Hamburg and the trip back to the USA

Hamburg from across the North Elbe near the Elbe Tunnel

When I left Dresden, I took the train to Bremen, and then rode from Bremen to Hamburg. I rode, in reverse, mostly the route I used last year from Hamburg to Bremen - that is day 50 on my European tour 02. In Hamburg I stayed with my friends Dirk and Susanne and met my new friend Alicia, their 8 month old daughter. I've been looking forward to meeting Alicia since well before she was born!

I stayed with Dirk, Susanne, and Alicia for five days, then took the night train from Hamburg to Frankfurt Airport so I could catch my late morning flight back to the USA. Last year I got a brief introduction to Hamburg, and this year, with a lot of help from Dirk and Susanne, I got know Hamburg much better. It was a very enjoyable and very educational visit.

My new friend Alicia

Susanne and Alicia

Dirk and Alicia

Last year, I met Dirk at the Elbe tunnel where I asked him for help in riding south from Hamburg. That isn't an easy thing because there are a lot of waterways in the half a dozen miles between the North and South Elbe rivers and most of the bridges are not rideable on a bicycle. This year, by riding with Dirk and by studying detailed maps of Hamburg, I learned a lot about riding in Hamburg and now I can get from Hamburg to Dirk and Susanne's home as well as what it is like to ride in the central area of Hamburg.

Like many German cities, Hamburg has good bicycle paths and, since Hamburg has lots of water and lots of neat buildings, many of those paths are excellent riding. The ride south from Hamburg is through the huge Port area of the city which isn't beautiful and is a bit challenging to ride. It has a lot of rough pavement including cobblestone streets, and there are limited option for getting across the many waterways. Once you get past the South Elbe, the riding is good and very pretty. Once you get past the North Elbe, and into Hamburg, the riding, except in the old city center is very good and, especially along the river and around Lake Alster, which is just north of the city center, very beautiful.

Looking over Lake Alster to the city center

Looking north at the other end of Lake Alster, about two miles north of the city center

Looking across the lake from the park on its west side

In a grassy part of the park on a weekday near noon
Part of the view from my chair at the park

On Monday, Dirk and I rode into Hamburg on his usual commuting route. That took about an hour. We rode to where he works on Milch Strasse, a very famous street near Lake Alster, and then I rode on down to the big park on the lake and, after eating a delicious pastry from what Dirk says is the best Bakery in Hamburg, studied Hamburg maps until I knew how we had come into town and, pretty much, where I wanted to ride in town. Then I rode around the lake, into the downtown area to check out some of the churches, and back to the park. Feeling energetic, I sat in a chair in the shade in a grassy part of the park for the next hour, watching people and snoozing. Then I rode north of the lake for a mile or two before riding back to meet Dirk, Susanne, and Alicia for lunch on Milch Strasse.

Cows over Milch Strasse
We ate lunch on Monday about 100 feet south of the winged cow in this image

The Map Cow - that's Lake Alster on it rear hip and the North Elbe on its hoof
Milch Strasse is in the middle of the hip, midway up the cow < grin >

The Ferrari Cow

Milch Strasse is the location of the Corporate Headquarters of Verlag Group, Germany's largest publisher. Verlag had, because it was located on Milch Strasse (Milk Street in English), a cow statue in front of its headquarters. Now there are many cow statues in and near Milch Strasse. Dirk's favorite is Spider Cow, which, in a Spider Man outfit, 'climbs' one side of the original corporate headquarters. Mine is Map Cow, covered with a map of Hamburg. There are predator cows, crouching like big cats, Soccer Cows playing with a soccer ball, an Airplane Cow, several varieties of racing car cows including a Ferrari F1 Cow, and many others.

The Islamic Community Center and Mosque located near the east side of Lake Alster

The front of Saint Nikolai Church, from where the sanctuary used to be before WWII

What the old city of Hamburg looked like after WWII bombing

There are many beautiful churches in the old city Hamburg, but none of them are really old since Hamburg was heavily bombed in WWII. My favorite, St Nikolai, which wasn't really old - built in the mid 1800's - before it was mostly destroyed in WWII, is just a beautiful bell tower and part of the back of the sanctuary now. It provides a window into the past, both the mid 1800s and the destructiveness of WWII. Of course, mostly I like it because what is left is beautiful. I also enjoyed the Mosque/Islamic Community Center, both for its beauty and as a symbol of the incredible diversity of the people of Hamburg. Hamburg is, and always has been, a truly international city.

Entering the Elbe Tunnel - it is now 100 years old!

On Monday night Dirk and I left our bikes in town and rode back home with Susanne and Alicia. Dirk got up early and took the bus and train to work. I slept in - I really needed that sleep! - and, after breakfast, walked and took the train into Hamburg to meet Dirk for lunch. Dirk had researched my train options to get to the airport, and, before we went out to lunch, I went to a train station in Hamburg and stood in line for half an hour to by a train ticket on the 11:15 PM Wednesday night train from Harburg to Frankfurt Airport. After lunch I rode around Hamburg for a while before heading south to the river, finding the Elbe Tunnel, and then finding my way south to Harburg. I only made wrong turns twice, and, after about two hours (!) I made it home. That night we - Dirk, Susanne, Alicia, and I - were down on the bank of the North Elbe at sundown with a group of Salsa dancers. Dirk and Susanne met as dance partners in that group. I got to take care of Alicia - an absolutely wonderful task - and they got to dance and visit with friends from the group.

We were on the beach right across from the entry to the Hamburg Port and a steady stream of freighters were coming in, getting unload/loaded with shipping containers, and going out again. The port, which runs 24/7, and the freighters were brightly lit, but the beach we were on as well as the other side of river past the port were dark. The view was spectacular. We were there till 11 PM or so, then we drove home.

Wednesday, my last day in Hamburg, was Dirk's birthday. He had the day off so we drove down to a lake south of Hamburg to walk, visit, swim, and eat. The swimming was chilly but refreshing. Dirk and I went in for no more than ten minutes. When we were about to get out, a family came along and the daughter - about ten years old - wanted to go swimming. We got out and were changing back to our regular clothes - easier in Germany where nudity is much less of a big deal than in the US - when she went in. She got in up to her knees and, because it was so cold, did not want to go swimming after all. Her parents said - "You will go swimming!" and she did. A lesson in German parenting.

There was a birthday party for Dirk Wednesday night where I got to meet Susanne's parents and some of Dirk and Susanne's friends. It was great fun and I'm really glad I was able to stay long enough to attend that party. At about 10:20, Dirk and I headed for the Harburg train station where, after helping me find the track my train would be on, Dirk and I said goodbye till next summer and Dirk rode back home to rejoin his birthday party.

The train was crowded and both my reserved seat and reserved bike slot were occupied. This is a real problem on German Inter-City trains. I found a place for my bike and, after Bremen, I was able to sit in my reserved seat instead of a jump seat. I got a few hours of, frequently interrupted, sleep before we got to the Frankfurt Airport at 5:40 AM. On the way, my train went down the Rhine next to the bikepath/roads I had ridden last summer going up the Rhine to Koblentz. A train from Frankfurt heading east would cross the Rhine into Mainz and then follow it north to Koblenz. Taking a train from the Airport to Bingen, then riding north up the Rhine would be a very nice, and quite easy, way to start a tour in Germany!

The setup at the Frankfurt Airport is great for coming in or going out on the train. The train station is part of the main terminal and I took my bike up in the elevator one level and then rolled it into the airplane part of the terminal. Unfortunately, my flight was from another terminal, so I had to go down an escalator to ground level and take a bus to that terminal. I wasn't sure if the bus driver would object to a loaded bike, but there was no problem. If he had, I would have ridden my bike, following the bus, to the other terminal.

I took my bike with me into the bathroom at Terminal 2 - a tight fit - and then had an overpriced, but good, breakfast at the bar/cafe in the airport. It was still much too early to heck in for my flight, so I went back to the bathroom to cleanup and shave, then worked on my computer for an hour or so. By 9 AM folks were lining up at the USAir counters to check in for the flight to Charlotte. I rolled my loaded bike into a long line and patiently waited my turn.

I didn't have to wait as long as I expected since a USAir guy walked over to me and said "You weren't planning to take you bike on the plane like that, were you?" I said no, but that there was too much variability in how bikes were handled for me to be able to get my bike ready before getting in line. He laughed and agreed. Then he told me I'd have to box my bike and sent to another line to get the box. He said not to get in line after I had it boxed, but to find him and he would do the first part of the checkin process for me. I got the box - free instead of the $17 I had to pay for one coming over - and, since I carried a big roll of duct tape with me all summer, I was able to pack it properly with only half an hour or so of hard, dirty, work and, after another half an hour, I was checked in.

As on the trip over, I had my bike in the box and two full (and one empty) panniers in a folding duffel bag I carried in one of my panniers all summer, and my messenger bag (with my computer, camera, and other electronic stuff), my clothing pannier, and my helmet as carry on luggage. I checked the bike box and the duffel bag, took my carry on stuff back to the bathroom with me and cleaned up again, then went to bar for a, well earned, beer. Then I went through a lot of security stuff and waited another hour before getting on the plane. While waiting, in that heavily secured area, I realized that had a weapon with me. My helmet mirror is mounted with a 14Ga spoke. It was loose and much more useful as a weapon than the nail clippers they confiscated from the guy in front of me at the first security check...

The flight back was long and not that great - British Air treats their passengers better than USAir, but USAir treated my bicycle much better than BA did last year - but I had a good seat mate and it was an OK nine hour flight. When we got to Charlotte, something went wrong in the unloading of luggage and, of course, my bike was unloaded last, so it took almost two hours to get out of the airport. Amazingly, the bike box was almost intact, so I brought it home with me for reuse next year. The only other time I've had a reusable bike box was when I flew Southwest Air to from Nashville to Portland Oregon, and that was even more amazing since the box had to be transferred between planes.