Friday, March 12, 2010

More than just fisch

Ah yes, that 5 a.m. beer. I used to be standing in that line. Freezing my ass off at the harbor before sunrise. Direct from a binger at the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's red-light district and the only place to go for an intentional all-nighter of bars, clubs and that requisite karaoke stop. The party continues from 5 - 8 a.m. every Sunday morning at the Hamburg Fischmarkt. 

breakfast of champions

An institution in Hamburg, this former covered fish market hall sits on the banks of the Elbe river, across from the port of Hamburg, the second largest industrial shipping port in Europe. Container ships and terminals, dry docks and tug boats set the backdrop - either an eyesore or gritty and industrial chic, depending on your perspective. 

Over 400 years old, what once a wholesale fish market where fisherman brought their catch in from the North Sea for eager Hamburg fish mongers is now a thriving general market-turned-party frequented not only by the remnants of last night's bachelorette party, raucous soccer fans and Danish tourists, but families and older couples looking for good bargains on fruit and vegetables, smoked and pickled fish and Hamburg hoodies.

literally translated: fish little buns

While I was once one of those scarfing down a fish brotchen - a fish sandwich basically, typically either a fried fish fillet or a pickled herring, or matjes, the local specialty and an acquired taste - due to 5am munchies or a feeble attempt to stave off the imminent hangover, I am now one of those who comes for a bit of the atmosphere. Two babies mean I am always up by 7am on Sunday mornings. Standing in line next to drunk St. Pauli fans, I grab a coffee instead of a beer and pick up some fish or vegetables for Sunday night dinner's. Shops and grocery stores are all closed on Sundays in Germany so it is the only opportunity to do any shopping that I should have done on Saturday. Otherwise, Sunday nights are all about take-out.   

fisch brotchen!

The beer is flowing, the live band is cranking out Bon Jovi's greatest hits and a collection of schlager, kitch and catchy 70's German pop which every German knows ALL  the words to (I think they are tested on them in grade school).

the gorgeously restored fischmarkt facade 


While the fruits and vegetables may be cheap and plentiful, as hawkers bleat out offers of an entire crate of avocados for the bargain price of ONLY FIVE EUROS!!, they are presumably the spoils, the stuff that someone forgot about in the back of the boat - because if you don't use this produce TONIGHT, you can forget about it on Monday morning. It's already moldy.

Spectators come for the show and stay to buy. The crowd is glued to the auctioneer-like stylings of Aal(eel)-Kai. Most find themselves suddenly eerily compelled to buy smoked eel by his hypnotic cat calls and snarky humor. I have not yet succumb. He sort of scares me. I have this fear that when I go up to his stand to pay for the fish he makes some dumb joke that I don't understand and everyone starts laughing at me. And I grab my fish and run away, humiliated. This fear steers me toward the quieter stands.

Scary aal-kai

On the Hamburg harbour. Check. Excellent pickled, smoked and fried fish at your fingertips. Check. A the first beer of the day to wash it all down. Check. Live music. Check. Kitschy and slightly touristy it may be, but the fischmarkt is quintessential Hamburg.

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