Hamburg’s relationship with the River Elbe dates back to the 9th century. Its citizens’ love affair with the Elbe’s riverside beach bars may only be a part of a tradition going back to the 19th century, but it’s equally intimate. On a warm, sunny Sunday morning I arrived at the picturesque harbour of Neumühlen on Ferry 62, and was one of only a handful of people to disembark. The harbour doubles as a maritime museum filled with lovely wooden boats as well as more modern ice breakers, tugs and a floating crane.
I made my way onto land and to a cafe with tables overlooking the harbour and river. It was very peaceful as I ordered up some breakfast and much needed coffee after a night out in Hamburg’s Karolinenviertel. My neighbours at the next table were two of the most drunk ‘sailors’ in the history of sailing. They’d been involved in the tall ships festival, and seemed to have spent the previous 72 hours drinking themselves into a stupor in the Reeperbahn.
As I sat watching boats sail by on the Elbe, I noticed something unusual in the harbour: two boats were being lined up to race each other. Two pilots were stood in the back of the small wooden boats, each with a single oar in the water. Someone shouted ‘go’ and they paddled furiously towards the finish line, a bridge over the harbour. I wandered back towards the harbour to watch the competition unfold. It seemed like a pointless way of propelling a boat forward, but everyone was having fun.
Leaving the harbour sports behind me, I headed over to the remarkably pleasant and clean beach that stretches for about a kilometre along the river bank. It was still quite early and the beach wasn’t particularly busy until I reached the iconic Strandperle beach bar. It and the neighbouring Ahoi Strandkiosk heaved with people enjoying a drink in the sun. It really was a hot day, so I joined the crowds in the shade and had a glass of the locally brewed Astra.
The bars have a laid-back feel and were the perfect place to wash up on a Hamburg Sunday. The views across the river to boats sailing past the giant cranes of the Port of Hamburg seemed perfectly normal sitting on this beach along the Elbe. Fully rested, I walked further down the beach before doubling back through the lovely, upmarket suburb of Övelgönne. Tree-lined pathways weave across the hillside behind the beach and past wooden houses with wrought iron balconies.
It’s very sedate and peaceful, with beautiful views over the river. Interestingly, there are a surprising number of bars and good restaurants in the area. You could easily go from spending a day on the beach to not leaving until well after sunset. I strolled back to the harbour grateful that I’d made the effort to visit this sublime piece of Hamburg – I almost didn’t. Ferry 62 dutifully turned up a short while later, and I headed back to town as yet more sailing ships made their way towards the open sea.
I made one final stop to visit the Fish Market which, by the time I arrived in the late afternoon, was in a bit of a slump following what looked like a busy lunchtime. The grand wrought iron interior was decked out in bunting and a band was warming up. If this little trip down the river had proved anything, it is that Hamburg really is a city full of surprises. It won’t be the last time I visit.