While in Munich for business this late January, I planned to conclude another German adventure with a pleasure trip to Hamburg. For my first time there, I would join my friend Laetitia and support her and her young business, mamis travelguide, at one of Germany’s largest travel fairs, Reisen Hamburg on Saturday. Travel to a travel fair where I not only get to help a friend out, but also check out all things travel 2019. Add on three extra days to visit this intriguing city everyone tell me I will love. Winning.
Munich and Hamburg are separated by some 800km, or 500 miles: that’s about the distance between Washington, DC and Cincinnati, OH or San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA. Except separating these 2 cities, the 3rd and 2nd largest German metropoles (Berlin is the largest, obvi), is, well, the entire country. Approximately 80 million people live in Germany; in contrast, 40 million people live in California. And in Montana, a state of comparable size to that of Germany: 1 million. Context.
Most people who undertake this journey fly. Rather, I opted to take the train. While costs were comparable, experience was the deciding factor: the journey to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof is familiar, shorter and easier than to its Flughafen; not having to check my bag and go through security is a luxurious plus; my ICE first class seat is spacious and borderline decadent and the empty seat next to me a delight; the central train station in Hamburg is closer to my destination than its airport; and when I add up the travel time, it ends up being just a little longer to ride than fly. I just love trains.
It’s not just trains though. It’s the feeling. In Munich, I enjoy walking through the central station, even on a random Tuesday evening while simply switching from one U-Bahn line to another. I make up stories about the people I observe walking with their overstuffed backpacks or fancy silver Rimowa roller boards. Even when I can’t understand it, there is always a pleasant buzz in the air; an organized chaos in constant motion. You can easily go so many places from there: Zürich at one track, Salzburg at another, and of course Prague… The place brings back so many memories, and also a bit of nostalgia about my heritage: my grand-papa Pierre was a Canadian National train operator for his entire career. I can’t see a train track or a locomotive without thinking of him.
Real talk though, I wanted to be able to say: I’ve seen Germany, from one end to the other. Simple.
On this sunny afternoon, from my window seat, I spent my 5 and a half hour ride looking out, across the country. Here is some of what I observed.
- In Bavaria, rolling hills, still covered in this week’s snow, reminiscent of a winter wonderland.
- Fields, fully equipped for hop growing, awaiting spring for planting.
- A train load of (to my surprise) multicolored Audis. I chuckled when I thought that these beauties surely aren’t intended for local drivers, who typically prefer their luxury German engineering in black or shades of grey.
- Modern sources of energy like wind power turbines and solar panels, as far as the eye can see.
- Vineyards, in the distance, and colors, reminding me of Sonoma County.
- Every village’s skyline marked by at least one, often more, impressive church steeple.
- Typical Middle German house architecture style, their recognizable reddish-brown roofs with white walls and sharp pignons.
- Loads of box trucks on the country’s Autobahn, often running adjacent to the train tracks.
- Graffiti, mostly along the larger city’s walls against the train tracks. I’ve come to realize this art form is a worldwide outlet for visual storytelling, an alternative yet popular method of expression and have grown to appreciate it more and more.
- Factories on the outskirts of many towns, with smokestacks fuming, most likely indicating bustling industrial activities inside.
- Construction sites, so many I lost count, yet not surprising considering Germany’s strong economy.
It was dark by the time ICE 788 reached its destination. The bustling of rush hour at the central train station, let alone its sheer size sobered me up quickly: this is NOT Munich. I enjoyed the scramble of finding my way to my accommodations in a new city and observed that I’m getting pretty bold in my quest for this feeling. More.
A mist moistened the air. At dinner, I got to speak French. “Ah, vous êtes du Canada!” Évidemment. Then, I enjoyed tasting some local vodka before laying my head down on a comfortable hotel bed full of plump pillow. Just like I like.
Hamburg, this morning, we meet. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. I might already be in love.