The year was 2013. It was November. Or October. It definitely wasn’t December though. I was living in Germany at the time, some months into my study/gap/drinking year that the EU was so very kindly paying for. The town I was living in was pleasant enough, but it was small and quite isolated so there wasn’t much in terms of entertainment, beyond occasionally having a game of bowling or trekking up the mountain. I didn’t like trekking up the mountain because I was an out-of-shape slob and any prolonged walking or hiking caused my shins to tear apart. To get out of the town and find some real fun, some of the other international students and I decided we’d spend our weekends in other parts of the country — or different countries entirely. Some weeks prior we had been in Amsterdam, before passing through Cologne on our drive back*. On another occasion we went to Hannover, where we spent most of our time arguing about paying for our group train ticket than taking in whatever sites there actually are in Hannover.
For our next weekend getaway, we decided that we would venture to the north of the country. Bremen and Hamburg were the two most popular choices when we put it to a vote. We couldn’t decide on either, so we opted for both. We arranged our hostels for the weekend (it was a four-day weekend in truth, so it was a two and two split between both towns). opted against renting another car after the fiasco that had ensued when we decided to do that for the Amsterdam trip, and began our adventure.
Hamburg was a disappointment. Though that being said, I didn’t have any preconceived notion of what Hamburg would be like, so it’s hard to say a town is a disappointment. And yet, it was. Perhaps I didn’t get the best views of the town, but in the areas I visited it just looked a bit run-down — a bit grundy, just for my chance to use that word. It also stank terribly of fish. Overwhelmingly so. I know it’s situtated on the North Sea and has a strong fishing trade so that was always likely to be the case, but it was an assault of fishy smells (and the kind of smells that leave a mark on your tongue) from the harbour to the town centre.
The town centre itself was overflowing. We did visit on a weekend so larger crowds were to be expected but even then, Hamburg seemed to be more densely populated than the other towns and cities we had visited on our tour. Amsterdam, massive tourist hub that it is felt more roomy. Though Hamburg did have one luxury that Amsterdam didn’t have: I could walk down the street and not fear the threat of being mowed down by some Dutch twat on a bicycle.
After walking around the centre for a while, we were feeling hungry so we went on the lookout for some place to eat. Some of the Spanish girls did what they did everytime we went somewhere new — they went and found the nearest McDonald’s and sat in there for half the day. The rest of us, meaning me, two Spanish guys and a girl from Kazakhstan, felt like going for something a bit more German and traditional. That was surprisingly hard to do. We found a Subway, a Burger King, another McDonald’s — but not much in the way of authentic German cusine. There was some old guy on the corner selling oversized pretzels but that’s hardly a meal so I didn’t even acknowledge him. Eventually, on another street corner on a road that was just off the high street, we found a little restaurant hiding away. Was it authentic? Well, the fact that almost every item on the menu was some variation of a bratwurst, I would say so.
I opted for a currywurst variation on the sausages. It seemed like the thing to do. It’s a popular choice but oh so very hard to get right. That’s the issue with sauces — you get people trying to be too creative, or not creative enough. Some put in too much curry powder and make the thing impossible to eat; others go too hard on the ketchup and make it too sweet, or the mustard and make it too tangy. Some people add honey, others opt against it. This place, however, got their mixture of ingredients spot on. It had a kick to it, it had sweetness, it was tangy and moist and all that good stuff. The sausage was cooked to perfection, which to me means just a taint of burn on the edges of the skin. Before or since, I’ve never had a better tasting currywurst. I have tried to replicate the curry concoction they made but have failed to do so. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps my nostalgia has kicked the flavours up to near mythical proportion. My memory has overtaken my reality.
And with all that being said, that wasn’t the best meal I’ve had. The best I’ve had was some Elk-meat sausage that I got from a street vendor during a Christmas market the following day in Bremen.
Hang on — a Christmas market? I guess it was in December after all.