Spending time in Europe as a tourist is not cheap. When we lived in Crete, we took advantage of our location to travel all over Europe, and between budget airlines like Ryan Air and Airbnb in small towns we were able to keep expenses low. But today, even with the great airfare we scored from Denver to Amsterdam, the exchange rate is not in our favor making accommodations and meals pricey. I read everything I could get my hands on about Europe on a budget, but budget and comfort don’t usually fit well into the same sentence. I don’t need all the fancy trimmings, and I’ll even tolerate a (clean) shared bathroom, but I do require a bed that fits my 6’2” husband and me comfortably in a neighborhood that’s at least semi-quiet.
In Hamburg, Germany we found the perfect Airbnb in the trendy St. Pauli neighborhood. Our sixth floor window in a quiet 19th century building peered over the steepled roof of an old Orthodox church. And the bed was a dream. With those two requirements checked off our list, we found a travel article on “Free things to do in Hamburg.” And so began our quest. By far, the cheapest form of entertainment and best way to get acquainted with a new city is a simple walk-about. We always search out neighborhoods where real life happens which is usually not in the tourist areas.
Our first day out, we walked around the city and stumbled upon an old church that was bombed out during WW2. The only part left standing was the and had been left in its skeletal form as a reminder of the ravages of war. The church of St. Nikolai once stood proudly as the tallest building in the city with a steeple that seemed to touch heaven itself. Today the church building is gutted and has been left in its skeletal form as a reminder of the ravages of war. Only the steeple remains, still reaching to heaven as a representation of hope. The memorial terrace that stands inside the once enclosed sanctuary, piqued our interest so we took the stairway down into the museum under the old nave. Here we found rooms containing the history of the destruction of Hamburg during WW2. Photos, memorabilia and writings depicting the horrors of the relentless bombing of Hamburg reminded us that there are no winners in war. In fact, the exhibits were pointedly non-biased. The sobering memorial stands as a remembrance for all who suffered in the path of war: Allies, Germans, Jews, gypsies, the disabled and the disadvantaged – all who stood in the way of the Nazi machine devouring its way through Europe.
We left the area of the church with a longing to understand more about Hamburg, so we booked a free walking tour for the next day. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable student at the local university. Most of the tour focused on the pivotal event of the Allied bombings in 1943 that left 50% of the city burned and flattened. But long before WW2, Hamburg was a key Hanseatic city renown for its marine commerce and expansive harbor.
A cruise around the extensive and vibrant harbor of Hamburg can cost up to 50 euro. We opted instead to take the ferry that sails the same waters, hugging the coast and giving the same excellent views of the harbor. Sitting on the top deck in the sun, sipping on a good Dutch beer and snacking on a picnic was the perfect cheap date. Later that afternoon we rented bikes and rode around the city checking out the sights that we wanted to revisit from the walking tour.
At the end of the day, we tallied up our expenses and here’s how it looked:
- St. Nikolai Memorial – free. Museum – 5€ per person.
- Walking Tour – free. Tip 10€ per person.
- Walk through the Elbtunnel – free.
- Ride through big city park, Planten and Blomen – 10€ bike rental per person.
- Plaza level of Elbharmonie concert hall – free.
- Bike around the Alster Lake – free.
- Picnic lunch in the park – 12€.
- 2 Ferry tickets 4.40€. 2 beers 6€.
- Dinner – €20 including beer
So our day in Hamburg, although not “free” cost us a pittance for a full day of entertainment and meals. I admit for dinner, we did “splurge” on pizza, salad and beers at a sidewalk café. Looking at our bill revealed that the bottle of water I ordered was more expensive than the half liter glass of good Hefeweizen beer. Hmmm – just a great excuse to drink more beer while in Germany. What’s not to love about that?!