It may seem odd to combine two very different and distinct cities into the same post, but it’s how I visited them. They’re also close enough by train to make it a logical way to share some of the many quirky and slightly unusual places I visited in both cities. I don’t mean quirky in a negative way, far from it. Quirky to me means unusual and different, but also important and valuable. Some of the museums and neighborhoods I found are in guide books and others not, but all are worthy of a stop whenever you visit these beautiful and incredibly fascinating cities.
1. Currywurst Museum – So I talk about currywurst a lot; an odd love affair for what is admittedly an inelegant snack. But I’m a big fan of regional foods, city-specific snacks that serve as exemplars of their communities. Currywurst had an important role to play in the formation of modern Berlin, from a cheap way to feed the working poor to the tourist food it has become today. Even better, head on over to the Currywurst Museum for a look at the snack through the years, where it’s consumed around the world and what it is that makes this unlikely combination of flavors so very popular.
2. Miniatur Wunderland – In 2000, twin brothers Gerrit and Frederik Braun made the improbable decision to build the world’s largest model railway. No one believed them, no one wanted to finance it and no one thought visitors would ever come. Fifteen years later and more than 10 MILLION guests later, the brothers have definitely had the last laugh. I’ve been to a lot of transportation museums, but nothing quite prepared me for the Miniatur Wunderland experience.
The name suits it well because it truly is a miniature world, built across multiple floors are dozens of recreated cities and countries; everything from Las Vegas to all of Switzerland and even a functioning airport that is deceptively fascinating. I hate to use a tired cliché, but from my brief time there it became obvious to me that the Wunderland really is one of those activities that everyone, young to old can enjoy. I’ve never been a big fan of model railways in particular, but even I couldn’t help but be drawn into the imaginary worlds created by the brothers Braun. Thousands of miniature people living an automated life, where night turns into day and back again during the course of your visit. It’s strange and incredibly odd, but fascinating in its own fun way.
3. Stasi Museum – As we all know, Berlin has had a tumultuous past but it’s one that they don’t shy away from. One of the most recent scars it’s still coming to terms with is of course the East/West split and the years of fear and paranoia that living in East Berlin meant for millions. This is encapsulated with a visit to the Stasi Museum, housed in the old Stasi headquarters building. The Ministry for State Security or Stasi, was one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies to ever have existed. Walking through the hallways of the former HQ, the feeling is staunchly Kafkaesque and while those of us from the West may have a hard time imagining what it was really like to live in a state of fear, this museum goes a long way in not just explaining it, but making the visitor feel it as well.
4. Hamburg Warehouse District (Speicherstadt) – Adjacent to the old docklands known as HafenCity is the historic warehouse district, the former heart of the old port. This project is in better shape and wandering around what used to be bustling warehouses and streets is fascinating, whether or not you’re an architecture buff. What looks like a playground for those into steam punk design, even someone decidedly not avant garde can enjoy an afternoon biking around this beautiful part of town. Watch for the Speicherstadt Warehouse District to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in the not-so-distant future as well.
These are just a few of the many unusual places to visit in both Berlin and Hamburg – what are some of your favorites?