The morning entails the routine which is becoming familiar: shower, repack everything, vitamins, sun block, gear. I say my goodbyes and head out. A fuel stop a few kilometres beyond Amsterdam. The previous day’s experiences have taught me to go with the vibe I’m feeling as to the waterproofs. I’m wearing them again. True enough, a few miles past the transparent German border, the heavens open. Not as bad as the day before, but it’s still uncomfortable.
By this stage I’m on the Autobahn. The distance between Amsterdam and Hamburg is over 450km so I’ve chosen Autobahn 1 which runs past Bremen. I have a particularly good reason to try and get to Hamburg quickly: my fiance who is travelling around several northern European countries by train will be there to meet me.
The Autobahn is a very libertaing concept. Everyone has to get somewhere, and some people need to get to a place more quickly than others. Nobody wants to cause harm to others as it may harm them also. The absence of a speed limit works very well: the right hand lane is the crawler lane with lorries and tankers rolling along at around 100kph. The outer lane is the overtaking lane, there folks reach up to 150kph, maybe a bit more. Everyone self regulates, and everyone gets to their destination at the optimal speed for them. It works. Germany’s economy is the biggest in Europe, bigger than the UK, France or Italy, and road freight and functional infrastructure is major factor in that.
I settle into a rhythm: a cruising speed of about 120kph (75mph or so), rising to 130 or 135 on occasion when an overtake becomes necessary. 140, 150 (90+ mph) feels uncomfortable, the wind resistance is too great and I find myself leaning forward to brace myself for it. Somewhere between 75 and 80 is fine.
Eventually the rain passes and I begin to dry, although my left boot and left glove are soaked again. I get to Hamburg around 6pm. The pension is in Stellingen, a neighbourhood about 4 miles from Reeperbahn. It’s opposite a vast Honda motorbike dealership, the biggest I’ve seen. When I wander in to say hello the following morning, the guy tells me that the most popular model is the Honda Africa Twin, followed by the recently reissued Monkey Bike which quickly displaced the Grom! Cruisers are not at all popular, and the only two in the place is an older Shadow SA and huge custom modern Rune with a “Do not touch” sign.
The guesthouse is lovely, basic but really neat, with a cute forest themed room, with a shared bathroom and a little kitchen with all the necessary utensils. Despite confusing messages about the parking situation, the guy tells me to bring the bike round the side of the house which is safe and secluded. He then sits down with two of the guests next to where I put the bike and the crack open a few beers. He invites me to join them, but I need to sort my gear out before heading into town. I change out of the motorbike jeans and spend about 15 minutes applying a hairdryer to my left boot. It doesn’t fully dry but it it’ll suffice.
Hamburg is described as a Hanseatic Free City, one of the major centres of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of trading ports across many countries which in many ways had more in common with each other than with their home jurisdictions. Hamburg sits about 100km inland but this does not stop it being one of Europe’s main ports. It has a separate status in the German federation and its mayor is more like a prime minister or president. Trade has always been a huge part of the city and with it came all the trappings of a freedom loving people and visitors such as sailors and merchants having a good time. Vast parts of the city are a red light “district”: it can’t even be described as such because it spreads well beyond a single area. Bars, juke joints, eateries, strip clubs and brothels mingle with shipping insurance companies and law offices. Hamburg is the second biggest city in Germany and it doesn’t feel like anywhere else. Is the concept of the nation state useful to its inhabitants? They like herring, as do I, like their neighbours in Schleswig Holstein, and welcome business like Frankfurt. Of course they are successful as part of Germany. But they were successful on their own too. It’s an interesting thought, which occurs to me as I dodge three separate sex workers who proposition me outside the police station on Reeperbahn. Opposite is a metal cutout portait / sculpture of a legendary police officer. She has served at that police station for nearly 50 years and has seen Hamburg change before her eyes.
My fiance is waiting for me in a little food market. She has travelled by train via Copenhagen and Malmo, her next stop is Hannover. Her brief visit is a major highlight of my trip! We wander around looking for a place to eat, walking past the silhouette sculpture of an early line up of the Beatles who spent a few months early in their career rocking the bars of Hamburg to cut their rock’n’roll chops. Apparently it worked! Hamburg cuisine is interesting, much of it entailing pickles, herring and beetroot, and therefore a lot of it is pink. The portions are big, a bit too big. Much like Hamburg itself: flouescent pink and a lot to take in.
We return to the guesthouse and the change in vibe, from full on neon to quiet suburban, is welcome. The following day holds the run to Berlin.