Hamburg – Germany’s northernmost metropolis – was on our itinerary last September. Our main reason for our trip were the Cruise Days – a festival stretching over an entire weekend around – well you guessed it – the cruise ship industry. We did not really know what to expect. The only information we had was a poster and some quick internet research we did. Apparently, this year the Cruise Days and the Blue Port festival were combined.
For the Blue Port festival Michael Batz, a light artist, was bathing the harbor & Hamburg’s loveliest landmarks in a magical blue light. After a light-up ceremony, the installation extended a little further out into the harbor each day so that dozens of illuminated buildings, bridges and objects along the waterfront gradually merged to form a single, unforgettable artwork.
“I have the harbor’s story to tell” he said in an interview. Whilst painting old seamarks onto the nighttime harbor landscape – cones, buoys, towers etc. – the old navigation aids by which seafarers steered their vessels for centuries before modern technology increasingly began to take their place, he was telling how the maritime world was changing.
We tried to book a hotel at the harbor hoping we would be able to spot the ships sailing in and out from our room. What we didn’t know was that there are several terminals for big vessels. We ended up in the 25hours hotel in “Hafencity”, a fairly new district. The design of the hotel matched the event – dedicated to sailors and ships, you feel a bit like being in a cabin of a ship.
On Saturday when waking up we were greeted by MS Europa, an award winning cruise ship.
The plan to wake up at 5.30 a.m. to witness the 6 o’clock sail in did not happen – as the baby slept soundly we just did the same. You have to take advantage of this kind of situations! We then headed out to the cruise ship terminal where travel agencies and cruise ship companies set up their information stands. We continued along the four-kilometer long event area, which extended along the waterfront of the river Elbe from the center in the “Hafencity” to the Cruise Center Altona.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, very inviting to be outside and better than the forecast. The weather gods were still very much on our side so we took our time looking at some of the 15 theme islands, the information and food stalls, shops as well as the live acts.
In the evening it was time for the Grand Hamburg Cruise Days Parade – gorgeously illuminated cruise liners sailed majestically down the river past the blue lights of the harbor and as each passed, it received a greeting and its own burst of fireworks. A small “armada” of boats and barges formed the accompanying convoy. Hamburg is special as the city and its harbor is not directly situated at the sea. The ships have to navigate down the narrow Alster river – at least it seems narrow with such big ships – for 110 kilometers before reaching the open sea.
We made an effort to find a good spot to watch the spectacle trying to avoid the biggest crowd as we had a pram with us. We ended up on a hill; we were not alone but it was still comfortable, not overly crowded. It was a nice experience and even though we used to work on ships we have never seen anything like that. It got late when we called it a day and made our way back to the hotel. The baby slept soundly through all the noise – it seems what bothers his sleep is a dark, quiet room whilst fireworks, a highway or being amidst partying people seems beneficial to his rest.
Sunday we started with a very touristy city tour by bus. Reperbahn, inner and outer Alster, Town Hall, St. Michaelis Church, Fish Market, St. Pauli, Jungfernstieg… check! The guide was really entertaining and knowledgeable; probably the best we ever had. We ended up at the other end of the cruise village and made our way up.
From the pier we took a water shuttle to the Steinwerder cruise ship terminal where the Queen Mary 2 docked. Admiring this classical and legendary vessel made us dream of the good times we had during our ship’s days (the bad or hard days we tend to forget about). We would have given a lot to set sail that day – as passengers though 🙂
The evening we spent at an Italian restaurant and our timing and the place we chose by coincidence proofed to be just perfect yet again. Shortly after we stepped in it started pouring rain! Whilst we enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner, the Grand Finale of the Cruise Days was unfolding right in front of our eyes. The MSC Splendida and the Queen Mary 2 left the harbor whilst playing songs with the ships horn. We really could not have chosen a better (and dryer) space to watch the big departure!
The rain did not stop by the time we left the restaurant; we got drenched on the last day of our trip but hey, for northern Germany that is not bad at all!
In case you wish to visit yourself, the next Cruise Days will take place in 2017, from the 8th to the 10th September.