The Off-the-Peaten Path Guide to Hamburg, Berlin & Leipzig

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I’m always looking for the shocking, the atypical and the lesser-known. For those wanting to go beyond the everyday experience in Germany, this post will take you to Hamburg, Leipzig and Berlin — all within three hours from one another on the high speed train.


1. Attend an event at Fabrik

Once a machine parts factory in Hamburg’s Altona borough, in the hip and trendy Ottensen neighborhood, Fabrik (Barnerstraße 36) is a cultural center that shows how once-industrial spaces are being transformed for use by the new generation. Don’t let its weathered appearance and the enormous crane it seems to dangle dissuade you, Fabrik hosts everything from films to debates to lectures to concerts (Nirvana has even played here!) and beyond.

2. Savor A Plate Of Labskaus

While to a German this will not seem offbeat at all, for me as a Westerner this traditional Northern Germany dish was quite odd (although quite tasty). Labskaus takes tiny bits of salted beef, potatoes, onions and red beets and mashes them all together before topping the lump with fried egg and pickles and adding some herring rollmops to the side for enhancement (personally not my favorite part of the meal).

At first sight, the dish reminds me of when I was a child and would make my parents unique dinners throwing together any ingredients I could find (those chocolate syrup and ketchup soups were my dad’s favorite), although Labskaus has a sweet yet salty flavor, that keeps you wondering what’s actually in that mound you’re tasting. It’s interesting to note the dish’s back story, created by sailors using the foods that were available to them. While once a food for the poor man, today it is enjoyed by all classes in Northern Germany.

3. Get Inspired At Stilwerk

This hub of innovation had me truly inspired. Featuring six floors of independent design and lifestyle studios, you’ll see furniture, paintings, stairway murals, structures and home elements defying the limits of the imagination. While you can purchase items, it’s also like a free museum experience (and photo taking is allowed!). While the Stilwerk location I explored was in Hamburg (Große Elbstraße 68), they also have spaces in Berlin and Düsseldorf in Germany and Vienna in Austria.


4. Explore The Arts In An Old Cotton Mill

At the Spinnerei Galleries (Spinnereistraße 7), you’ll explore German history before the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as Leipzig’s burgeoning arts scene. By 1907, the 10 hectare (24 acre) plot of land had become continental Europe’s biggest cotton mill; however, by 1992 the factory complex had seen much change, a push started by local artists. Today, there are over 100 artist studios and 14+ galleries in the complex — not to mention performers, designers, printers, architects, and small and private businesses — which has retained its industrial exterior and vibe to pay homage to the buildings’ roots.

Wandering the free-to-enjoy Spinnerei, you’ll peruse thought-provoking, often avant-garde pieces. Tip: Visit Eigen + Art, Leipzig’s oldest gallery since 1983 and an underground gallery and salon in the The German “Democratic” Republic under the Socialist Unity Party before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

5. Sip Coffee At The Second-Oldest Cafe In Europe

After Paris’ Café Procope, Coffe Baum (Kleine Fleischergasse 4) in Leipzig is the second-oldest cafe in Europe, serving the public since 1686. The venue offers three levels of delicious attractions: a first floor restaurant, a second floor assortment of cute cafes and a third floor coffee museum.

One must-have (seriously, I said I would only have one bite and ate the whole thing without coming up for air) is their “Leipziger Lerche,” a delicious gooey citrus-floral pastry named after the lark bird, which was once a popular local meal. The pastry is similar to what you’d find on the base of a fruit cake, featuring a flaky crust stuffed with crushed almonds, nuts and a cherry, which symbolizes the lark’s heart (weird but delicious!).


K4. Photo courtesy of Joeb07.

6. Climb An Urban Cliff

While mountain climbing isn’t something you’d normally associate a city with, Leipzig combines adventure with history by allowing people to mountaineer old GDR tower blocks, called K4. Here, 30+ routes of varying levels can be conquered, with the highest reaching 600 square meters (6,458 square feet). When people began to flee East Germany there were many abandoned structures, which led to urban renewal projects like this one. Just make sure to purchase your admission ticket (5 Euro/$6.32 USD) from the German Alpine Association, who run it, which is (inconveniently) located on Angerstrasse 53, located 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away.. Eat Ice Cream In The GDR

One quirky treat experience is having an ice cream at Eisdiele Pfeifer (Koch Straße 20 ), which has kept the same interior since 1953 before the fall of the Berlin Wall — complete with wooden lamps, plastic, plain wood walls and chairs, basic light brown and yellow decor dues, and plastic lace to appease Communist leadership. Along with serving homemade ice cream in GDR dishes, they offer tasty cones and pastries.


8. Explore The Berlin Wall By eTrike

Bicycle meets Segway in this unique transport creation by local Rolf Kahle. He makes each eTrike by hand, which takes about 2-3 days. They are then used to take tourists around the city. The tour company using them is Berlin on Bike, which offers a slew of differ excursions focusing on the Berlin Wall, street art, city highlights, Berlin at night and beyond. Just be aware you’re going to get a lot of strange looks, as these electric tricycles appear like something from another planet at first glance.

The good thing is that, unlike Segways that often make you feel off-balance or like you’re getting foot cramping, the E-Trikes are comfortable and are easily powered with a thumb switch.

Note: When I asked them if people could rent the E-Trikes without a tour they said that it’s something they’ll likely offer in the future. Stay tuned!.

9. East Side Gallery

At first glance the East Side Gallery — which stretches for 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) along the Berlin Wall — may seem like an al fresco graffiti gallery; however, it’s much more than that. During the time of the Germany Democratic Republic there was no freedom of speech or the ability to create art for the world to see. Now that the Wall has fallen, Germany is reunified and democracy is alive. While West Germany was always allowed to have painting on their side of the Wall, on the East Side it was forbidden.

In Germany today, this section of the crumbling structure is now a place that showcases art created by 118 artists from around the world with themes of freedom and democracy. It’s a truly inspiring place to visit, and something you won’t find in many cities.

10. Step Back Into 1989

The Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop in the artsy Jewish Quarter of Berlin has a courtyard that still retains a 1989 feel, just like after the Wall came down. It’s an interesting mix of gritty and unkempt yet lively and creative, mainly from the abundance of thought-provoking street art. In fact, most of the pieces will take you into a dark and disturbing — albeit inspiring and colorful — world. Other nearby art experience include exploring the myriad galleries on and around Auguststraße as well as the eight courtyard’s and their creative offerings at Hackeschen Höfe.

11. Drink Your Way To Pain

Yes, you read that right. There is a popular chain of shops in Berlin called Gestalten that sell a spicy Naga Chilli Vodka that will make you wish you had suppressed your curiosity. The sizzling spirit has up to 250,000 Scoville Units, although some are less, like only 100,000. To quote from the label of one of the bottles, “Are you f*cking insane? This isn’t vodka, it’s a mouthful of pain.” How poetic.

Do you have any offbeat suggestion for Germany? Please share in the comments below.



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