Week 7, part 5

A look at the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof from the outside (left) and the inside (right).
We wanted to get from Berlin to Copenhagen in one day, but that meant either leaving before 7am or getting there late in the evening. We'd have to change trains in Hamburg, a place we'd planned on making a "whistle stop" anyway. We left Berlin late Thursday morning in order to reach Hamburg before the afternoon rush hour. After spending a night there, we'd catch a morning train for Copenhagen.

Even though we were on a non-smoking car, this turned out to be one of the most hellish train rides we'd ever taken. Our seats were in the end of the car closest to the smoking car, and only a single sliding door separated us from the toxic cloud on the other side. Every time someone passed through that door, cigarette smoke would come billowing into the non-smoking car. Getting off that train felt like coming up from under water.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (main station) is not a pleasant place at 3 in the afternoon. It suffers from the same commercialization and lack of navigational aids that we'd found in Berlin, but this station was much more crowded and hysterical. It seemed as if tens of thousands of people were there at any given time. Not even Union Station in Chicago was this crazy.

It took a while to find the tourist information office, which was hard to see in the forest of big and bright storefronts of junk food purveyors. We asked for a low-priced room close to the bahnhof, and got one a block away for 100 marks (less than $50). Once we got away from our unusually chatty desk clerk, we relieved ourselves of our rucksacks and set out for our main destination in Hamburg: the Kaiser Keller.

Kaiser Keller is a club on a strip called the Reeperbahn. In the early 60's the Beatles played there almost nightly. Long before most people had ever heard of the Beatles they were the opening act for some other guy who's been long since forgotten. Our map was adequate to show us how to get there on the S-bahn, but many factors conspired to keep this from being a pleasant trip.

When we got to the platform and looked for the ticket machine (which was conveniently located on the platform in Berlin), we were told we'd have to go back up to the street to find one. It was rush hour, everyplace was crowded, and in about 15 minutes darkness would make photography impossible. We were already in extremely foul moods from having spent over three hours in a cloud of tobacco smoke. We got our tickets and waited for our train. Another train came, one that shares the same platform and much of the route of ours. Looking at our map, it looked like this train would work. It didn't. We had to get off, take another train back to our line, and change again. It cost us about 20 minutes, which doesn't sound like much unless you're a photographer racing against the setting sun.

We got there and found the Reeperbahn to be a very sleazy neighborhood, mostly filled with assorted strip clubs, with an occasional disco or live music venue mixed in. At Kaiser Keller we saw a small display behind a window acknowledging that location's significance in musical history. Darkness had rendered digital photography impossible, so we had to use the flash to commit images to film, which won't be processed until we get home.

We had dinner close to our hotel at a place best described as a trendy cafe. The owner of a nearby health food store sent us there when we'd asked where we could eat without breathing smoke. He had to think hard before sending us there. The cafe was in part of the ground floor of a larger building, and the smoke-free seating was out in the poorly-heated lobby. We ate a fairly decent meal with our coats on while a young couple groped each other very publicly on the other side of the window. No one bothered to tell them to "get a room."

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