
We had a very lovely lunch in the art hall restaurant “The Cube” with a view of the lake Binnenalster, before we went back to the hotel. It was quite easy to get around, because we had bought a Hamburg Card with which we were able to travel unlimited with busses, S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains. When I had rested my legs, our afternoon trip took us to the “Miniature Wunderland”, the largest model railway in the world. This is probably the most popular attraction in Hamburg and you have to book tickets before your arrival, which we had done. The miniature wonder of a world was amazing, situated on two floors of a building by the harbour. The model itself occupied 1,300 sqm, had 13,000 m track length, 215,000 figurines and 335,000 lights and had a day and night simulation every fifteenth minute.
The gigantic model was divided into several areas like Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the USA and Scandinavia and you could easily spend hours looking at all the lovely, pretty and even funny details. Although the wonderland was wheelchair accessible, you couldn’t really rest on the way through it as there were only chairs in the Germany section and only five in all. Because of this we had to cut our visit short (only an hour) and go back to the hotel.
When I had rested and we had had a bit to eat, we went to the Town Hall Christmas market that is said to be the largest one in Hamburg. I don’t know if that is true, but it was without doubt the prettiest and the most crowded! We arrived in time to see a real live Santa fly with his sleigh and reindeer to the top of the very tall Christmas tree on the town hall square, but that was almost all that we got to see. The market was just so crowded that we could hardly move and there were so many people at the stalls and small shops that you couldn’t even get in. We ended up going back to the hotel early to rest and for me to have more medicine.
The next day I was still in a lot of pain, so like the day before I had to have morphine along with my breakfast in order to make it through the day. We had decided to take the S-Bahn to Beatles Square to see the Beatles statues and walk down the street Grosse Freiheit to see the former Star Club. It was probably a wise move to do this in the morning, because my daughter found the many sex shops, strip clubs and other “adult” entertainment in the street very intimidation and it would have been a million time worse at night. As it was now, we only saw a single group of drunk guys, one dressed in a Heidi-costume complete with yellow braids.
From Grosse Freiheit it was only a short walk on Reeperbahn to the Panoptikum Wax Museum that my daughter wanted to visit. It was a very small museum with a small ground floor room with a balcony where you could see wax figures of people as diverse as Barak Obama, Angelina Jolie, Queen Elizabeth II, Karl Lagerfeld and Toulouse-Lautrec. A staircase from the balcony led upstairs to an even smaller room were you could see Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, Hitler, Einstein, Beethoven and the man with two faces in unholy harmony. It was a bit of a mess to be honest and so was the gathering of figures in the last room of the wax museum: the basement. Here Dracula and Harry Potter were grouped together alongside the Wolfman and a torture scene and opposite you could see Chaplin and Beatles and the world’s fattest man. Michael Jackson and Madonna were there as well as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and of course a lot of German artists. All in all, the museum was much too small and the figures badly made and strangely grouped together, but on the other hand you were offered both a folding chair to take along, so you could sit down on the way and a headphones with a guided tour.
As I had rested a bit in the museum, we decided to have lunch, before we went back to the hotel. We saw the Bismarck monument on the way to the S-Bahn and my daughter shopped a bit in a Japanese store before we ended up at the Christmas market in Jungfernsteig at lake Binnenalster. It was a beautiful area and faith would have it that just as we were about to cross the street, a Christmas parade came by. We had seen this parade getting ready in the morning on our way to Beatles Square, but we hadn’t expected to see it in action, but here it was. There were busses and sleighs with Santas, snowmen with flags and an entire marching band. The Snow Queen was there as well in her castle, waving angels on white clouds and dancing Santas, angels, gingerbread men and Christmas trees. It was lovely. Afterwards we had lunch in the very crowded Europa shopping centre before we went back to the hotel.
I had to stay at the hotel for the rest of the day as not only did my knees hurt by now, both my thumbs were sprained as well, from the extensive use of the crutches. In the evening we went to the nearby Spitalerstrasse Christmas market, though, and it was very nice and small enough for us to be able to actually buy things in the stalls and have pancakes and candied apples as it wasn’t crowded. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
The next morning, we left early as we had to catch our train back to Denmark at 9 a.m. and this time there was no problems as the train left with German precision. It was a bit strange, though, as half of our compartment was occupied by Syrian refugees and it was truly two worlds colliding. On one hand you had the well-groomed European tourists with their neat suitcases and packed lunches, on the other hand the un-groomed refugees with their sleeping bags and a bread to go around between them. The leader sat opposite me and he had money and a mobile phone much better than mine, but the rest of them looked really tired and scared and it didn’t make things better that the leader went around spraying them with deodorant because the stench of twenty men who hadn’t bathed for months was overwhelming. When we reached the border, the refugees didn’t want to seek asylum in Denmark, so they went on to Sweden whereas we caught a train back home.
  When I got home, both my knees were so ruined that so far (2 weeks) I haven’t been able to walk normally on crutches again. All in all, we had a lovely time in Hamburg, though, and it’s a city that I hope to visit again. However, the next time I guess I’ll prefer to fly, no matter that it is a lot more expensive, but at least I would avoid the handicap-unfriendly chaos of the Danish Railways, DSB.

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