Rebellious streak

But there’s more to Hamburg than shipping and sex. In the Schanzenviertel, funky shops and laid-back cafés give the area that boho Berlin vibe. On remarking it’s like the German capital’s Prenzlauerberg I’m corrected by a local: “No, Prenzlauerberg is a bit like here”.

The punks are not just window dressing: Hamburg has a tradition of doing its own thing, and its resident have included pirates, squatters and the notorious Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. Schultblatter Street is an ideal spot for people-watching. As I sit outside a Portuguese café with a €2 bottle of Sagres, I’m pleased to note the tables are packed as people travel to lap up the Monday evening sunshine in this popular quarter. At nearby Central Park –one of the city’s several ‘beach bars’ – there’s a desert island vibe with deckchairs on trucked-in sand.

Footy and ferry rides

A 10-minute walk away, and dwarfed by a mighty World War II bunker that now houses a nightclub, is FC St Pauli’s Millerntor soccer stadium. Hamburger SV are more successful, but St Pauli top the popularity stakes. 
Vehemently non-sexist, non-racist and anti-Nazi, the women and children-friendly football environment has gained a cult following both home and abroad. With punk subcultures, pirate paraphernalia and recycled ’70s-disco chants, it’s the coolest team by a long throw-in.

Another beach bar, Strand Pauli, near the River Elbe, is overlooked by an orange house with a banner bluntly telling the electricity board to “Fuck off!” The squatting scene may have declined but rebelliousness remains.

A great way to see the river is by public ferry, such as the 62. A few euros gets you bratwurst and beer on the deck, and stops include the Fischmarkt. On Sundays, from 5am, this is the place for night owls to carry on the party or buy fresh bread rolls and coffee. After the clubbers go home it becomes a more genteel market.

At the 62’s easterly terminus, in rejuvenated docklands, builders are working on the jewel in the crown of Hamburg. The €241 million Elbe Philharmonic Hall may be controversial – “They could have spent that money on hospitals,” says a punk in disgust – but it will supposedly outshine Bilbao’s Guggenheim and Sydney’s Opera House. Watch out Berlin: from capitalism to counter-culture, Hamburg’s ship is coming in.

Free walking tours

Free tours (you tip the guide rather than pay) have sprung up all over Europe. But there are plenty of websites or guidebooks to get basic location info – so why bother?

After my gentle three-hour walk with a Sandeman’s guide, I knew Hamburg’s history, was oriented and had a new drinking buddy. Helping me discover the world of Kontorhaus architecture, Hamburg’s pirate past and more, it was fun and educational. This is well worth the tip. See